The long and pointless virtual meeting has become the bane of many an office worker’s day after an explosion in video calls caused by the rise of working from home.
But those who cannot stomach the thought of sitting through another Friday afternoon presentation may now have a solution – sending artificial intelligence to do the job instead.
Google is poised to give users of its video-meeting software the option to send an AI assistant to meetings, where it will take notes and present talking points on their human instructor’s behalf.
The technology is designed to give employees an alternative to cancelling meetings when they have a last-minute change of plans or are forced to attend a different call.
However, it could also empower a new wave of slacking off as employees automate parts of their working day.
The assistant, Duet AI, has been created as a meeting companion, automatically recording and scanning what other attendees say to provide notes on the meeting.
It is meant to allow workers to be more productive by preventing them from having to concentrate on meticulous notes as they go along.
Attendees who turn up to meetings late will also be able to ask the chatbot for details about what they have missed and see video clips of key moments.
The assistant will also allow workers to skip the meeting altogether, with the AI generating a list of bullet points on their behalf.
When receiving a meeting invitation on their virtual calendars, workers will be able to select an “attend for me” option that will record the meeting and generate the summary.
They will be able to write a note that is displayed to other meeting attendees in their absence, or click a “help me write” option that uses AI to create a list of questions or talking points for the meeting.
Users will be able to review the auto-generated note before the meeting, to prevent it from making inappropriate suggestions or comments.
Google did not disclose what information it would draw on to create questions on workers’ behalf, although the company’s existing AI tools scan workers’ files and emails to create presentations.
The company said the AI companion will be released in the next few months as an experimental feature for companies that subscribe to its productivity software, which includes Gmail and its video-call service, Meet.
Many workers’ calendars have been bombarded with video calls as a decline in face-to-face interactions leads more people to schedule online meetings, prompting warnings of meeting fatigue.
Microsoft said last year that the number of meetings using its Teams software had more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. It reported an 84pc increase in invitations being declined in a year.
The rise of AI technology such as ChatGPT has led to software companies racing to add features that can transcribe and summarise meetings.
However, this has led to warnings that users might become less inclined to pay attention.
“Time savings can be attractive in the short term, however if they come at the cost of relationships, trust, accountability and understanding then organisations and people will be worse off,” said David D’Souza of HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
“There’s a good argument that organisations should focus on how they can make meetings better and more purposeful for humans, rather than automating them.”
Octavius Black, the founder of training consultancy Mind Gym, said: “If it means you can skip the meeting then you shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
“Meetings are helpful when there is discussion with people building on, or challenging, what each other has said. It’s a while before AI can do that as well as a top class professional.”
But despite many workers’ wishes, it will not be possible for meetings to be entirely automated away. If every attendee sends their AI assistant, Google will automatically end the video call.
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