AI controlled audio (and sometimes video) digital assistant devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home are all the rage right now. The appeal is not hard to see.
They provide audio streaming, wake you up, play games, tell jokes, settle bets and remind you to buy milk. And all this is just the tip of the AI iceberg.
AI in UC
Most of these devices also offer communications options too; ranging from local intercoms, device-to-device calling, or even Wi-Fi calling.
This functionality is great for home systems, but can it lend itself to unified communications in the office? Of course!
Imagine asking your smart speaker to call your manager rather than picking up a handset and dialing. Perhaps use it to launch your video conference call, or order a team lunch using a food delivery service like Grubhub. As AI gets more advanced, issuing office tasks like these to a digital assistant could become the norm.
Companies are increasingly opening up the ability to use these AI programs in third party devices. This makes AI a natural candidate for UC integration, both for audio and video communications.
In fact, Amazon already has a video communications setup with their Echo Show optimized for single person use. The Show device demonstrates that the software could be adapted to be suitable for video conferencing devices from UC providers with little difficulty.
So how far away are we?
Google and Amazon household AI systems are already thinking about the future by opening their technology to third party devices (Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are lagging in comparison).
Amazon’s Alexa is constantly evolving, and they made the smart business decision to license out the AI functionality to third parties, allowing them to build smart speakers of their own using the Alexa code as a baseline. This is similar to how Google allowed Android to be used by third parties, where they could apply their own “skin” to the phone’s software.
Google’s technology is generally perceived to be “smarter” when it comes to voice recognition, but they offers the same “skills” functionality for third party apps as Alexa. Google, like Amazon, allows Google Assistant to be used on different device types through their app stores, and released a software development kit (SDK) for third party hardware companies to use to integrate their system into their devices.
Is the enterprise ready?
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of AI in UC.
- Easy user experience. When AI works, it tends to work wonderfully. All of the digital assistants require a little bit of training to figure out how commands work, but a good AI would make the process intuitive rather than repetitious. Often, the most laborious part of using these assistants comes at the beginning, where there is usually a bit of voice training.
- AI adoption has been strong in IT infrastructure. IT networks are increasingly outfitted with AI technologies that allow for more responsive management in complex systems. This naturally lends itself to UC support, and the stronger the AI support is in a company, the easier digital assistants like Google Home or Alexa can be used effectively by employees.
- Increase in products and features. Bloomberg notes that “Advances in computer vision technology, cameras, artificial intelligence and voice activation help make it feasible for Amazon to bring [new products] to the marketplace.” It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a mobile digital assistant of sorts helping in the office in the near future, performing functions ranging from recording minutes to acting as telepresence devices with built-in UC capabilities.
- In order to merge with UC effectively, AI would have to achieve a much higher success rate when it comes to actually connecting people through their preferred service. Otherwise, the function simply becomes a novelty at best or a nuisance at worst.
- There are myriad privacy concerns for these devices that need to be considered. The concerns would only be amplified in an office environment. Right now, there is no guarantee that devices are not recording and transmitting at all times, not just once the “wake word” is mentioned.
- Assuming that the device only captures audio after the wake word, there is still the fact that a company using AI in their UC products is essentially surrendering their recorded conversations to a third party. A company looking to integrate digital assistants into UC products would have to be assured that their data is scrubbed consistently, or that the actual data stored by the companies is sanitized in some way to prevent industrial espionage.
The UC industry is probably still a long way off from fully embracing AI digital assistants, but not because of any hardware limitations on the user’s end. The AI technology is still too new, the kinks need to be worked out, and right now, there are only a few players in the home market (each with their own set of pros and cons) that are available to map to office use.
On top of that, while a home user might be willing to surrender a certain amount of personal data in terms of music preferences and shopping history, companies are not at liberty to put their communications at risk so cavalierly.
However, the functionality is convenient and helpful, two things that UC embraces as a platform. So, it’s not hard to imagine a day when UC adopts AI into its ecosystem for regular office use.
Article by Timothy Davis, Yamaha