At its core, technology is meant to make our lives easier and help connect us. The rise of the smartphone, mobile email, instant messaging, social media and countless other innovations have resulted in more instantaneous, always-on correspondence. That correspondence has, in turn, vaulted the business world into becoming ever more globalized. Whether the distance spans continents, countries or simply the next cubicle over, it’s imperative that we use technology to establish communication that not only connects, but also informs, the way we work.

Colleagues in a meeting room with presentation sharing from multiple devices

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How do we connect and inform through tech, working not just faster, but smarter and better, too? Artificial intelligence (AI) has recently emerged as a contributing factor in the collaboration space. Long touted as a solution for healthcare, robotics, cybersecurity and other sectors, AI is incrementally breaking down barriers in the workplace, helping to make meetings and other interpersonal communication substantively more efficient and effective.

Leveraging AI to Collaborate Better

The modern meeting room is increasingly defined by technology — 4K video, voice control across devices, content sharing and more combine to give workers a level of intuitiveness that was previously thought impossible. But beyond the convenience and ease-of-use of the new meeting experience, another benefit has emerged. These various inputs also create a wellspring of data, all of which can be applied to improve the way we work and collaborate — provided we have the proper tools to dissect it.

That’s where AI comes in.

A core function of AI is its ability to take large amounts of information, terabytes even, and quickly make sense of it, then transfer it into digestible insights that can be used by humans for decision making processes. This is pertinent, as meetings feature multiple sources of video, audio and content, all of which can be assessed, compressed and repurposed to provide insights.

As an example, multiple cameras in a meeting or conference call can be coupled with AI to help keep the pulse of the mood in the room. By analyzing participants’ faces or body language, we can deduce things like the following: Are people engaged? Is there free-flowing conversation? Is someone sleeping? What’s on the whiteboard? Taking those observations a step further, if we’re running into problems or information logjams, how can we shift the focus of the meeting to make sure it’s more targeted and impactful?

One can imagine the effect this might have on both internal and external communication. Whether coordinating with a sales team or having a face-to-face with a prospective client, AI can quickly crunch the raw content to identify speakers by their facial or vocal patterns, discern what tasks need to be followed up on and help maximize the value of a meeting overall, rather than attempting to extract value or review and glean insights after the fact.

The good news is that this gradual integration is already happening. Chatbots, dynamic assistants and cybersecurity are all areas where AI is improving the meeting experience, not only helping workers become more productive but increasingly more secure and targeted in their output. But there’s a catch: To get the most return on investment (ROI) from this technology, we must apply AI outside of our limited frames of reference, in a way that’s appropriate for global communication.

Cultural Considerations

Just as the modern workforce is growingly skewed toward remote work, so too has the business world gone global. We’re now collaborating across various time zones with international team members of different backgrounds and often utilizing the services of remote gig economy freelancers.

The dynamic nature of these global relationships and communication requires equally dynamic solutions — thus, AI-based tools must be adaptable and trained to break established communication obstacles and narrow assumptions. A meeting in France likely won’t feature the same language, physical gestures or social cues commonplace in San Francisco, so providers of collaboration solutions need to consider these cues and build contextual support into their technologies.

For example, in the United States, it’s customary for people to speak more loudly when attempting to communicate their thoughts or give direction, while Japanese business practices dictate a softer tone when discussing or suggesting ideas. With AI-based contextual tools, we could identify the correct tone to use when conducting introductions, when to be more passive in conversation or even whether the audience is receptive to ideas, essentially providing an adaptive assistant that allows the speaker to adjust and improve conversations in real time.

As part of my video conferencing predictions for 2020, I think we’ll soon see the emergence of a new digital meeting experience, including tools that enable instant translation and captions, bolstered with context clues showing whether or not a particular message is resonating with its intended audience. Paired with interoperable messaging platforms and intuitive content sharing, global workforces will have access to robust solutions that produce actionable insights and empower users to communicate more effectively.

Creating A More Connected Business World

In the near future, AI will continue to emerge as a pivotal element of communication tools, working to overcome complex language, cultural and geographic barriers. When these advanced tools mature and become pervasive, we’ll quickly start to recognize real ROI, helping businesses to enter new regions and foster relationships with existing markets.

Whether in Tokyo, Tel Aviv or Toronto, we’re building towards a more connected business world, and AI will eventually become the singular thread that links us together, enabling a more seamless collaboration ecosystem and increased insights, which result in productivity and, above all else, genuine connection.