What's the weather like today, where can I buy my wife a new phone, what time does my flight leave - while voice assistants are influencing our personal lives, they are not as active in the workplace yet. There's Microsoft's Cortana which is supposed to be ever-present for you, be it for reminders or fetching files and so on, but Cisco believes the workplace needs something more.
"The voice recognition bots we use today are the world's most boring house guests. 'Turn on the lights" or, "Who won the 1975 World Series?" or "Tell me a joke". Sure, voicebot technology is just one step removed from magic, but do these products make the most important parts of our lives - our interactions with fellow humans - better? They don't," says Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager, IoT and Applications, Cisco, on his blog.
So, at the company's recent Cisco Partner Summit, they announced the launch of Spark Assistant or what they call the world's first enterprise-ready voice assistant for meetings. It will be available first on the Cisco Spark Room Series portfolio, including the new flagship Cisco Spark Room 70.
"During the next few years, AI meeting bots will be joining our work teams. When they do, people will be able to ditch the drudgery of meeting set-ups and other logistics to become more creative than ever," said Trollope.
Spark won't be a hundred per cent ready out of the box. Like other assistants, it will need time to grow up. At first, what it will be able to do is start your meeting without keying in or dialing in. "Hey Spark, let's get started," will do the trick. Users will be able to join their WebEx meeting room or those of co-workers. One can also dial various parts of the organisation without lifting a finger. Once Spark gets going, and is fast and accurate, it will be time to give it the ability to assign action items and create meeting summaries - the laborious process of writing the minutes of the meeting could be history.
In creating Spark, Cisco has used its own extensive knowledge of how meetings work and the machine learning technology comes from MindMeld, a company acquired by Cisco earlier this year.
Cisco's Spark Assistant will first be available on the new Spark Room 70 video system. It will also be available across all Spark clients and hardware devices over time and will use intelligent proximity, speaker tracking and real-time face recognition, even knowing who enters the room and who leaves it and who is speaking.