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AI Is Everywhere; But It’s Still Our World

Generative AI was the hottest buzzword going into Enterprise Connect last month, and now that we’re on the other side of the big event, it seems clear to me that the AI hype is, for the most part, justified. AI—generative and otherwise--is already changing how we work, and its impact is only going to deepen.

Here’s one way to look at it: Every one of our six keynoters discussed AI at length, explaining how their products and roadmap are being driven by AI. And yet, they mostly covered different ground. Microsoft’s Nicole Herskowitz focused most on Copilot, the much-discussed feature the vendor is adding to Office 365, including Teams. She emphasized the productivity enhancements Copilot promises for knowledge workers currently overburdened by excessive meetings and information overload. It’s a message any overscheduled, under-resourced hybrid worker circa 2023 can identify with.

Google Cloud, on the other hand, homed in on the contact center. Behshad Behzadi, the company’s Vice President of Engineering, Conversational AI, demonstrated some impressive AI-generated speech capabilities, including improved language translation and more natural-sounding emotion in machine-generated voice.

In Cisco’s keynote, Snorre Kjesbu played up the ways Webex video systems are using AI to improve the experience of being on a videoconference, particularly for those participating from a meeting room. He demonstrated how multiple streams from multiple cameras in the room can be combined to provide, as Kjesbu put it, “the best view of any meeting at any moment,” with the AI functioning like a producer or director of a sports event, selecting the best shot. In addition to video, Kjesbu also discussed new AI capabilities for Cisco’s contact center software.

Amazon, Zoom, and RingCentral rounded out the keynote lineup, each adding their own piece of the AI puzzle. RingCentral announced RingSense, a capability that uses RingCentral’s proprietary generative AI (along with the ability to use other large language models or LLMs). “We’re going to be helping businesses make their voice, their meetings, their email interactions more intelligent, so they can automatically uncover new, actionable insights that help reduce errors, overhead, and improve performance,” said RingCentral keynoter, President and COO Mo Katibeh. “I think of it as a force multiplier for every single employee.” 

Katibeh announced the first “flavor” of the feature, called RingSense for Sales. In his coverage of this release, analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research noted that, “Sales operations is one of the largest areas of spend for most organizations. Because of this, RingSense for Sales should get some looks from RingCentral’s base because even a small improvement in sales efficiency can pay big dividends.”

For his part, Amazon keynoter Dilip Kumar focused on call analytics for the company’s Connect contact center service, while Joseph Chong, Head of Platform and Industry Marketing for Zoom, covered the gamut of functions where the platform provider is using AI enhancement; the company announced expansion of Zoom IQ, its entry in the meeting-summary battle, and an “intelligent director” function for the multi-camera conference room. 

Taken together, all of these proclamations from the biggest platform vendors and cloud providers show a world where AI will touch almost every piece of the communications infrastructure. But that doesn’t mean AI is taking over the world; it’s taking on, incrementally, more of the functions that humans can’t or don’t want to do. No company could hire a director to choreograph every single videoconference, and few people want to spend the time they’re not in meetings, listening to meeting replays or poring over raw transcripts.

The best summary came from Dan Miller of Opus Research. In the Disruptive Dialogue conversation I shared with Dan on the EC keynote stage, Miller summed up the role of AI this way: “These are tools. If we think of them as a replacement for us, we’re making a big mistake. If machines replace us, that’s our own dumb fault.”