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When AI Assistants Work For Us -- And When We Check Their Work

Employee experience is one of those terms that manages to be both broadly universal -- all employees have experiences -- and highly specific to individuals. Meetings are also one of those things that are both broadly universal to the workforce yet highly specific to employers and people. For example, some companies quickly established formal rules for remote meetings during the pandemic; other teams coalesced around an informal set of practices over time. Factors like company culture, managerial aptitude in meetings, and what the purposes of the meetings are all contribute to the employee experience.

At Cisco Live this week, I learned more about the AI Assistant for Webex Suite, which is now in general availability. It includes two features now universal to collaboration and meeting platforms -- meeting summaries and message summaries. According to Cisco, "A recent survey of Webex App users who leverage the AI Assistant found that more than 80% saved time on note-taking, action items, listening to recordings, and catching up on messages."

In other words, sometimes a meeting can be an email and sometimes a meeting can be a summary produced by a generative AI-fueled feature that analyzes the text produced in a meeting and pulls out what it thinks the relevant items are.

I've had a chance to use rival gen AI assistants and I've been amused at some of the conclusions: In one meeting I recorded, an action item required me to train contact center agents, something that absolutely does not belong on my to-do list; in another, a female participant was wrongly identified as "he" in the transcript and summary. These errors have led me to conclude meeting summarizations and task-assignment features are best used in tandem with careful human review. In other words: you're still going to have to pay attention during meetings so you can check the AI's work and confirm that the AI didn't just tell you to open a contact center.

What I'm curious about is how the act of reviewing and confirming the veracity of a meeting recap's contents saves time. I'm also curious whether reviewing and confirming an AI-generated transcript or to-do list boosts information retention. If you're re-engaging with the goings-on of the meeting in which you got distracted by something in another tab -- haven't you just boosted your odds of actually noting and retaining what you need to?

Cisco's actually anticipated that distraction -- or if you're a remote worker, that moment you have to step away from your desk during a meeting. The AI Assistant has a "Catch Me Up" which purportedly tells you what happened while you stepped away. I haven't had a chance to try it out, so I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it could be another way in which we bolster our fragmented or flagging attention thanks to careful review of AI-generated summaries.

As AI assistants become more robust and reach more general availability, it'll be interesting to see which assistant capabilities actually sharpen our focus and retention and which ones introduce a new level of digital drudgery as we double-check their work. It's an exciting time to see how technologies designed to improve collaboration may or may not improve the performance of the people collaborating with one another.