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Cisco launches new AI-powered and hybrid event features for Webex

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Cisco today unveiled updates across its Webex portfolio of communications products, including an integrated asynchronous camera feature, AI-powered sound, video enhancements, and a management service for hybrid in-person and virtual events. The company’s upgrades are designed to power events and meetings “at scale” while maintaining interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other third-party meeting platforms.

Headwinds from the pandemic have driven the value of the global videoconferencing market in 2021 to an estimated $6.03 billion. Sixty percent of respondents to an Owl Labs survey reported participating in video meetings more often in 2020 than in 2019, a bigger rise than other workplace staples like email saw year-over-year. Dovetailing with this, hybrid events are expected to continue to have a presence in work life, with 79% of companies expecting to host events that include a virtual attendance option, according to Martech.

“Technology has many powers, and the greatest of all is its ability to connect people and level the playing field for so many across the globe,” Cisco security and collaboration executive VP and general manager Jeetu Patel said in a statement. “Our new Webex innovations mark a significant step forward in helping our customers unlock the potential of their hybrid workforce — enabling them to collaborate in new ways and drive [an] inclusive experience.”

AI and hybrid work

Cisco is rolling out “AI-powered audio intelligence” in Webex, leveraging an AI algorithm to optimize all participants’ voices during meetings. The setting equalizes voices regardless of how close they’re to their devices, automatically differentiating intended speech from background noise.

Another AI-powered feature, People Focus, will be available in December. It will provide “better clarity” and “optimized visuals” of in-room attendees’ facial gestures and body language, Cisco says. Additional camera-related enhancements coming in early 2022 will further improve the interface in meeting rooms, including showing conference room participants in individual boxes on-screen — regardless of which meeting platform they use.

In related news, Webex Assistant, Cisco’s virtual meeting tool, now supports French, German, Spanish, and Japanese in addition to English. In August, it gained the ability to translate closed captions from English into more than 100 languages with a paid add-on. And starting this week, developers can work with partners to design custom commands for Webex Assistant running on Cisco’s Webex devices such as desktop cameras, headsets, and conference room phones.

Vidcast, an asynchronous communication service, also joins the list of new Webex features. Currently in beta at Vidcast.io ahead of integration with the Webex App in Spring 2022, it provides the ability to record, watch, comment, and react to meeting clips on-demand.

Meanwhile, Webex’s new Whiteboarding tool enables users to create, find, edit, and share whiteboards with anybody, not excluding people outside their organization. Users can annotate using any device — mobile, tablet, laptop — in addition to Webex devices.

Webex also now features Collaboration Insights, offering personalized details like the top ten people a user collaborates with weekly, new colleague titles, and more. Two complementary capabilities — Well-being and Cohesion — in the previously announced People Insights tab give teams a view into anonymous work time patterns, sentiment ratings, and focus time goals. Exclusively for Webex Suite customers, there’s Thrive Reset, a collection of wellness topics, and a gallery where users can upload photos. It’s based on research showing that it takes 60 to 90 seconds to course-correct from stress, Cisco says, and designed to help users “focus on breathing, reflect on what they’re grateful for, reframe problems, or simply stand up and stretch.”

“[W]hen we provide insights … to an individual, the individual owns the data, not the organization because we don’t believe that without your explicit permission, you’d want to have your boss see that,” Patel told VentureBeat in a previous interview regarding Webex’s new monitoring features. “Engagement should not be measured based on having a judgment on someone saying, ‘I’m judging that you look sad, and therefore I’m going to do certain things’ … at that point in time, in my mind, you could cross a boundary where there’s more bad that can come out of that than good … There’s a fine line between ‘This is super productive’ and ‘We can’t do this because it violates my privacy, or it’s just outright creepy.’”

Events, integrations, and devices

Following Cisco’s acquisitions of Socio Labs and Slido earlier this year, the company unveiled an expanded Webex Events product targeting enterprises hosting hybrid events. Management capabilities spanning badging and printing for ticketing, monetization, and networking are available, and customers can now host events via Webex Webinars with Slido’s polling, quizzing, and Q&A technology up to 10,000 attendees (in webinar mode) or 100,000 (in webcast mode) in size.

Today, Cisco also announced its 60-plus new partner integrations to Webex including Smartsheet, Hacker Rank, Thrive Reset, Miro, and Mural.

Against this backdrop, new Webex devices are coming to market — among them the Webex Desk Mini. The Webex Desk Mini, which comes in a range of colors, features a 15.6-inch, 1080p interactive display; a 64-degree HD camera; a full-range speaker; and a background noise removal mic array. Meanwhile, the new Webex Board Pro sports dual 4K cameras, directional audio, two active styluses, and a choice of a 55- or 75-inch display.

Webex Desk Mini will be available to order in early 2022 for $1,695. Existing Webex enterprise customers will receive the “cloud promo” price of $999. The Webex Board Pro will launch in available in November, priced at $11,995 (55 inches) and $19,995 (75 inches).

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Categories
AI

Cisco is bringing individual and team insights to Webex video calls

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Starting this summer, Cisco’s Webex will begin to serve up insights for video calls to a select group of users for individuals, teams, and organizations. Examples include engagement insights, like how often you had your video on or showed up on time and the people or teams within an organization that you speak with most often.

The goal, Cisco VP Jeetu Patel told VentureBeat in a phone interview, is to make video calls better for people living in the hybrid world between in-person meetings in the office and virtual meetings at home. The tricky part, he said, is considering what information is good for an individual to know while not giving people the impression that Webex is, for example, flagging employees who are routinely late to meetings to managers.

“Let’s say you did 12 meetings today, and in six of those meetings with four people or less, you actually spoke for 90% of the time. That would be a really bad thing to give your boss, but a really good thing for you to have so you can say, ‘Oh, I should probably do a better job listening,’” he said. “The privacy on that front is not at the organizational level. It’s at the individual level. So when we provide insights like that to an individual, the individual owns the data, not the organization, because we don’t believe that without your explicit permission, you’d want to have your boss see that.”

Webex has introduced a series of new features in recent months, some powered by artificial intelligence, to change how people share information in video calls. Toward this end, Patel said, “We’ve probably invested about a billion dollars or so in the past two years in AI.”

Above: Individual insights

 

Gesture recognition means that people in video calls can now raise their hand or give a thumbs up or thumbs down to ask to speak or register feedback. Another AI-powered feature on the way will crop the faces of people who attend in-person meetings for the person who’s working from home or remotely.

“Even though there are three people sitting in a conference room, we’ll actually break the stream into three separate boxes and show it to you, and our hardware will actually do that,” he said.

Patel has overseen the acquisition of three companies since joining Cisco last summer, after serving as chief product officer at Box. Last month, Cisco closed its acquisition of IMImobile for $730 million in part to beef up its AI capabilities. Last summer, Cisco announced plans to acquire BabbleLabs, an AI startup focused on filtering audio so that the sound of someone doing dishes nearby, a lawnmower, or loud background noise can be reduced or eliminated. And earlier this year, Cisco acquired Slido, a startup that makes engagement features for video calls like word clouds or upvoting questions. Such features can allow a meeting to take the structure of a town hall, with transparency around the top questions for employees within an organization since everyone can see the questions that are being posted.

“Engagement should not be measured based on having a judgment on someone saying, ‘I’m judging that you look sad, and therefore I’m going to do certain things … at that point in time in my mind, you could cross a boundary where there’s more bad that can come out of that than good,” he said.

In 2019, Cisco acquired Voicea to power speech-to-text transcription of meetings. Closed captioning and live translation are also available in Webex calls.

Deciding where to draw the line on which AI-powered features or insights to introduce in video calls can be a challenge with nuance. Earlier this year, Microsoft Research did a study with AffectiveSpotlight on AI for recognizing confusion, engagement, or head nods in meetings. If taken in the aggregate, picking up cues from the audience could be really helpful, particularly for large organizations. But if affective AI for video calls led to critique of how often a person smiles or shows certain forms of expression, it could be considered invasive, or counterproductive, or biased to certain groups of people.

Video analysis of expression today can have major shortcomings. A group of journalists in Germany recently demonstrated that placing a bookshelf in the background or putting on glasses can change affective AI evaluations of a person in a video.

It shouldn’t matter whether a person is an extrovert or prefers not to talk in group settings as long as they fulfill their job duties. And some people talk a lot but have nothing much say, while others talk less often but deliver sharp insights or sage advice. It just depends on the team, role, and scenario.

“I’d rather you give explicit permission than something you pick up because one, it’s bad if you misread [certain stats]. And two, there’s a fine line between ‘This is super productive’ and ‘We can’t do this because it violates my privacy or it’s just outright creepy,’” Patel said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnCblVyNEd8

Cisco plans to roll out Webex People Insights globally over the span of the next year starting with select users in the U.S. this summer, announcing the news today as part of Cisco Live. In other Cisco Live news, on Tuesday Cisco announced plans to combine networking, security, and IT infrastructure offerings and work with the Duo authentication platform it acquired in 2018.

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Repost: Original Source and Author Link