Spotlight on InfoComm 2019


Alexa and Watson Are Taking Over Your Conference Room

As voice control and artificial intelligence devices become more prevalent, how will integrators incorporate them into commercial settings? Watson has ideas

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Here's how Ricoh plans to revolutionize the boardroom through its partnership with IBM and the Watson super-computer.

If you dread every time you see a meeting notification pop up on your phone or email inbox, we’ve got some good news for you: Ricoh is working on a way to make your meetings more efficient through its partnership with IBM and its Watson supercomputer.

And if you find yourself dozing off or tuning out the speaker who’s droning on about whatever for what seems like forever, fret not. Watson has you covered, if Ricoh has its way.

Ricoh is hoping to debut this fall an interactive whiteboard that becomes what the company calls “an active meeting participant that responds to voice commands, takes notes, and even translates into other languages.”

The company showed off what it’s calling a proof of concept of the interactive whiteboard at InfoComm 2017, saying a handful of clients are testing it and working out the kinks before a large-scale rollout. Ricoh marketing director Jason Dizzine says the service will be available by subscription when it’s ready for prime-time.

This innovation, along with the capabilities of voice-control platforms like Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home and Apple HomePad tells us one thing: we’re not far away from sharing our meeting rooms with digital attendees. Voice control tools will soon become the most important “people” in the boardroom.

Ricoh’s Watson-equipped interactive whiteboard creates transcripts, translates the meeting into nine languages, creates action items and sends summaries to all meeting attendees, says Dizzine. Sorry, meeting slackers: whether you heard it or not, you’ve got the biggest piece of the next project and Watson’s going to make sure you finish it.

Skreens VP of channel business development Tim O’Neil told CI editor-in-chief Tom LeBlanc he sees meeting rooms as the next frontier of voice control, with digital signage and other spaces in the office, at the game or in your hotel room also in the mix to become infinitely smarter and more personalized.

Like many other technological innovations in the commercial world, this appears to be another case of the desire to make life more automated at home coming into the boardroom and beyond. When I wrote about integrators incorporating iPads into the boardroom a few years ago, many control system manufacturers bristled at the idea and wondered about its long-term viability.

Who will question whether Alexa and Watson have a place in meeting rooms and will those questions prove to have any merit? Certainly, it will take some time for some companies to adopt this forward-thinking approach to doing business, but if it works, of course, more will follow.

As someone who still takes written notes rather than typing them directly into my computer when I do interviews, I know having that Watson-created transcript will be a lot more productive for everyone in meetings with me than trying to read my chicken-scratch that I call penmanship.

How long, though, before the CEO realizes he’s no longer the “smartest guy in the room” when Watson is able to impeccably recall every detail of a long-forgotten conversation of months ago?

Imagine if Watson was part of meetings in the Oval Office, particularly in the last six months. We wouldn’t have to worry about Congressional inquiries or have questions about who said what to whom and when. Could Alexa find her way into doctor’s offices and help physicians and patients speak the same language on treatment options?

Where else do you see Alexa and Watson heading? Before you answer, remember when digital signage was a new phenomenon you never thought would make its way outside the mall. Now it’s on every corner, in every stadium and even in your friendly neighborhood weed shop.

Learn more about Watson here.