- RingCentral acquired pioneering “conversational intelligence” AI technology in December, 2020.
- AI will extract meaningful insights from conversations in your meeting – so you don’t have to.
Think back to the best meeting you’ve ever been in. Can you remember every agenda item? Next step? Who to follow up with? On a good day, we’re lucky to remember what got decided and by whom. (And possibly the snacks.) That’s where the robots come in. No, they won’t go to meetings for you. But what if robots (Ok, artificial intelligence,) could do the note-taking, calendar-checking and summarizing for you? It’s looking more and more like a reality—and one we’ll be enjoying, soon.
Innovation in high gear
Creating smarter meetings demands rapid innovation. And rapid innovation sometimes means acquiring existing technologies, as opposed to reinventing the wheel. That’s why, last December, RingCentral acquired DeepAffects, a “conversational intelligence” pioneer known for using AI to extract meaningful insights from business conversations. We sat down with founders Prashant Kukde and Sushant Hiray to find out what that means, and how it works.
Talk to your doctor
Kukde and Hiray started out applying AI to healthcare, specifically how the things patients were telling caregivers could indicate larger issues.
“We were looking at how AI could be used in the healthcare space—applying it to patient data and trying to figure out if it could help determine what patients were at risk for,” says Kukde. “Based on a patient’s past history, we were actually using AI to predict whether they were at risk for diabetes, hypertension, and so forth. Then, we moved into applying AI to speech.”
We hear you
As AI’s capabilities grew, the DeepAffects team saw AI being applied to text and speech, but not the audio portion of conversations – where tone, volume and cadence tell us a lot about what’s really going on.
“We quickly realized that speech is the heart of what we capture in text and video,” says Kukde. “Most of the NLP, (Neuro-Linguistic Processing) and NLU (Natural Language Understanding) work is on the text and the video side, and very little effort that has been put on the speech side. So we realized there was an opportunity to create a platform that focuses on audio as the primary data source.”
Sum it up for us
Just transcribing words from a recording doesn’t make meeting attendees more effective. It just gives them more to read. But what if AI could pull the meaningful words out? Things like target dates and next steps? According to Hiray, that’s called “conversational intelligence” – and it might just help you spend more time solving issues in your next meeting…and less time dealing with the mechanics of the meeting itself.
“What we focus on is “conversational intelligence.” You have a sales conversation, a customer support conversation, any business conversation. In today’s world, people record these conversations, but they’re never really analyzed. People still have to take notes and say “Okay, here’s what we discussed.” But what if AI could act as your assistant? One who is smart enough to pull the important points out of a meeting, reduce your work and improve your productivity? We see this as the first place RingCentral users are going to see the value. Our AI models will auto-generate a short summary and a full summary of the entire conversation. So you don’t have to take notes – you can take a detailed look at a whole meeting, or get a summary of the high points, automatically.”
Know what we’re saying?
Anyone who’s ever asked their digital assistant for directions to the nearest Starbucks and come up with showings for the next Star Trek knows – AI has to be smart to deliver. Kukde thinks RingCentral’s is.
“In meetings people are discussing multiple topics, making decisions, maybe debating how to solve a particular problem, and laying out next steps. What the AI offers is, after the meeting, it will generate a list of tasks you agreed on, and summarize the decisions you made in the meeting. That’s the important part. That’s what you need. And this AI is advanced enough to be able to accurately gather this information directly from an unstructured audio conversation. Add a capability like this to RingCentral Video and it really sets us apart from the competition.”
Hearing vs. listening
Knowing what was said is nice. Knowing what it means is a game-changer for businesses. Hiray says that’s a key feature of RingCentral’s AI.
“A core component for us is our Emotion Recognition module. Everyone wants to focus on customer experience – on what people think about your product or service. Right now, you can record and store a call, but you’re basically getting maybe 1% of the information you need. You know it was a sales call, or a service call, and when it happened. What you really want is to understand what your customers want, which is difficult at scale. The Emotional Recognition feature shows us trends within calls – did it start with a negative or neutral emotion, but ends with a positive note? That’s a good service call. Did it end on a negative one? That’s not so good. We should pay attention to that. When you’re able to categorize these using metadata, you can now rank them in order of importance. Add that to the content and the insights, and we’re finding you can do a lot with these conversations: unlock productivity improvement, drive sales goals, improve service and more. By combining the content and the emotion, all of a sudden, the way you search for insight gets a lot smarter – and so does your company.”
We welcome our new robot overlords
We know you’re thinking it, because we are, too: Should we be creeped out by all this? Kukde says we should remain calm.
“AI is more like a Really Helpful Fifth Grader than some sort of Skynet who can dominate human civilization and all that. All this AI is very, very much in the assistive space. What we’re looking for is augmenting our intelligence. We want to spend our time solving problems, not scheduling meetings for solving problems. No one’s interested in doing mundane things. We’re all better-served if we have more brain space for innovation, and ideas and things like that. AI is here to deal with the processes – it’s just going to help you live a happy life.”
Even if that’s exactly what a hyperintelligent robot bent on subjugating humanity would say, we admit, we’re excited by the prospect of delivering a better experience for our customers. And even more excited to do less busy work in the process. Innovation happens fast. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. It’s even a little scary. But if we get smarter meetings out of the bargain? That’s a pretty good deal.
Originally published May 25, 2021