Microsoft Debuts New Cortana and AI Features for More Natural Business Meetings
Microsoft is revamping its Teams call and chat platform, adding new features that leverage artificial intelligence like the Cortana voice assistant to make the experience more comfortable for people. Usage of Teams has surged partly as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis and dovetails with Cortana’s shift from a consumer product to one focused on enterprise tasks.
The new Teams features are rolling out over the course of several months. Microsoft particularly chose to highlight Together Mode, which uses AI to make everyone in a meeting appear to be in the same virtual space and is aimed at roundtable-style discussions. AI also powers Dynamic View, automatically adjusting what people see, for instance, during presentations. Teams is also adding new secretarial duties to its AI. Though live captioning is already an option, the AI will also start translating those captions into different languages in real-time. The captions will also now include speaker attributions, allowing for real-time transcriptions that are saved to the platform after the meeting ends.
“On one level, Together mode is a simple approach to making meetings feel better during the pandemic, however there’s also a deeper level that touches on our latest scientific understandings of cognition, social perception, and communication,” Microsoft researcher (and coiner of the term virtual reality) Jaron Lanier wrote in a blog post about the new feature. “Together mode has a unique look, but it also has a unique feel. People typically become more relaxed, more attentive to one another, more playful, and yet more focused on shared goals. The design offers unique benefits: less fatigue from frequent video meetings, better sense of connection with others, and more effective meetings.”
Cortana will become more of a central element for Teams soon, according to Microsoft. The voice assistant will arrive in the Teams Android and iOS app in a few months after Microsoft removed it as an independent app several months ago. Cortana in Teams will enable users to join meetings, make calls, and send messages and files by voice. The Cortana news is part of Microsoft’s ongoing expansion of the voice assistant’s enterprise abilities. Microsoft Outlook recently integrated Cortana, letting users set up and confirm meetings by voice. The voice assistant will also be at the heart of the new Teams displays Microsoft highlighted as part of the rollout. The touchscreen computers, including the Microsoft Surface Hub and Lenovo ThinkSmart View, are built around using Cortana for meetings through the platform. Though more specialized, the devices share similarities with Microsoft’s latest laptops, which can perform as voice-controlled smart displays. After almost three years since Microsoft launched the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise, the integration with Teams is a quiet landmark for the voice assistant’s business focus.