It’s a good chance you’ve spent a lot of the last two or more years sitting at home, cycling through endless days of virtual meetings looking into your laptop’s webcam and talking through your built-in microphone. This means you’ve spent a lot of the last two or more years appearing to everyone else like a dimly lit pile of dimly lit pixels, sounding like you’re screaming from inside a can. It’s not your fault: your laptop’s webcam just sucks. And also its microphone. But Google thinks it can fix them both with AI.
Google announced this in its annual I / O program conference on Wednesday its Workspace team worked on a number of AI-powered ways improve your virtual meetings. The most impressive is Portrait Restoration, which Google says can automatically enhance and sharpen your image even due to a poor connection or a bad camera. Portrait Light, similarly, gives you a set of AI-based controls on how you are illuminated. You can’t move the window to the left, Google seems to say, but you can look at Google Meet as if you had one on the right as well. And when it comes to sound, Google is developing a reversible tool designed to minimize the echoes that come from speaking into your laptop from a home office.
Much of the underlying technology here comes from the AI and machine learning work that Google has done with its Pixel phones. These have much better hardware to work with than your average laptop webcam, but Prasad Setty, the company’s VP of digital work experience, said the principle is the same. “We want to make sure that the underlying software does the same thing that we can use it across a wide range of hardware devices,” he said.
As hybrid and remote work has grown, the Google Workspace team has spent the last two years thinking about how to make work a little easier, Setty said. “We want technology to be enabling,” Setty said in an interview. “We want it to be helpful, we want it to be intuitive, and we want it to solve real problems.” This made the Workspace team think more about collaboration – so the meeting tools – but also about how to make asynchronous work more enjoyable.
Google plans to launch a new tool that generates automatic summaries of Spaces activity so you can log in in the morning and catch up without having to read hundreds of messages. It is also launching an automatic transcript service for Meet Meetings, with plans to possibly summarize those as well.
“We want to be able to help people deal with this information overload,” Setty said, and use AI to do that. He also said that Google thinks a lot about “collaborative equality” and “representative equality,” trying to help keep everyone on an equal playing field, no matter where they are, what technology they use, or how they work. One trick for Google, Setty acknowledged, is to help people without getting too involved or depriving employees of feeling as if they are being looked at by either Google or their employer. “The way we think about it,” he said, “is that we want to empower users first and foremost. And then give them as a choice as to how they expose that information to their teams and so on.”
After all this time stuck at home, it’s nice to have a few tools to make your setup work a little better, especially those that don’t require new apes or gear. But as people return to the office, Google has an even bigger meeting challenge ahead: to solve the problem of the hybrid meeting, with some people in a room and others on screen. That will take much more than good lighting and de-reverb.