Watch me be in three meetings at once

You can be forgiven if you have the impression that I hate AI. I do have profound concerns with the ways the technology is being rolled out, sure, but I’m still an enthusiast at heart and I love playing around with this stuff. 

This week I wrote about a free transcription application that took a half-hour episode of a radio show and gave me a text transcription in a couple minutes. Even more staggering: the entire thing happens on my device, with no need for an internet connection. Tools like this are going to make my life a lot easier. As a journalist, I can record a conversation, feed it to the app, and browse the resulting text to find the quotes I’ll end up using. This has the potential to make me better at what I do. Often, when I’m crunched for time, I’ll be typing notes during a conversation so that I don’t have to transcribe them later, which makes me a worse interviewer. A tool like this can help me be more present in whatever conversation I’m having, which could result in me doing better work.

I wish the companies that make AI were talking more about tools in this framework—”this tool can help you do what you do best”. That would be a hopeful vision of the future. Instead the emphasis seems to be overwhelmingly on workers using the technology to really excel at busywork: attending meetings, designing presentations, and otherwise talking about doing work instead of actually doing work. This would be great if the ads suggested you’d have more time to do real work, but instead they seem to suggest you’ll have more time for more busywork. There’s no better example than this Microsoft ad that has been making the rounds: 

Three meetings at once. It’s so funny that, when I saw people making fun of it, I assumed it was a meme or an Onion parody. Nope: Microsoft really did run this as an ad on Instagram. This is what they think we want from their supposedly world-changing technology: the ability to attend more meetings. 

Now, Copilot’s ability to transcribe a meeting and highlight the key points is cool, and in theory it could make meetings more efficient. It’s easy to imagine, in a healthy work culture, where that gain in time allows people to spend more time doing the actually productive parts of their job. 

Instead this ad assumes the opposite will happen. It imagines a future where we use our efficiency gains to attend more meetings. Economists sometimes talk about how the current crop of technology hasn’t lead to commensurate productivity gains—it’s a bit of a mystery in some circles. I would hold up this ad as the explanation: we are all, as a society, using the efficiency gains to attend more pointless meetings. 

But what’s even funnier is that the ad doesn’t even deliver on its dystopian promise. If you do “swipe right” there is no clear demonstration of how you can “attend three meetings at once”—just screenshots of the meeting summary tools. 

I do not know whether AI is going to transform the world for the better. I do know that, if it does, it won’t be by enabling middle mangers to add more meetings to the calendar of people who actually do things. Our work cultures aren’t weighed down with bullshit because the right technology to fix that hasn’t come around yet. They’re waded down with bullshit for cultural reasons. Tech can’t fix cultural problems—you need a cultural solution. 

So I don’t hate AI, not really. I just think a lot of the current imagined use cases are moronic, and reveal a real failure of imagination among the people who work at tech companies. This ad demonstrates that clearly, which is why I love it. 

8 Comments

  1. @JustinPotBlog This is a technology that has been explored by Reed Hoffman and others. They’ve created digital twins by having AI consume their contact books, blog posts, and podcasts. The AI then interviews them as if it were them.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, is likely to take a different approach. Instead of being present in three meetings simultaneously, they might use Teams Recaps to provide transcripts and summaries of the meetings that were missed. This way, you’re still getting the information from the meeting without actually having to be there.

    With digital twins and AI, if you’re only needed in a meeting for your resources or opinions, you could potentially have an AI represent you. This would work as long as the AI doesn’t need any up-to-date or current information.

    So, in my view, people can be in multiple meetings at once in two ways. First, through Teams Recaps, where you receive an email summarizing what happened during the meeting. Second, through digital AI twins, where the AI isn’t actually in the meeting but provides a representation of you. This is how I see the future of multitasking in meetings.

    Here is the AI tool I have been using. https://magai.co/?via=leif

    1. @leifdavisson @JustinPotBlog I’d never heard of this AI Twin thing but wow is that a profoundly bad idea. I see no world in which letting an AI replica of yourself make a decision is going to be healthier for an organization than building a team where you trust the others in the organization to make good decisions without you there. That just speaks to a profoundly unhealthy organization and a style of leadership that is so egotistical I cannot fathom it.

  2. @JustinPotBlog I can't wait for you to quote an entirely hallucinated quote the LLM pulled out of its rear in an article about a sensitive topic.

    It's going to be hilarious.

    It's vitriolic but LLMs truly benefit no one. Even if local, they were made unethically(scraping the whole net), and its output will forever be just as unethical and factually erroneous(inventing nonsense based on the training data). Doing mental gymnastics on how the doomsday device could be beneficious helps nobody.

    1. @zanagb @JustinPotBlog Ha! I hope it goes without saying that I would recognize anything that sensational didn’t happen in a conversation I had, and I’d check it against the actual audio. But yes, there is a danger of such things.

      (I keep expecting AI bros to show up defending the tech and instead I get responses like this, which is why I love the fedi)

      1. @jhpot @JustinPotBlog With that out of my system. Onto the meat and potatoes of your original post. I feel like what Microsoft & Co. are doing is intentional. Instead of removing our tedium, ensure the only things we do are those who make the human experience infinitely worse. Only those already rich enough to never worrying about work can enjoy performing the arts or just enjoying life, everyone else gets to be attending meetings.

        We want AI to free us from chores, not tie us to them.

  3. @JustinPotBlog

    The "attend three meetings at once" is one reason why companies are fighting against "work from home".

    They fear that low wage workers, like teachers & health care workers especially, will use this technology to work for multiple employers at the same time.

    Do a virtual clinic at triple your rate, while recording a case manager droning on about new policy requirements.

    Zip through a transcript after the case manager is done with the soporific.

    Conduct tutoring for …

    1/2

    1. 2/2

      … a teen overseas being hothoused for a future at an elite US university at 4 times your rate, while the students do clip training in a computer lab

      This technology has the potential to disrupt labor markets.

      It enables employees to work side hustles on company time.

      It also allows corporations to impose unsustainable working conditions on employees.

      A sales agent working the phones, attending training, & a sales analysis – all at the same time.

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