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How AI Could Help Ease Your Zoom Fatigue

7 minute read |An icon depicting a retail tag with a heart for 'favourite'CBCRantSociety

I discussed this issue with Robyn Bresnahan on CBC Ottawa Morning on 21-Sep-2020. Have a listen…

Transcript

[00:00:00] Robyn: Do not adjust your radios [laughs]. Video calls have become an inescapable part of daily life for many people, and along with them, the frustration of trying to interact with a bunch of floating heads on your screen. The phenomenon of Zoom fatigue is by now well-documented, but if video calls are a new reality, is there any way to make them better? new artificial intelligence, AI, technology may offer some help.

Our technology columnist [laughs] has been looking into this. Mark Nunnikhoven is the vice president of Cloud Research at Trend Micro, which is an Ottawa cybersecurity company, and he joins us on the line now. Hi, Mark.

[00:00:47] Mark: Morning, Robyn. How are you?

[00:00:48] Robyn: I’m okay. How are you? And how is your fatigue with video calls going these days? [laughs]

[00:00:54] Mark: I think you could easily sum it up with, just a guttural, core of my being, “Ugh.”

[00:01:00] Robyn: [laughs]

[00:01:00] Mark: To the point where even just those sounds in the intro, A, I could identify the software each of them was from, and B, they made me super nervous and on edge.

[00:01:10] Robyn: Oh, no. Why?

[00:01:12] Mark: Just the sheer amount and volume, because we’ve lost that physical touch because we, can’t do face to face anymore. Just the sheer volume of everyone, “Oh, let’s just jump on a call, let’s just jump on a call.” And of course they mean a video call, not an actual phone call.

[00:01:25] Robyn: What do you think is the most frustrating part of these video meetings?

[00:01:30] Mark: I think it’s the appearance of face to face. and technically it is, you’re seeing faces, but we’re losing so much, subtle information, body language, just the feeling of being next to people. There’s a whole bunch of information that we have in person that we don’t get online, but there’s the appearance of it, you’re just, your brain’s working overtime even though you don’t really realize that’s what’s happening.

[00:01:47] Robyn: Many technology companies, have been trying to come up with, different solutions to this. What are they zooming in on?

[00:02:01] Mark: Yeah, and pun aside, and we’ll forgive you that for Monday morning-

[00:02:05] Robyn: [laughs]

[00:02:05] Mark: The, we started with the real basics. I’ll, you saw the big rush when the pandemic started of en-enabling virtual backgrounds so that you could change what was behind you, and, of course, that got old real fast. they’ve added things like touch up your appearance automatically to make your camera look better, to try to adjust your lighting, but the latest push is around artificial eye contact.

[00:02:26] Robyn: How does that work?

[00:02:27] Mark: Yeah, it’s a weird thing. for people, when you’re on a video call, you normally have a habit, totally understandably, of looking at the pictures of the people you’re on the call with, so you’re looking at those floating heads. that’s not where your camera is, so you end up with the off-center eye contact. If you really wanted to make virtual eye contact, you shouldn’t be looking at your, your, colleagues or your meeting-mates at all, you should be looking directly into your webcam, which, of course, defies the whole point of having a video call.

So what, technologists are coming up with is, is companies are coming up with is an artificial, intelligence, application of basically repainting your eyes so that it looks like you’re looking into the camera, even though you’re not.

[00:03:08] Robyn: How d- [laughs] how does it do that? It just moves your irises so they’re your pupils so that you’re pointing up or what?

[00:03:14] Mark: Basically. It’s weird that way.

[00:03:16] Robyn: [laughs]

[00:03:16] Mark: But that’s exactly what it is. So we’ve had eye tracking and face tech- tracking technology for the longest time. the easiest way to understand that is your camera. so if you have a point and shoot camera or your smartphone, a lot of the time it takes focus based on finding an eye in, in the picture, because that’s where, If you’re looking at a face, you want that crystal clear focus on somebody’s eyes.

And what this technology is doing is taking it the next step of saying, “Okay, we’re gonna find that eye and then we’re gonna just subtly readjust it so that…” Yes, we are just gonna move your iris so that it looks like you’re looking where you should be, as opposed to where you actually are.

[00:03:51] Robyn: You gave this a go, you tested it out. How did it go?

[00:03:54] Mark: I did, and it actually, surprisingly, worked pretty well. I was expecting it to be, not even borderline creepy, but full into weird, creepy, bad sci-fi movie-

[00:04:04] Robyn: [laughs]

[00:04:04] Mark: But it was actually quite good. So it’s available to, people who have, one of the higher end iPhones, with the new update last week, iOS 14. it allows you, in FaceTime calls, to adjust your eye contact and it is very subtle.

They’ve erred on the side of not, getting it wrong because, obviously, if you move somebody’s eyes out of their face, that’s gonna freak everybody out. but it worked quite well. And it’s showing up on other hardware like the Microsoft Surface X tablet and some other stuff as well. So it’s, it’s got some promise, which I was surprised at.

[00:04:32] Robyn: Do they really think that the eye contact is the biggest issue? Because certainly, from Zoom meetings that, I have been on with the Ottawa Morning team, we have people who, for instance, have a bad connection, people talking over top of one another sometimes, sometimes somebody forgets to turn off their mic and so they’re type, typing and you hear all of that. is the eye contact the main problem here?

[00:04:53] Mark: Not at all. everything you just listed is by far more important, but this is a great example of where technology companies can’t really tackle the human side, so they’re looking for something they can do, anything they can do to make it easier. So virtual backgrounds were a good example of that, of “Oh, we can make it, so that you can appear, anywhere.”

And of course, it was actually more distracting and added to these problems. I think the eye contact may have some positive upside here, but it is very much just, grasping at straws for the companies when, it’s really a people issue. It’s, seeing that many people on screens is hard, worrying about what the new etiquette level is, these are all more important to our experience, but they’re also out of the control of the video conferencing companies.

[00:05:34] Robyn: And these fancy new technologies, the artificial intelligence, can regular people get their hands on them right now?

[00:05:41] Mark: There’s very limited, access to the eye contact adjustment. like I said, it’s available on high end iPhones with iOS 14, it’s available on Microsoft Surface X tablet, not their others. but it is slated to start showing up on a bunch of our devices within the next few months.

And, of course, the longer this stretches out, the more, that timeline’s gonna, accelerate, and we’re gonna see other features like this as companies are trying to make it better, but again it comes down to us and how we behave.

[00:06:06] Robyn: Makes me feel even more grateful for radio at this point [laughs]. Thanks very much, Mark.

[00:06:13] Mark: No worries.

[00:06:13] Robyn: That’s Mark Nunnikhoven. He’s our technology columnist and he is the vice president of Cloud Research at Trend Micro here in Ottawa.