Posey's Tips & Tricks
Let Teams Give Your Space a Digital Makeover
Thanks to AI, straightening up your workspace before a Web meeting might be a thing of the past.
The lockdowns that happened a few years ago will undoubtedly be remembered for, among other things, the insane number of Zoom and Teams meetings that we all had to deal with. It seems kind of funny looking back, but I can think of people whom I had previously conversed with purely through voice calls suddenly insisting on using video calls. Maybe the video meetings were simply a way of coping with isolation, but in 2020 I found myself sitting through more video calls than I had ever thought possible. I'm sure you did too.
There was however, one thing about the overabundance of video calls that I thought was kind of cool. Webcams gave you a small window into someone else's home. In at least a few cases that I can remember, I felt as though being able to get a small glimpse into a person's home allowed me to get to know the person just a little bit better.
Of course the big thing that I am sure we will all remember about the video meetings of 2020 is that all too often, chaos reigned supreme. After all, who hasn't sat through a meeting that was dominated by a screaming kid or a barking dog? And of course I'm sure we have all heard stories (if not witnessed such events firsthand) of something really embarrassing showing up in someone's camera view.
A few years have passed and while many people still work remotely, "unfiltered" backgrounds have become far less common. Most people seem to either blur their background or use one of those boring, HR-approved, stuffy, fake corporate backgrounds.
Recently however, Microsoft has introduced a third option for online meeting backgrounds. Microsoft Teams is getting a feature that will allow you to clean up (or decorate) your background. This feature, which is scheduled to debut as a part of Teams Premium in 2024, can do a few different things.
One of the tool's main functions will be to use AI to virtually clean up a messy room. So in other words, if someone who has a messy home were to have a video conference with a coworker, that coworker would still see the other person's actual home as opposed to a fake or a blurred background. The difference is that an AI engine would digitally erase the clutter, making the room seem neater and cleaner than it actually is.
A second thing that the new tool will be able to do is to give a space a designer makeover, albeit a digital one. Based on what I have seen, Teams will be able to use AI to add and remove background objects and textures as a way of making a room seem more trendy and chic. The AI engine will even be able to digitally decorate a room for the holidays. If you are curious to see this new feature in action, then be sure to check out the demonstration GIF here.
The third thing that this new tool will be able to do is to isolate audio. It remains to be seen how well audio isolation is going to work in the real world, but the feature may help to filter out background noises caused by kids, pets, televisions, lawn mowers and the like. My guess is that the audio isolation feature will probably end up being most useful for cleaning up the audio on video calls when a participant is in a loud public space such as an airport or a coffee shop.
I kind of have mixed feelings about Teams' newfound ability to cleanup and decorate your background. Let me say up front that I am fine with the overall concept. I will even go so far as to say that as a technology enthusiast, I think it's really cool that Teams will be able to automatically perform these various tasks on the fly. Based on what little I have actually seen of this tool, it seems to do a really good job. In fact, I can actually envision some people using Teams as an interior design tool. In other words, someone might use Teams to generate ideas for how they might spruce up their place in real life.
The only real concern that I have with Teams' new background cleanup feature is in its ability to digitally place objects in your background. Generic decorative objects are of course a non-issue, but sometimes AI can be unpredictable. As such, I just can't help but to wonder about the potential for Teams to generate a background object that stands in stark contrast to my deepest held personal beliefs. Imagine for a moment that you are in the middle of a Teams meeting and someone comments on a real looking, but AI generated background object that symbolizes something that is completely counter to your religious, political or moral beliefs -- whatever those beliefs might be. I'm not saying that this would necessarily happen. I'm just wondering if it could.
In any case, I think that the new Teams features hold enormous potential and I am excited to see if they work as well in the real world as they do in Microsoft's demo videos.
Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.