The things on a person’s desk can say a lot about them. What’s On Your Desk is The Network’s Q&A series that interviews Cisco’s innovators and explores their favorite work objects.
Stephanie: Who are you and what do you do?
Tim: I’m Tim Tuttle, the CTO of Cognitive Collaboration. This is the group that works on WebEx Assistant and other AI initiatives inside of Collaboration.
Stephanie: What is your team working on right now?
Tim: Right now we’re launching WebEx Assistant, which is an assistant designed for collaboration meeting room endpoints. Like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, it’s a voice assistant that you can evoke with a wake-word. It can provide help during meetings like scheduling and collaborating with your team.
There’s a lot of things you can do with it—calling people, inviting people to your meeting, using voice commands. This saves you from having to open up your laptop, open your Webex Teams app, call, and pair with the device. It makes it convenient when you don’t have your laptop or mobile to control a device.
Stephanie: You were the CEO of MindMeld, right?
Tim: Yes, MindMeld is a company that pioneered natural language understanding technologies. That’s technology that is largely used in these voice assistants and chatbots.
Stephanie: What do you think the future of collaboration tools looks like?
Tim: AI will rise up and enslave humanity, the dogs will become super intelligent and then we won’t have any meetings because dogs don’t like to meet. In all seriousness, I think we’re already seeing a lot of it now—Cisco is pioneering a lot of the advancements.
20 years ago or even today, you’d have a moderator or assistant to take notes in a meeting to caption action items, to make sure all the participants were there, to make sure AV is set up. We think that most of that now can be taken care of by AI and good automated processes. For certain companies, there will be these virtual assistants that will have deep domain knowledge for things the company cares about. Having an expert there that has answers to all of your questions will be very useful. It’ll happen over the next 5, 10, 20 years.
Stephanie: So what’s on your desk?
With the touch bar— it’s very exciting. I don’t have a name for either the laptop or monitor.
“Touch” because it’s a touch panel and “ten” because it’s ten inches on the diagonal. Its designed to go with the Spark Room series endpoints. I have one handy so we can do a lot of testing on it.
Spoken Language understanding and Design Thinking books
This is one of the more well-known textbooks on speech recognition and language understanding. We have a lot of those books around to remind us of the prior art and the state of the tech today. It covers what our team works on, which is natural language understanding, speech recognition, speech synthesis, and dialogue management.
The design thinking book was published inside Cisco, one of a handful of initiatives to get more people thinking about design.
MindMeld was a startup that started in 2011. We spent about 4 years developing sophisticated technology to understand natural language before there were many companies working on it. As a result, we were one of a number of small companies that were leaders in the space of conversational AI. We could participate in conferences and were fortunate to win a bunch of awards in 2015 and 2016.
This is the water bottle that MindMeld gave everyone on the team when we completed a major release of our software platform a year or two ago. You see a lot of them hanging out on people’s desks because they get thirsty.
About a year ago, MindMeld had an opportunity to present at an e-commerce event. As a part of speaking there, they sent mugs to all the speakers with their face on it. Everyone in my office got a mug with my face on it too, and it was really creepy because I’d show up in meetings and everyone would have a mug on the table with my face on it staring back at me.
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