Teaming with AI: How Microsoft is taking on Zoom on ‘virtual background’ front

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Published: July 13, 2020 6:01 AM

Microsoft last week announced features that will help users enable team mode, where they can sit together in a different environment.

But as work from home becomes a norm, and people get attuned to living with video calling apps, companies are incorporating more features to keep their userbase. But as work from home becomes a norm, and people get attuned to living with video calling apps, companies are incorporating more features to keep their userbase.

When governments the world over announced lockdowns, the hunt for best collaboration and video-calling apps had begun for most users. There were video calling apps for fun—Houseparty—and then there were business apps. But competition in the space was limited. Zoom captured a large share of the market with its user interface and accessible features. The disaster that followed in terms of the company trying to keep up with demand and buying Chinese servers gave space to the likes of Microsoft and Google to add more users. But as work from home becomes a norm, and people get attuned to living with video calling apps, companies are incorporating more features to keep their userbase. One of the biggest highlights for all apps has been the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to attract users. The latest addition to this is Microsoft.

What has Microsoft introduced?
Microsoft last week announced features that will help users enable team mode, where they can sit together in a different environment. So, with a virtual background, you can see everyone sitting right in front of you in a classroom, library or coffee house setting, thereby making the whole experience more personal. Microsoft is also trying to incorporate a feature which allows you to adjust brightness and other parameters of the video.

How is it different from virtual backgrounds?
Zoom has had virtual backgrounds for long now. Microsoft is a late entrant, but the concept is the same. When Zoom uses virtual background, it often renders the depth of the image to superimpose other backgrounds on it. The machine-learning algorithm then identifies the human component and changes the rest. The technology is not perfect, adjust the camera too fast, and it will not work. In this case, Microsoft is using the same technology to extract you from the image and put you in the same room along with friends and colleagues sitting behind a desk or a table. That way you can see all the participants in one window.

What is Google Meet doing?
Google is using AI differently. Instead of using it for video, it is using the technology to cut out background noise. This active noise filtering means that you can only hear the sound of the speaker, and every other sound gets muzzled.

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