• Brian Trotter

Why does my video-conference always zoom in on the guy picking his nose?

We are all adjusting to this new world of non-stop video conferences. So I'm sure you've experienced this at least once already: you reach the key point in your presentation, ready to drop your most impressive piece of data that will astound all the executives on the line, when the video-conference view shifts from your brilliant and powerful the guy picking his nose. Or yawning. Why?!?

Well, it's pretty simple. Most video-conference tools use either audio sounds or video movement to decide which attendee to focus on. Move around, or make a lot of noise, and it thinks you're the speaker. So you'll be broadcast to everyone front-and-center.

But there's a recent patent publication from IBM that's trying to make this much more intelligent. Imagine if your video conference would only show viewers demonstrating behaviors you want to reinforce to the entire meeting. Yes, that's exactly what's disclosed in US Patent Publication 2020/0106988, "BEHAVIORAL INFLUENCE SYSTEM IN SOCIALLY COLLABORATIVE TOOLS". It's basically a machine-learning-based virtual director for your conference, intelligently transitioning between views throughout your meeting.

The core of the system is what they call the "behavior analytics engine". Simply tell this engine which behaviors you want to reinforce: smiles, nods, even that thumb-on-the-chin move that communicates, "hmm, that's interesting". Then, this behavior analytics engine will be working during your meeting, processing all the video feeds, and as it matches video from your attendees with the behaviors you've chosen, it brings those feeds to the front. You can also provide "negative" behaviors, like yawning, and it will eliminate those from the feed.

This makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience, but there's much more at work here. The inventors discuss that "a specific gesture and/or expression such as a smile can have an 'infectious' effect within the group of remote users on a video conference". Once a few people are smiling and nodding, then everyone starts to join in.

With all the video conferences happening over the next weeks and months, let's hope these aren't the only inventors looking to make that experience better for everyone.

Note : all quotes from US Patent Publication 2020/0106988 from