Cisco Launches AI-Powered Spark Assistant That Brings Amazon Echo-Type Technology To Business Meetings

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Cisco has created an enterprise-ready voice assistant solution that brings the technology of popular consumer products like Amazon Echo and Google Home into the business world, but with "more power," said Cisco's unified communications leader Rowan Trollope.

"We had to do some interesting things that are quite different from what you think about when you think about a virtual assistant like a Siri or a Google Home in that this is a team assistant and it's something that can interact with teams. So it's not a personal assistant, it's a team assistant and it's part of your team," said Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Applications Group, to a group of media and analysts at Cisco Partner Summit 2017.  "It's a virtual team member. That means it has to solve some quite different problems."

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant's new Cisco Spark Assistant is an all-purpose voice assistant built into the Spark platform and aimed at making meetings run more smoothly. Spark Assistant allows users to call, start or end a meeting, as well as join meeting rooms without any typing or dialing by saying, for example, "Hey, Spark. Call my meeting room."

[Related: 8 Things Partners Need To Know About Cisco's Revamped Partner Program]

The new offering includes machine learning, speech recognition, dialogue management, speaker tracking, intelligent proximity, language understanding and face recognition technology.

At the heart of Spark Assistant is the Nvidia Jetson processor that allows Cisco engineers to use artificial intelligence to build intuitive and intelligent capabilities, according to Trollope. "We optimized AI for the conference room," he said.

Cisco gained much of the features inside Spark Assistant from its acquisition this year of artificial intelligence startup MindMeld for $125 million. The San Francisco-based startup had spent three years developing its MindMeld platform that enables companies to create intelligent conversational interfaces for any app or device.

Tim Tuttle, the founder and former CEO of MindMeld, who is now CTO of Cognitive Collaboration at Cisco, said Spark Assistant is the "next-generation assistant" that can help employees work more efficiently in the office or in a home office.  

"Today, no company has actually launched a conversational voice assistant that makes our jobs easier. Makes our meeting and collaboration sessions easier – that's exactly what Spark Assistant is designed to do," said Tuttle.

"It uses the most advanced naturally understanding dialogue management technology. The goal is to streamline your meetings and your collaboration sessions," he said.

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