Finally, Fewer Meetings?

Using AI to produce an instant, highly accurate transcription of a recording has become trivial, The advancement has broad implications.

As the jury got set to begin deliberations in the trial of Derek Chauvin this week, the judge told them that they would have to rely on their notes from the three-week trial because no transcription of the testimony would be available. Someone tweeted that the lack of a transcript made perfect sense -- if the year were 1821.

He has a point. Natural language processing has advanced so much that using artificial intelligence to produce an instant, highly accurate transcription has become trivial, The advancement has broad implications, ranging from the number of meetings that we're all subjected to, to the interactions that agents and customer service reps have with clients.

Let's start with meetings. I hate most meetings. I was so disappointed to realize years ago that someone had written a book called "Death by Meeting," because I considered writing a book with that exact title.

But meetings are hard to stamp out. When a colleague and I facilitated a long-term strategy session for a major medical organization a few years ago, we asked for a list of things that the top team wanted to stop doing. Almost everyone said the organization held far too many meetings -- and recommended a long series of meetings to tackle the problem. (The CEO had quite the chuckle.)

Automatic transcriptions provide at least part of a solution. Many meetings are held just to distribute information -- even though the orthodoxy is that meetings should focus on making decisions. But transcriptions make distributing information trivial. Those not attending a meeting don't even have to watch or listen to a recording; they can just skim the transcript in a tiny fraction of the time. If they want to catch all the nuance, or if the transcript seems unclear, they can click on the links that the AI provides to that part of the recording and listen to or watch the actual session. (This article in Wired provides some detail on the advances. My favorite service is

No one has to take notes at a meeting any longer. Those wanting to forward details to their staffs can just highlight the important points, or, if some information or interactions are considered to be confidential, can simply cut and paste what they want to share from the transcript.

Many people who now feel their time is sucked away via meetings will be able to avoid them while not missing out on any of the information. The problem won't entirely go away, because many want to be included in meetings even if they don't want to actually attend -- status depends on being invited to certain meetings. But at least there's now more flexibility, and smart organizations will find ways to use the advances in transcription to free valuable time for executives and staff.

The capability should be cranked into the deliberations that companies are going through now as they consider how much work-from-home will be part of their future. We've all learned how to "attend" virtual meetings without being 100% present -- I've pretty much lived in gym shorts for 14 months now. Knowing that meetings can be automatically transcribed gives us a backstop so we can be productive during the times when our full attention isn't needed. Smart companies will note that the definition of a meeting has become fluid and will plan accordingly.

AI-based transcription won't just reduce the number attending meetings at senior levels of insurers but will also affect how agents and customer reps interact with clients. While it's long been easy to record conversations, the interactions are now searchable because they can be turned into text. That makes a huge difference.

I remember a colleague at the Wall Street Journal's nascent TV operation cataloguing video back in the early 1990s, trying to document all the key words and topics that might make the video of use years later. He was a bright fellow who went on to be CEO of a multibillion-dollar communications company, but he soon found that the work took too much time and yielded too little return. Today, he could search transcripts in seconds to see who was interviewed, what the person said, etc.

This searchability will increase accountability for anyone offering advice. That's not a huge issue at the moment, because it's largely those giving advice who are recording calls "for training purposes," but clients will increasingly record calls, too, and will have text that they can easily search and present as evidence if they feel they've been ill-used. Look at how seemingly every public interaction is caught on camera these days -- and recording audio is even simpler.

At the same time, agents and insurers are increasingly able to search transcripts to see what is puzzling clients, so they can smooth out kinks in the customer experience. Agents and insurers can also see what bigger issues might need to be addressed.

We don't live in 1821. It's 2021, and, after a year of COVID, we deserve all the breaks we can get.

I'll start us off by skipping four meetings this week.

Stay safe.


P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight from the past week:

How Insurers Can Step Up on Climate Change

With the coming UN conference on climate change, the insurance industry has a historic opportunity to take a seat at the main table.

Solving Life Insurance Coverage Gap

We are now seeing the fruits of our labors materialized into a genuine straight-through process for term life.

1 Million Digital Life Presentations

The life insurance presentations provide five key takeaways: In sum, millennials demand a more visual, interactive and intuitive approach.

How AI Is Moving Distribution Forward

AI improves risk analysis and fraud detection while providing more sophisticated pricing and faster, more personalized customer services.

Long-Term Disability in the Time of COVID-19

There are many "pandemic headwinds" facing group LTD carriers, and it's just a matter of time before these trends crystallize.

Sea Changes After a Year of Pandemic

Business as usual is likely to take on a different meaning, a reality compounded by the ever-shortening useful life of technology.

Paul Carroll

Profile picture for user PaulCarroll

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.