Zoom rebrands existing -- and intros new -- generative AI features

To stay competitive in the crowded market for videoconferencing, Zoom is updating and rebranding several of its AI-powered features, including the generative AI assistant formerly known as Zoom IQ.

The news comes after controversy over changes to Zoom's terms of service, which implied that Zoom reserved the right to use customers' videos to train its AI tools and models. In response to the blowback, Zoom updated its policy to explicitly state that "communications-like" customer data won't be used in training AI apps and services for Zoom or its outside partners.

The Software Freedom Conservancy, the nonprofit that serves support and legal services for open source projects, recently called on developers to ditch Zoom over the terms of service changes.

"Zoom’s goal is to invest in AI-driven innovation that enhances user experience and productivity while prioritizing trust, safety and privacy," Zoom wrote in a press release shared with TechCrunch. "In August, Zoom shared that it doesn't use any customer audio, video, chat, screen-sharing, attachments or other communications-like customer content (such as poll results, whiteboards or reactions) to train Zoom’s or third-party AI models."

Zoom AI Companion

The rebranded Zoom IQ, called the AI Companion, is powered by the same mix of technologies as Zoom IQ: Zoom's in-house generative AI along with AI models from vendors including Meta, OpenAI and Anthropic. But its reach is expanding to more corners of the Zoom ecosystem, including Zoom Whiteboard, Zoom Team Chat and Zoom Mail.

Perhaps the biggest news is that Zoom is gaining what's essentially a ChatGPT-like bot via the AI Companion. In spring 2024, Zoom will get a conversational interface that'll allow users to chat directly with the AI Companion, and ask questions about prior meetings and chats as well as take actions on their behalf.

For example, users will be able to query the AI Companion for the status of projects, pulling on transcribed meetings, chats, whiteboards, emails, documents and even third-party apps. They'll be able to ask the AI Companion questions during a meeting to catch up on key points, create and file support tickets and draft responses to inquiries. And -- as was possible with Zoom IQ -- they'll be able to have the AI Companion summarize meetings, automatically identifying action items and surfacing the next steps.

Zoom AI chat companion
Zoom AI chat companion

Image Credits: Zoom

Also starting next spring, the AI Companion will give "real-time feedback" on people's presence in meetings plus coaching on their conversational and presentation skills.

It's not a feature every user's likely to welcome -- particularly those concerned about Zoom's potential ulterior motives around AI. But Zoom points out that real-time feedback, along with the AI Companion's other capabilities, can be switched off at any time by an account owner or administrator.

Elsewhere, in Zoom Team Chat, Zoom's messaging app, users will soon (within a few weeks) gain the option to summarize chat threads through the AI Companion -- a feature Zoom IQ also offered. (This reporter is skeptical of AI's summarization skills, but I'll withhold judgement until I see Zoom's tech in action.) By early 2024, users will have the ability to auto-complete chat sentences -- similar to Microsoft Teams' and Google Meet's AI-generated replies, as was promised with Zoom IQ -- and schedule meetings from a chat.

In a previously telegraphed feature, Zoom Whiteboard, Zoom's collaborative whiteboarding tool will be able to generate images and populate templates courtesy of the AI Companion come spring 2024. It's not clear which image-generating model will power this capability, but presumably, the results will be in line with text-to-image tools such as OpenAI's DALL-E 2 and Midjourney. (Whether it'll have content filters and bias mitigations of any sort is another matter.)

In early fall, users of Zoom's email client Zoom Mail will be able to get AI-generated email suggestions from the AI Companion -- like with Zoom IQ. And by spring 2024, Zoom users will gain a way to add meeting summaries to the platform's note-taking app, Notes, and summarize text messages threads and calls from Zoom's VoIP service Zoom Phone.

Many, if not most, of the AI Companion features will live in the Zoom app's side panel. But not for all users. Only paying Zoom customers will be able to access them once they're live.

Zoom Revenue Accelerator

In Zoom's second rebranding today, Zoom's sales assistant tool Zoom IQ for Sales is becoming Zoom Revenue Accelerator.

Zoom IQ for Sales wasn't particularly well-received at launch, with critics arguing that the sentiment analysis algorithms used in the feature were fundamentally flawed. More than two dozen rights groups called on Zoom to scrap its efforts to explore what they characterized as "inaccurate" and "under-tested" technology.

Zoom didn't ultimately wind down Zoom IQ for Sales. Instead, it shifted the tool's feature set from sentiment analysis to more mundane use cases -- and continues to do so, from all appearances.

Zoom announced several new capabilities coming to Revenue Accelerator, including a "virtual coach" to simulate conversations for onboarding and training sales team members. The virtual coach can assess salespeople's performance on pitching products using various sales methodologies, similar to other AI-powered sales training platforms on the market.

Zoom Virtual Coach
Zoom Virtual Coach

Zoom's virtual coach feature. Image Credits: Zoom

Deal risk signals are coming to Revenue Accelerator, in addition, letting sales team members use a rules-based engine to send alerts if a deal hasn't moved forward in a specified period of time. Another forthcoming feature, discover monthly, will track how competitors are being mentioned on calls and summarizing the trends on a per-month basis.

Zoom's revamps come at a pivotal moment for the tech giant, which faced its first quarterly loss of $108 million since 2018 in the fourth-quarter results for the 2023 financial year. Back in February, Zoom laid off 15% of its staff, or around 1,300 people, blaming a post-pandemic slump in demand and increased competition from Microsoft, Cisco, Webex, Slack and others. (Zoom was one of the major beneficiaries of the pandemic, when social distancing rules made videoconferencing an essential tool.)

Zoom's outlook grew a little rosier for the quarter ending in April as the company underwent belt-tightening. While Zoom recorded the slowest quarterly growth on record at 3% and falling online revenue, it raised its annual revenue forecast to between $4.47 billion and $4.49 billion, up about 2% from $4.44 billion to $4.46 billion.