Bot brings artificial intelligence to the boardroom

Hendrix software uses AI to streamline note-taking at meetings

When staff in NAIT’s Information Technology department meet to discuss their latest projects, they invite the new guy, Hendrix. He’s not big on small talk and gets confused sometimes. But they cut him slack because he’s still learning and, well, he’s a robot.

Hendrix is the new artificial intelligence software being tested by a handful of NAIT IT staff. Developed in Edmonton by Testfire Labs, Hendrix’s goal is to make meetings more effective by taking notes, generating action items and tracking time spent on projects.

Torsten Prues, the communications specialist in NAIT’s IT department, signed up to test the beta version of Hendrix to see it in action and to help develop its capabilities.  

“We’re excited to work with it, because this is the future,” he says.

Who invited the bot to the meeting?

Prues has his own, dedicated phone-in code for Hendrix, as do four other IT staffers who work with the bot. They send a meeting invitation to Hendrix, which then dials into the meeting and “listens” using speech-to-text technology to take notes, capture action items and feed key meeting information back to a database.

A couple of hours later, Hendrix sends an email with the meeting’s minutes, duration and a reliability score assessing the accuracy of the notes. The more practice Hendrix gets, the more the software learns.

It’s still a long way from perfect – Prues shows an example of one recent meeting in which Hendrix records talk of a “quarterback in Iraq” and adds, “that will be part of my mom” (neither of which were discussed). Prues admits the meeting was pretty chaotic, and Hendrix does better at capturing minutes from more straightforward conversations among fewer people.

Hendrix is still a work in progress, says Testfire’s lead developer, Eric Fredin (Computer Systems Technology ’04). Audio quality can affect its performance, to say nothing of accents, speech patterns and other factors. “Despite all of the alarmist talk that AI is a threat to humanity, we’re nowhere near that now,” he says.

NAIT among companies beta testing Hendrix

Still, the technology is promising. Testfire recently received a significant investment from Accelerate Fund II, an Alberta angel investment fund. It currently has more than 50 beta customers, including NAIT, testing out Hendrix.

Fredin expects it will take about three months for Hendrix to be refined to the point where the software can be marketed to the public.

“We ultimately want to be able to capture all the ‘work product’ of the meeting,” he says. “Things like decisions and action items … one day he might be able to tap into all of your corporate resources to answer a question you ask him.”

Daryl Allenby, director of Information Technology infrastructure and operations at NAIT, says the potential for the technology in teaching and learning is exciting, even though it may be years or decades away.

“There’s value for us to be at the forefront, to know what’s there, but also for our own workforce transformation. Technologies are going to impact us whether we want them to or not.”

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