Zoom's CEO wants a manipulatable AI avatar of you to attend meetings instead

Person on video call with colleagues
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The founder and CEO of video conferencing company Zoom wants AI avatars to take your place, despite meetings being the entire point of his company.

Yuan made reference to the idea of having a ‘digital twin’ that you can ‘count on’, presumably to say all of the things you would say in an interview anyway, in an interview with The Verge.

“We’re not there yet,” said Yuan, “but that’s a reason why there’s limitations in today’s [large language models]. Everyone shares the same LLM. It doesn’t make any sense. I should have my own LLM — Eric’s LLM, Nilay’s LLM. All of us, we will have our own LLM. Essentially, that’s the foundation for the digital twin."

Your own personal LLM

“Every morning I wake up, an AI will tell me, ‘Eric, you have five meetings scheduled today. You do not need to join four of the five. You only need to join one. You can send a digital version of yourself,’” he went on. 

“For the one meeting I join, after the meeting is over, I can get all the summary and send it to the people who couldn’t make it. Again, I can leverage the AI as my assistant and give me all kinds of input, just more than myself. That’s the vision.”

I can kind of see why Yuan wants Zoom to expand its brief: the company was the breakout star of a global pandemic, and now you’re spoilt for choice if you want to have a meeting from the comfort of your own home while wearing a buttoned shirt over a penguin onesie.

The company needs to survive for the shareholders’ wellbeing. It’s super relatable. However, this idea’s a bit… ridiculous, isn’t it? Most of the Verge interview is in ‘there are no bad ideas’ mode, but I am not that mode.

There’s some argument to be made for notes on meetings to be made and sent automatically to be sent - but that’s nothing new. I don’t even have to check our archives to Microsoft’s Copilot software already does this, as does actual Zoom, without the bell and whistle of an avatar purporting to be you in the meeting. Nothing meaningful is being added here.

So, you can either send a robot version of yourself to annoy your co-workers / minions, or a journalist who has taken an hour out of their day to find out that you can’t be bothered. 

The future Yuan is positing of a journalist’s personal LLM and a CEO’s LLM talking to each other to create content, or whatever, is violently bleak in itself, but then Yuan can’t help but let slip that, underneath his desire for an artificially intelligent digital twin who can reliably impersonate him, is his desire to manipulate that AI bot so that it can manipulate others.

“Sometimes I don’t join a sales call with customers. I know my weakness before sending a digital version of myself. I know that weakness. I can modify the parameter a little bit. [...] For that meeting I say, “Hey, tune that parameter to have better negotiation skills, send that version, and join.”

And then there’s the inevitable nightmare of an executive’s perfect artificial self, attuned for a specific purpose, being wielded against a consumer public. If you’ve made a mistake - maybe you've turned AI into a massive, sweeping security risk - send your AI hologram with the ‘contrition’ fader cranked to 11. Have a disappointing product that you’ve placed arbitrary limits on in the pursuit of infinite growth? Set that ‘sincerity’ dial to max for your keynote announcement vid, baby. 

A person holding out their hand with a digital AI symbol.

(Image credit: Shutterstock / LookerStudio)

Here we see a treatment of the symptoms, not the disease. If you don’t need to join four of the five meetings, those meetings shouldn’t be happening, and just not turning up is also an option. Don’t window dress it. 

Talk to the journalists you want to talk to, but don’t foist your robot tribute act on the ones you don’t just because you’re too socially awkward or on enough of a power trip to be honest about that.

As a journalist, that this idea has even come up makes me even less likely to want to talk to anyone who runs a company, because I’d want to pick their brain, not the machine-learned knowledge bank that they want me to pick.

I don’t get it. I think I’m supposed to be excited about it in the pursuit of technological advancement, but I actually see it deepening the divide between consumer and company. You are putty, there to be oblivious to leading arguments and deceit so that you submit to becoming a number on a spreadsheet.

If we’re now at the point where executives can’t even be bothered to do their own false sincerity, then that divide is clearer than ever, and you need to be thinking more critically about what a company is putting in front of you, especially as AI improves and it becomes less and less clear how much is real and what is synthetic.

The implications of this are woeful, and anything that’s been implemented as an evil plot in Doctor Who is objectively a horrible idea. However, Yuan deserves some credit for having made a thought-provoking pitch for CEOs being the perfect job to be eradicated and replaced by artificial intelligence.

An AI LLM of me wouldn’t come out with that, so color me uninterested.

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Luke Hughes
Staff Writer

 Luke Hughes holds the role of Staff Writer at TechRadar Pro, producing news, features and deals content across topics ranging from computing to cloud services, cybersecurity, data privacy and business software.