— Nigel Painting (@nigelchpainting) February 4, 2017
Yesterday I worked from home, I do so two out of five days most weeks. During the course of the day I took part in a number of one to one meetings via telephone and on Facetime, as well as group conference calls. With Facetime in particular I find the experience almost identical to a face to face catch up. All of the visual and auditory clues one consciously or subconsciously notices are present and the interiors of co-workers home offices can become familiar places where ones ‘disembodied’ self can go, without having ever visited them in real life.
The article linked above states that “Microsoft Research, […] says the Beam enables its staff in Russia, India and China to have casual chats in the same way as if they bumped into someone in the hallway.” However, this does appear to indicate that this is a one to one conversation that would lack the serendipitous input of those not directly involved in a face to face meeting, who overhear something they are able to contribute to (sometimes positively!) The nearest online equivalent I can think of is the hash tag in Twitter, which can elicit unexpected input in a very similar way. However, unless you’re constant ‘tuned in’ to Twitter those sorts of interventions are rarely sufficiently synchronous to alter the course of a real-time conversation. Maybe that’s where algorithms would come in with the remotely controlled robot selves – spotting patterns in conversations one might be interested in and alerting you to get involved. Scary stuff when one considers some of the office banter one can get involved in!