Everything We Know About Humane’s Bewildering New AI Pin

Everything We Know About Humane’s Bewildering New AI Pin

For years, tech companies have been on a mission to create a wearable that will “kill”—or replace—the smartphone. The reasons for this are manifold but, in general, the idea has been to usher in the next “it” device, one that will prove as ubiquitous and indispensable as the phone while also surpassing it in terms of convenience and capability. This has often led to inventions that make computing much more in your face (literally). Countless efforts to strap a device to users’ heads—like Google Glass or Meta’s host of flailing “metaverse” products—have been flanked by even more dystopian projects, like Elon Musk’s creepy dream of inserting a chip directly into your brain.

But the future of tech could lie in a device that is basically the anti-Google Glass—a product that, instead of making your screen time more obtrusive and all-encompassing, actually gets rid of it altogether.

Enter the AI pin, which is the work of Humane, Inc., a tech startup founded by two former Apple employees. The company, which has received a healthy dose of financial help from prominent companies like OpenAI and Microsoft, has been hyping its new device for months now, promising that it will revolutionize our relationship with computing forever. The device is finally scheduled to drop next week on November 9th. But what is it? And does the product description actually match the heightened rhetoric surrounding it?

The AI pin explained

In short: the AI pin is a tiny laser projector designed to be clipped to the front of your shirt. Why would you want such a thing? Despite the fact that it doesn’t need to be hooked up to a phone or a computer, the pin can make and receive calls, connect to the internet, and answer a broad variety of questions, making it a unique virtual assistant and a communication device all in one. In lieu of a screen, the pin projects call information and other data onto the palm of your hand, making it, to be generous, somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek’s holo-emitter.

Humane’s pin is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip and runs a proprietary large language model that is powered by GPT-4, OpenAI’s most powerful generative algorithm. It also comes equipped with a microphone, a camera, and a bevy of sensors, allowing it to interact with the world, gather data, and answer your queries as you go about your daily life.

The device is the work of Humane’s co-founders, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno—two former Apple employees who also happen to be husband and wife. Chaudri has been one of the key designers of some of Apple’s key product features (such as the iPhone’s “swipe to unlock” gesture), while Bongiorno, a former director of software engineering, worked in a managerial role, often helping shepherd those products to market. The couple broke away from Apple in 2017, founding Humane a year later. Since then, the duo have been toiling away on the AI pin, claiming it will be the first among many new products designed to transform personal technology.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself: this all sounds really weird and interesting but what, exactly, is the point? Well, during a TED Talk given in May, Chaudhri explained the supposed appeal of the device like this:

It interacts with the world the way you interact with the world—hearing what you hear, seeing what you see—while being privacy-first, and safe, and completely fading into the background of your life. We like to say that the experience is “screenless,” “seamless,” and “sensing”—allowing you to access the power of compute while remaining present in your surroundings.

I’ll be honest, the idea of having a device that greatly reduces your daily screen intake is appealing. Like so many Americans, I have a pretty toxic relationship with my phone, and it’s not infrequent that I find myself thinking: “Gee, I really wish I could throw this thing out the window and never have to look at it again.” Reports have shown that this has been one of the espoused goals of the Humane team: to do away with—or at least drastically reduce—a user’s screen time. That said, when I first read about the AI pin, it sorta seemed to me like Chaudri and Bongiorno had just re-invented the experience of having a dumb phone, albeit with the integration of a data-collecting surveillance device that never shuts off.

But the pin promises to be much more than a way to make and receive calls. Its creators claim that it can do a variety of things, including answer questions, make personalized recommendations concerning things like diet, shopping, and travel, read back emails to you, and generally keep you informed via notifications and alerts. Eventually, the company seems to have plans to integrate the pin into a broader ecosystem of IoT devices and software, making its interoperability between the digital and physical worlds even more comprehensive.

It’s this purported innovation that has inspired Humane to pitch the AI pin as a luxury device—similar in status and price range to the iPhone. It’s expected to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $US1,000, according to The Information.

Supposed privacy features

If the novelty and promise of screen-less hardware are enticing, there are obviously a lot of things that could go wrong with this product. For one thing, the idea of walking around with a recording device pinned to your body all day should, hopefully, freak you out. In fact, without proper mitigations, the AI pin sounds like it could be a total privacy nightmare. That said, Humane claims to have integrated a number of privacy features into the device to make it less creepy. One of those features is what the company calls a “Trust Light,” which flips on whenever the device’s mic, camera, or sensors have been engaged. The company has also said that the pin is not on incessantly in the background (like Alexa) and that it only turns on when you physically activate it.

That said, Humane will really need to enhance its transparency if it wants anything approaching our endorsement. So far, the company hasn’t said much about how the data that is collected by the device is going to be processed, where it’s going to be stored, if it’ll be up for sale, or anything else that users are definitely going to want to know. At the same time, if Humane’s ambitions for massive IoT integration and large-scale data collection are to be believed, the product would amount to a cybercriminal’s wet dream—a one-stop shop to steal pretty much all of your most sensitive information.

The OpenAI connection

One thing commentators have noted is that Humane has a healthy amount of competition—including, potentially, from its own investors. As the startup toils to launch its pin, a wave of other, similar products are being rushed to market by competitors. This has included devices like Rewind AI’s new pendant which, at $US59, is a much easier swing than Humane’s supposed price point but is also reported to be markedly less powerful than the AI pin. At the same time, one of Humane’s key investors, Sam Altman, is apparently in talks with the designer of the iPhone, Jony Ive, to create a mysterious new project that has been dubbed a “new AI hardware device.” This makes matters somewhat complicated, given Altman is reported to be the largest shareholder in Humane. In other words, the competition may even be coming from its biggest supporter. The overall point is simple: Humane has an uphill battle ahead of it if it wants to be the king of automated wearables for the foreseeable future.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the AI pin

There’s a lot we still don’t know about what this device is and how it works. It’d be great to see a white paper or some sort of technical document explaining all of the intricacies and specs related to the product. Open-sourcing the whole thing would, of course, be even better. Whether this is the revolutionary tool that Humane wants you to think it is remains to be seen. I guess we’ll know more next week when the company finally launches.

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