The Humane AI pin. Credit: Humane

Pin Me, Please

Kim Bellard

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You had to know I’d write about the new Humane AI Pin, right?

After all, I’d been pleading for the next big thing to take the place of the smartphone, as recently as last month and as long ago as six years, so when a start-up like Humane suggests it is going to do just that, it has my attention. Even more intriguing, it is billed as an AI device, redefining “how we interact with AI.” It’s like catnip for me.

For anyone who has missed the hype — and there has been a lot of hype, for several months now — Humane is a Silicon Valley start-up founded by two former Apple employees, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno (who are married). They left Apple in 2016, had the idea for the AI Pin by 2018, and are ready to launch the actual device early next year. It is intended to be worn as a pin on the lapel, starts at $699, and requires a monthly $24 subscription (which includes wireless connectivity). Orders start November 16.

Partners include OpenAI, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Tidal, and Qualcomm.

Mr. Chaudhri told The New York Times that artificial intelligence “can create an experience that allows the computer to essentially take a back seat.” He also told TechCrunch that the AI Pin represented “a new way of thinking, a new sense of opportunity,” and that it would “productize AI” (hmm, what are all those other people in AI doing?).

Humane’s press release elaborates:

Ai Pin redefines how we interact with AI. Speak to it naturally, use the intuitive touchpad, hold up objects, use gestures, or interact via the pioneering Laser Ink Display projected onto your palm. The unique, screenless user interface is designed to blend into the background, while bringing the power of AI to you in multi-modal and seamless ways.

Basically, you wear a pin that is connected with an AI, which — upon request — will listen and respond to your requests. It can respond verbally, or it can project a laser display into the palm of your hand, which you can control with a variety of gestures that I am probably too old to learn but which younger people will no doubt pick up quickly. It can take photos or videos, which the laser display apparently does not, at this point, do a great job projecting.

Here’s Humane’s introductory video:

Some cool features worth noting:

· It can summarize your messages/emails;

· It can make phone calls or send messages;

· It can search the web for you to answer questions/find information;

· It can act as a translator;

· It has trust features that include not always listening and a “Trust Light” that indicates when it is.

It does not rely on apps; rather, it uses “AI Experiences” — on device and in the cloud — to accomplish whatever goals smartphone apps try to accomplish. The press release brags: “Instead, it quickly understands what you need, connecting you to the right AI experience or service instantly.”

Ken Kocienda, Humane’s head of product engineering, contrasted the AI Pin with smartphone’s addiction bias, telling Erin Griffin of The New Times: “It’s more of a pull than pushing content at you in the way iPhones do.”

Health and nutrition is said to be an early focus, although currently it is mostly calorie counting.

The laser display. Credit: Humane

Ms. Griffin summarizes the AI Pin thusly: “It was, like any new technology, equal parts magic and awkward.” Inverse’s Ian Carlos Campbell was also impressed: “Added together, the Ai Pin is exciting in the way all big swings are, the difference being it seems like Humane could back up its claims.”

Mark Wilson of Fast Company, on the other hand, was more reserved, noting: “In practice, the AI Pin reminded me of an Echo Dot on your chest,” and wondering: “Where was all the magical stuff?…The stuff where, because the AI Pin is so overtly planted on our person, the rest of its demands could disappear?”

Mr. Chaudhri defended using a pin instead of another version of smartglasses, telling Mr. Wilson:

Contextual compute has always been assumed as something you have to wear on your face. There’s just a lot of issues with that…If you look at the power of context, and that’s the impediment to achieving contextual compute, there has to be another way. So we started looking at what is the piece that allows us to be far more personal? We came up with the fact that all of us wear clothing, so how can we adorn a device that gives us context on our clothing?

Or, as Mr. Chaudhri said earlier this year: “The future is not on your face.”

Color Mr. Wilson unconvinced:

Humane’s issue in a nutshell isn’t that a wearable assistant is inherently a flawed idea, it’s that Chaudhri’s product doesn’t yet solve the problem he has diagnosed and set out to mitigate: that removing a screen will solve our dependence on technology… it appears Humane hasn’t unlocked the potential of AI of today, let alone tomorrow, nor has it fundamentally solved any significant problems we have with technology.

To be honest, it isn’t everything I’d hoped it’d be either. The AI is impressive but, at this point, still limited. The laser display is cool but not really ready for prime time. The pin is sleek, as would be expected from Apple alums, but I don’t want to even be aware of a device; I want it embedded in my clothes, maybe worn as a “smart tattoo.”

But these are, really, quibbles. The AI will get exponentially more useful. The device will get much smaller. The display will get much better. As others have pointed out, the iPod was a revolution but was limited, and led to the iPhone, which itself was initially fairly limited. Similarly, the AI Pin should get much, much powerful, and have even more awesome successors.

In the press release, Ms. Bongiorno and Mr. Chaudhri say:

AI Pin is the embodiment of our vision to integrate AI into the fabric of daily life, enhancing our capabilities without overshadowing our humanity. We are proud to finally unveil what we and the team at Humane have been working on for the past four years. For us, Ai Pin is just the beginning.

The introductory video closes with Mr. Chaudhri promising: “It is our aim at Humane to build for the world not as it is today, but as it could be tomorrow.” We should all be designing for that.

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Kim Bellard

Curious about many things, some of which I write about — usually health care, innovation, technology, or public policy. Never stop asking “why” or “why not”!