First Impressions of Humane’s Ai Pin
Humane, the secretive company that has slowly been pulling back the curtain on their ambitions, turned on the spotlight and stepped out onto the stage today. I was expecting some sort of keynote event, but Humane’s Ai Pin unveiling came in the form of a 10-minute video showing off its design, accessories, and capabilities. Here’s the whole thing if you haven’t watched it yet:
First things first
It struck me that they started with the colors. Not that it was a good or bad way to start, just different when comparing to Apple (which, c’mon, their team has so many ex-Apple employees that I’m certainly going to draw rely on that comparison) and how they typically introduce products. The variations and accessories always come last, but Humane showed the three colors off right away.
We’ve been chasing the idea of a personal digital assistant for decades now, but in earnest ever since the likes of Siri, Alexa, and the Google Assistant made their way into our pockets. The Ai Pin takes things to the next level being a cyborg eye meets ChatGPT meets personal knowledge management (PKM) system. And it looks genuinely helpful.
But it’s yet another device that is trying to be the “do everything” gadget. And it’s at a severe disadvantage that it doesn’t tie into my phone, which is the device that knows the most about me and has for over a decade. The Ai Pin is a fresh start, for good and for bad. It sounds like there would be some legwork to be done ahead of time in the Humane Center dashboard to onboard your Pin with data that will make its “experiences” more relevant for you. Once you start using it, the Pin will, of course, learn more about you and get better over time. But only with the things that you use it for. It won’t know anything about the dozens of notes I jot down on my phone every day. It won’t have the context of the webpages I’m scrolling or the conversations I’m having online. It won’t have insight into the YouTube videos I’m watching and saving. Because all those things will continue to happen on my other devices.
You won’t be able to go all-in on a gadget like this right away, and that’s going to severely limit the usefulness of it. And if it’s not proving useful, will I feel compelled to keep wearing it all? Humane’s up against a real chicken and egg problem here.
Would I wear it?
Let’s talk about what it would be like to strap one of these gizmos on every day. Props to their hardware engineering team, it looks like a solid device with the fit and finish one would expect from a team full of people who had tenured time at Apple. The magnetic attachments, the control gestures, and even the charging case will all feel familiar to someone steeped in the Apple ecosystem.
But to answer the question, no, I wouldn’t be thrilled about wearing the Ai Pin. I can see where Humane is coming from with the design. They want it to be out of the way. It’s in the company’s name: Humane. For many of its interactions, your face and your hands — arguably the most human of our features — are unencumbered by the Pin. You don’t have a screen, neither physical nor digital, between you and another human. But it does draw attention. You’ve got a healthy-sized badge-looking thing hanging off the front of your shirt. With a battery, which is not historically lightweight. It makes noises. You touch and tap it from time to time. It has a light. A light that, critically, alerts others that they’re likely getting recorded on video or microphone. Oh, and it shoots lasers.
I can understand why, given their desire to get technology out of the way, Humane hasn’t turned to smart glasses as the obvious solution. I suspect they feel that literally obscuring your face with a gadget would be institutionally antithetical to what they’re trying to accomplish. A non-starter, even if they could pack all the necessary technology into a sleek pair of glasses frames.
But, if that is indeed their feeling toward smart glasses, I disagree. I think glasses are already so commonplace that they blend into our daily lives much better than an accessory you strap onto your clothing. I’m so impressed with how inconspicuous the Meta Ray Ban Glasses look while being an always-ready camera, a pair of personal headphones, and Siri-like assistance via voice commands that I’m considering giving substantial money to the Facebook company to try them. Not a possibility I would have entertained just a few months ago.
On the other hand, my impression of the Ai Pin is that I would feel very self-conscious wearing it. Maybe that feeling would quickly pass, just as it did with wearing my Apple Watch and AirPods. But I can’t shake the feeling that the Pin would feel more intrusive than glasses with the same capabilities. I’m inclined to believe that people around me would feel the same way. Its form factor and placement lack the benefit of familiarity that things like smart glasses, smart watches, smart headphones, and the like enjoy.
An AI OS
Oh, and this is all written assuming the best-case scenario that the Ai Pin does everything it is supposed to without getting tripped up into making factual errors that have plagued all AI systems so far. But it’s not a unicorn device in that regard. In fact, one of their demos in this not live, (presumably) laboriously rehearsed, expertly produced, meticulously edited, and hotly anticipated introduction got the answer to that eclipse question wrong.
That’s not a great start. Relying on something proudly powered by generative AI for nearly everything it does is going to require a huge amount of trust if it’s to replace something as reliable as my phone. And we all know that trust is devilishly difficult to build and — as I expect Humane is going to learn — exceptionally easy to break.
Let’s end on some positive notes. I award Humane full points on building that sweet Perpetual Power System with hot-swappable battery booster packs. That looks awesome and Apple should be taking notes for the Vision Pro. There’s a bunch of cool ideas going on with the Ai Pin. The Personic Speaker for a sphere of sound, the laser display that follows your palm, the Nearby feature, recapping your day. Each an impressive bit of technology, all of it packed together in a small, wearable device.
I could go on and on about this 10-minute video, but I’ll leave it saying that I continue to wish Humane the best of luck. Their goal is audacious, but the people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
(Regarding my pre-introduction reactions to the Pin: $24/month for a phone/data plan, photo storage, AI experiences, and more is still a heck of a price. But I’m less confident now that I would be satisfied paying it month after month, nearly $300 per year, just to continue to get the basic functionality out of my $700 gadget. And I may have squandered the better title on that blog post.)