Most people probably hadn’t heard of Humane.AI before the recent launch of their AI pin. The company, co-founded by Imran Choudhari, former Director of Design at Apple and Bethany Bongiorno, former Director, iOS & macOS Software Engineering Program Management, has been as mysterious and secretive as possible.
I initially discovered them four years ago, with no idea of what they were building, except that it was something new, something that would change the way we interact with technology.
Around a year ago, trickles of information about their product started showing up. From patent registrations to the people they hired, the window into Humane opened a little further. Finally the AI Pin was revealed in a Ted talk by Choudhari in May this year and later worn by supermodel Naomi Campbell at Paris Fashion week, during designer Coperni’s showcase.
The Pin was the embodiment of Humane’s philosophy and an effort to build for a screen-less future. Humane believes that technology should enhance our connection to reality, not create a barrier to it (a not-so-subtle dig at VR headsets).
So What is the Pin? (And Why Should You Care?)
The Pin is a small, screenless wearable device, designed to be worn on clothing. It is activated by tapping.
Humane has designed it to act like a personal assistant that responds to voice commands and carries out a multitude of tasks like allowing the user to ask questions, send texts, make calls, receive summaries of emails, estimate the nutritional aspect of food etc. There are also other features like an AI DJ that provides a personalised music experience.
The Pin is equipped with wide-angle optical sensors and a sophisticated camera that capture information about your surroundings.
Instead of a screen it has a laser ink projector that displays information on your hand.
At the TED talk, Choudhari used the Pin to receive a call from his wife, translated his voice into fluent French, and had the Pin identify a Milky Bar and confirm if he could eat it. As I watched the talk, I couldn’t help but be optimistic for this sleek marvel of technology and engineering.
Cut to the official reveal on 9th November, 2023.
Apart from the fact that it was an incredibly lack-lustre demo video that droned on and on about features and processors, there just didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to pay the $699 ticket price and monthly $24 subscription.
Of course, the Internet was full of questions about the Pin and many were justified. Here are three that stood out to me:
- The pin form-factor is troublesome because people don’t normally walk around with pins on their shirts. Humane is trying to create a new habit, a hard thing to do. No matter how sleek the design, it still requires a decision about where to attach it and it definitely interferes with what you are wearing.
The MAYA rule dictates that the ideal design sits in the middle between solutions that are entirely novel and those that are entirely familiar. Humane severely breaks the MAYA principleAvi Schiffman, Founder, Tab, another wearable AI companion
- Humane requires you to buy into a whole new ecosystem, which means abandoning your apps, using a platform called Tidal for music, etc.
- The Pin uses voice commands – how comfortable will people be using voice commands in public? (Humane does say the Pin comes with a personic speaker that recognises the user’s voice and creates a personalised bubble of sound, but the natural hesitation may be hard to overcome.)
Key features like object recognition or video recording are not available at launch, making it hard to trust the AI pin in its current avatar.
I just don’t know what consumers would get out of the device today. Currently, it feels like a fancy way to access ChatGPT, an accessory more than an alternative to my phone.
The Aspiration of Ambient Computing
Ambient computing, as a concept, has been around for a while
The best way to describe it is when technology blends with our environment, working autonomously and invisibly, with minimal interaction. You know when you get an email with your flight ticket and it automatically gets added to your calendar and then lets you know when you should leave based on traffic conditions? That’s ambient computing.
Now imagine that, but with all your devices working in tandem, seamlessly. As soon as you pick a time to leave, your smart home appliances power down, your door locks, and there is no questioning if you left the geyser on. When ambient computing is combined with contextual awareness, that’s when our tech can truly understand us.
Ambient computing is also the path to minimising screen-use, whether that is through a smart speaker, a pair of AR glasses, or something completely different.
That’s where Humane comes in.
Even after being sorely disappointed with the AI Pin, I can’t help but feel excited for the next version.
Remember folding phones? The first one sucked. The next one sucked a little less. Now, we are at a point where there is legitimate competition amongst brands for a foldable.
While there are still a lot of grey areas, I do believe that AI will inevitably open the door to a whole new category of devices, advancements, and applications. I’m glad Humane has made not just a move, but a leap here.
How will AI finally enter our daily lives? I don’t know. I’m going to have to put a pin in it. But I do know this is just the start of something big. We’ll look back in a decade or two and wonder, “Hey! I used to have one of those! But I have no idea where that phone is anymore.” ‘