Friday, November 10, 2023

Humane Ai Pin

Juli Clover (Hacker News):

Humane, a tech startup run by former Apple designer Imran Chaudhri, today officially unveiled its first product, the Ai Pin. Priced at $700, the Ai Pin is a standalone device that Humane says was built from the ground up for artificial intelligence.

The Ai Pin attaches to a clothing item using a magnetic system that involves a detachable battery, which is also how the device is powered. The idea is to swap the battery out for a new battery when necessary, resulting in what Humane calls a “perpetual power system.” It is not clear how long each battery lasts.

Design wise, the Ai Pin looks something like an Apple Watch with a rounded rectangular shape, It is made from aluminum, comes in three colors, and has a Gorilla Glass touchpad. There’s also an “optical sensing capsule,” a 3D depth sensor, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip to power it.

Here’s the launch video. Lots of people are remarking that the AI’s answers about the eclipse and the almonds are both wrong.

John Gruber:

They really do mean for this to replace, not supplement, your phone.

They want to replace apps with AI, too. All the software is written by them, with its data stored in their cloud. On the contrary, it seems like this product should be a phone app, with some optional supplemental hardware, but that’s not possible because Apple would never allow a third-party product that level of access.

There are lots of cool ideas here, but I don’t see how it can replace a phone when there are so many areas that it will always be worse at. On the other hand, you could see how it would be a non-starter to tell someone who already has a phone and a watch that they should carry a third device. The form factor of a pin, so that it must be moved whenever you add or remove a layer of clothing, seems like a disaster.

Nick Heer:

You can think of it as the answer to the question what if you could wear a smart kitchen speaker? and it sounds kind of compelling or, at least, not stupid. If a smartphone is a perfect convergence device, you can think of this as an attempt to move in the other direction.

Some people say they want to use their phone less, but a $700 device with a $24-per-month cell plan seems like an ambitious product for that niche. There are also plausible accessibility benefits to a mostly voice-controlled device for anyone who is able to clearly speak but maybe lacks fine motor control.


I just don’t get this, or any other “VUI”/voice-centric platform for that matter. The killer feature of the smartphone or watch isn’t that it’s the most convenient (which it is), it’s that whatever you want to do on it is at least somewhat private. I don’t want the guy next to me on the train to know I’m messaging Andrew, and he doesn’t want to hear me message Andrew either. Asking me to speak out loud these commands removes that privacy. I think this type of “out loud interface” is the wrong direction for personal devices… forcing us to expose our “private selves” or conflate that with our “public selves” is really an area where humans need to draw the line, IMO.


Update (2024-02-06): Om Malik:

I recently sat down with Imran — Bethany was busy — to explore everything from privacy and partnerships with “frenemies,” to the end of what we know as App Stores. Here are Imran’s thoughts on this game-changing device and his vision for the next evolution of personal computing.

Mark Wilson:

With $240 million in funding from luminaries including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the device attaches to your lapel with magnets, listens to your requests like Siri, and will search the internet, translate your speech, or project an interface right onto your hand.


But just because you are the first out of the gate or the best-funded company doesn’t guarantee success. An explosion of smartphones with all sorts of unique UX paradigms—keyboards, sliders, trackballs—existed for years before the iPhone’s touchscreen made them go extinct. Like any paradigm shift in computing, the revolution will be driven not by the fastest tech, but the most usable and essential design.

Stephen Hackett:

It blows my mind that these errors were left in the video. Clearly the thing was edited; why would you leave such an incorrect statement in the video courting early adopters? We all know AI systems get things wrong, but it’s another to leave those errors in your marketing materials. Did anyone at Humane fact-check these things? Or did they automatically trust that the answers were correct? Both possibilities are troubling. The lesson here is not to leave your launch video in the hands of ChatGPT, I suppose.

Jason Snell:

I don’t think the AI Pin will succeed for numerous reasons, foremost among them being the fact that it seems to be a product designed to make your smartphone unnecessary or ancillary. It feels to me like this is the product’s point of view not because of a deep philosophical reason but because Humane is a company with investors that needs to ship and sell a hardware product and trying to attach to the side of Apple’s or Google’s smartphone operating systems makes this thing an expensive accessory instead of a revolutionary device.

It’s not a point of view that makes sense otherwise, because it seems to posit a world where people just hate their smartphones and can’t wait to be rid of them. This is the world as seen through a funhouse mirror.

Allison Johnson (Hacker News):

It’s a beautiful vision that I’d love to buy into. But here’s the thing: screens are great, and I don’t think we can, or even should, ditch them quite yet.


The product site features food delivery and messaging between friends, two things that are well handled by apps today and that look dreadful to handle via voice entry or the projected palm interface, more fit for haikus than menus.


I am not the first to react strongly to this, but I am probably uncommon in my intense dislike for personal assistant AIs, a dislike that obviously flares to new heights in a product so heavily focused on them. The Humane site harps on privacy and trust, but what is private about being forced to live your life out loud; to not be able to jot a thought down silently?


If walking around in the world but looking at a screen because you're reading something is being absorbed by something else and not being present, then tapping a pocket square and talking to a virtual assistant about the same thing you would accomplish if you had a screen is also not being present.

Nicolas Magand:

Imagine that the main feature of this device is something that will likely become a standard function on smartphones, smartwatches, and even earbuds: interacting with a smart, new generation AI assistant using only your voice.


I’m trying to picture someone wearing an AI Pin in the middle of winter: do you wear it under your coat? over your coat? What happens when you go inside? Do you attach it to your sweater? What if you want to remove your sweater? What if you need to go back outside? It sounds like a disaster indeed, not to mention how the pin can potentially damage clothes.


Only the camera part would really be trickier on a wrist-worn device. I’m sure the camera can live on another, separate device, or can work its way on the device itself.

14 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

It'd probably be pretty cool if combined with earbuds and some kind of inaudible sub-vocalization voice input.

Kevin Schumacher

I had been kind of rolling my eyes at this in general (especially given the price point), but this comment:

> I think this type of “out loud interface” is the wrong direction for personal devices

This is really interesting and something I hadn't thought about yet, but absolutely is a huge thing. I talk to Siri when I'm at home because who cares, but I very rarely do it in public, even if it's completely innocuous ("add milk to my grocery list").

More than most products, this feels like the brainchild of people who do not live normal day to day lives among other typical people. Just insane in every way, with serious tronc vibes from that intro video.

I don’t want the guy next to me on the train to know I’m messaging Andrew, and he doesn’t want to hear me message Andrew either.

Sounds like Apple already has this invention: It's called AirPods, and its compute module is attached to the battery you carry in your pocket. The one with a screen. Called an iPhone.

The Ai Pin seems like a remediation of the Star Trek: TNG's communicator rather than a bluetooth earpiece. One has sold millions of times. The other has appeared in several movies.

Of even just those two choices, I think they picked the wrong design.

Without a way to:
* Take selfies
* Doom scroll
* Look at photos

this has no chance of becoming mainstream. I doubt anyone would leave their home with just this and no phone. And as long as they have their phone, that's what they'll end up using.

It's dead in the water.

And then there's the thing where it outright lied about where the next eclipse is, or how much protein there was in his tiny scoop of almonds.

It's a portable liar with shitty battery life and a laser projector.

They're doing blue ocean wrong.

They think it's enough to have a feature no one else does. (The laser projector, everything else is basically having the Google Assistant in your headphones)

They missed the bit where that feature needs to be so great that no one cares about the missing bits (the screen, all the cameras, being able to compare a shot, having your commuter ticket on your screen).


This one really seems like a product invented by people who live in the suburbs, drive everywhere, and get everything delivered. That's the only way I can imagine thinking that voice-only interfaces are a good idea -- never being around anybody else. Smart speakers are the exception, since you use them at home.

I am surprised by all this criticism.
I personally find this extremely intriguing and very innovative.

After all these years I would say I tolerate the iPhone, but I do not enjoy it. The experience has not actually changed that much since its inception and fell short on many initial promises around multi touch for me. Making things worse, Apple has changed and I feel either forces things on me I do not want (their services), or restricts me/other developers in what else I could do with the device (this is partly the developer in me speaking). I need to carefully configure it so it is not a major distraction.

For these reasons I am personally craving a new approach that from the outset tries to be less invasive, and a smaller device. Happy to let go of some things that I could do (only badly) on an iPhone.
Maybe I am one of only very few.

But consider this: The thing that will replace the iPhone is not going to be a VR headset. I am pretty certain of that. Maybe the watch, but it would have to become much more like this than the Apple Watch currently is.

I guess I just don’t understand why there’s this notion that the phone must be replaced just for the sake of doing so. It’s a powerful computer that I can fit in my pocket and use in myriad ways. Even taking Apple’s heavy hand into account, the phone is superior in every way to a weird laser projector connected to some mishmash AI black box controlled by one company.

Just reminds me of the crowd that insisted for a decade (and counting) that the computer, even the laptop, is in dire need of replacement by, I guess, tablets? Yet 14 years after the iPad, laptops remain superior in nearly every regard.

I don't quite see why I can't just wear my AirPods all day and get the same effect. I *love* wearing AirPods around the house and even at work and having Siri manage all my music, phone calls, reminders, calendars, email, messages, even random Google queries. With a little improvement (a little more generative search/response ability), I don't see why I would ever need a second product.

I even talk to my AirPods on the subway. It's usually loud enough in there anyway that nobody hears me in the corner going "Hey Siri, respond to Allan yeah and they were roommates... Hey Siri, next song". Combine Siri inputs with iOS Shortcuts and there's nearly nothing it can't do. Speaking of, ChatGPT has some great iOS Shortcut integration already.

>I guess I just don’t understand why there’s this notion that the phone must be replaced just for the sake of doing so.

In this case, probably because the smartphone market is largely sliced up between Apple and Google, and third-party Android hardware manufacturers who have largely commoditized it, which discourages innovation.

Creating a new platform — a VR headset like Oculus, or a… combadge? like Humane — sidesteps that.

But I don't think it works. TNG doesn't eschew displays in favor of combadges. It uses combadges _in addition_ to displays; those are still around, both in physically fixed consoles (sort of like desktops) and in mobile form on PADDs (a bit like an iPad). In both cases, with a touch screen, and with a GUI. Maybe forty years later, TNG is no longer the show to draw inspiration from when creating new computing paradigms, but going combadge-only like Humane has done doesn't make sense to me. Having a display you can look at, and have tactile interactions with, is a feature. Our eyes let us process a lot of information; take advantage of that. Yeah, Humane can _project_ something, but even if it weren't so limited (it looks low-res and monochrome to me), it would be awkward, I think. And you can point and hold your phone somewhere and have it do things like take a photo that way. Because you have, y'know, hands!

Voice is nice for communication; I'm not convinced it's all that great for commands, except for edge cases. For example, having no hands free because you're cooking, and asking Alexa or Siri for a timer, or noticing you've run out of flour and asking it to remind you to buy some. That's great, but it's error-prone, and it's a fairly limited use case.

Beyond that, this thing seems terrible in terms of data supremacy. I guess you're supposed to store it all in their ".Center" cloud, which is already hairy because they don't have much of a track record. Beyond that, they seem to rely heavily on sharing data with third parties for their AI stuff.

Sébastien LeBlanc

This will be remembered as the biggest SCAM of the 2020's

I think voice can be a good interface if the voice recognition works. I remember watching a documentation on how common and successful it was in China on Chinese phones.

When I was but a wee lad, people talking to themselves were to be avoided. They were mad.

Now, they are still to be avoided, but they are talking on their blue tooth headsets to someone else somewhere else.

Since society puts up with the obnoxious screaming with their invisible friends in public spaces, I expect it will put up with people talking to their devices too.

Sorry, that was supposed to read "a documentary"... Sometimes my own thoughts row-hammer my mind.

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