After months of hype and speculation, the self-proclaimed “smart phone killer” is here. Humane, a startup founded by two former Apple employees, has launched its hotly anticipated AI pin, a small, cookie-sized device that you stick to the front of your shirt and that, according to its creators, is designed to revolutionize our relationship to computing. While Thursday finally saw the startup unveil some details about its long anticipated product, the jury’s still out on whether it’s actually going to compel you to throw your smartphone in the trash—or if it’ll even prove a functional product you’ll want to buy.
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What’s the core concept behind the Humane AI pin?
According to its creators, the idea behind the AI pin is to take us into a post-smart phone future. The founders of Humane, married couple Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, say they want to help reconnect users with the real world while continuing to push forward the ways that computing can improve people’s lives. To do this, they’ve created something designed to have all the functions of a smart phone but that hopefully “melds seamlessly into the background of your life,” as Chaudri put it in a previous press appearance. The startup is pitching this as a healthier alternative to our current situation—a screen-ridden hellscape in which people walk the earth like zombies, lobotomized faces constantly aglow with the soft hypnotic light of their iPhones.
The device, which—sans a screen—uses a tiny laser projector to superimpose information into the palm of your hand, is designed to be a virtual assistant, communication device, and AI-fueled Swiss Army knife of services and features, all in one.
Is this weird gadget actually going to lead us into a post-phone future? To be honest, it’s not totally clear yet. On Thursday, Chaudhri and Bongiorno finally revealed more details of their product in a video and, while there certainly seems like a lot of promise in the AI pin, there’s also a lot that could prove problematic. The pin, which will be available to order as soon as next week, is definitely going to be a product to pay attention to, irregardless.
You can check out the full video below, or read through our rundown of the advertised features.
Will it break your bank?
Not quite, though it won’t be cheap, either. The device itself costs $699 and requires an additional $20 monthly subscription fee. In other words, while not nearly as bad as buying a new iPhone, this isn’t exactly going to be an impulse buy for most folks. That said, it’s nice that the initial asking price covers what Humane calls the “complete system” for its product—including the pin, a charge pad and case, a cable and adapter, and an extra “battery booster.”
How do you make calls with the Humane pin?
One of the supposed benefits of AI pin is that it still allows you to stay in touch with folks, despite the fact that it’s not a traditional sort of communication device. The pin is actually tied into a variant of T-Mobile’s network, which allows you to make and receive calls from the device. Instead of manipulating buttons on a screen, the user projects call information into the palm of their hand and can make or accept calls by simply talking to the device. This has led some to accuse Humane of selling users an expensive phone without a screen—an allegation you could say is technically true though, as the Humane team has specified, not having a screen is sorta the whole point of the product.
Goodbye to apps
One of the more interesting aspects of the AI pin is that it rids you of the app matrix that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Instead, Humane wants you to get excited about what it’s calling “Experiences.” Essentially, these experiences are features of the Humane AI pin that are organically tied into the interactive model of the product. These are activated via voice commands and, so far, seem to include stuff like looking up information and playing music. The company says that experiences, data for which is stored on-device and in the cloud, will hopefully grow more comprehensive as the business evolves. According to prior reporting, the idea, eventually, is to seamlessly tie the pin into a broader array of services and activities via IoT and smart device integrations.
Ask your pin questions
The pin is also supposed to function in a similar fashion to other personal assistants like Siri or Alexa. Interestingly, the pin is also equipped with a camera which, in addition to taking photos and videos, can be used to identify and look up information about items that you encounter in your daily escapades. In that sense, you’re encouraged to ask it questions and let the AI software powering it give you insights. In the video, Chaudhri asks the pin stuff like when the next solar eclipse is (it answers) and how much protein is in a pile of almonds that he’s holding in his hand (it also responds). You can sorta imagine how, on a boring day, asking the device a series of progressively more absurd questions could provide a certain kind of relief.
“Catch me up”
Another feature that Humane sought to emphasize in its premiere video on Thursday was something called “catch me up.” A phrase you can prompt the device with, the pin will proceed to give you an abbreviated rundown on the important emails you’ve received. That seems nice!
How TF do you get into Andrew’s house?
Humane says that the AI pin’s memory and search capacities are designed to enhance convenience. For instance, in their video, Chaudhri asks the AI pin to look up an access code to his friend Andrew’s house. This pin, Chaudrhi says, is buried way back in his message history and, therefore, difficult to find. But the pin delivers the code right up in seconds: “The gate code that Andrew sent is 7361,” the pin reveals.
This seems pretty convenient. There have been numerous times when I’ve been faced with this very access code dilemma. That said, I have some follow-up questions. First off, who is this Andrew guy? Does he know his access code was just shared with thousands of people? Seriously, Imran, not cool. No matter how dope Andrew might think the AI pin is I don’t think it’s going to make up for the fact that Elon Musk now knows how to get inside his house.
With Humane’s AI pin primed to collect such an extensive catalogue of data about you, it seems only natural that the product should come with a portal where you can view (and, hopefully, have control over) that data. For that, Humane is offering what it calls the Human.center, presumably a web portal where you’ll be able to view everything that has been recorded and that is stored in Humane’s cloud. Still, for such an important feature, Humane didn’t shed a ton of light on this today. Hopefully the company will release more information in the weeks to come.
Does this thing have privacy features? I’m still not sure
The AI pin seems like it has the potential to be a complete privacy/cybersecurity nightmare, which is why I’m super, super curious to get more in-depth information about how, exactly, this device collects and stores and protects user data. So far, the company has released minimal information about this critical aspect of its product. On Thursday, details about it were decidedly low. In their video, Bongiorno and Chaudri gave some lip service to privacy but didn’t really share anything new about how they’re going to protect customer data. The device has what is called a “Trust Light” that turns on whenever the device’s mic, camera, or sensors have been engaged. If I were Humane, I would release a comprehensive white paper that explains how, exactly, its security and privacy features are intended to function.
When can you get one?
Humane says that orders for the device begin next week, on November 16.
The jury’s still out on whether you should throw your smartphone in the trash yet
The simple fact of the matter is that there’s a lot that we still don’t know about the Humane AI pin. I am…moderately intrigued by this product. Despite Silicon Valley’s endless harping on innovation and moving fast and shifting paradigms, there’s hardly ever a product launch that feels like it’s authentically trying something new. Humane is definitely doing that. That said, because it’s such an unknown, I also find myself more confused by the product than excited about it. In general, it’s going to be really hard to comprehend a lot of the device’s features without actually wearing it and getting a feel for how it integrates (or doesn’t integrate) into daily life.
In short: I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic about the AI pin, mostly because I think any effort to break humanity’s terrible psycho-physical-spiritual tether to the smartphone should at least be acknowledged and, if warranted, commended. Whether Humane’s product will actually help us do that or not, I have no idea. I’m going to need to get my hands on one of these intriguing little gadgets before I can say more on the matter.