Liberate with Humane's New AI Pin: A Break from the Phone Screen Tether

Ken Kocienda approaches, a small white square pinned to his shirt. With a casual tap, he triggers a beep and commands, "Play songs written by Prince, but not performed by Prince." Another beep, and Sinéad O’Connor's rendition of 'Nothing Compares 2 U'—originally penned by Prince—fills the air. Kocienda effortlessly controls the experience, manipulating a green volume meter, pause, and next-song buttons that materialize on his palm. A twist of his wrist adjusts the volume, a clasping of fingers halts the music, and with a drop of his hand, the laser display disappears. "I love the way the computer’s there, and then it’s gone," Kocienda shares, emphasizing the human connection. As the head of product engineering at Humane, a San Francisco-based company, he unveils their latest innovation—the Humane AI Pin.

Launched as a potential iPhone for the AI generation, this wearable computer stands apart. While it boasts a laser display that can project onto your hand, the true essence lies in its screenless design, engaging users through conversation. The operating system harnesses the power of AI, leveraging large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4. From making calls to translating face-to-face conversations in real time, capturing photographs, recalling text messages, to settling debates about celestial bodies—the Pin is a multifaceted companion. Humane's leadership, including former Apple executives integral in iPhone and iPad design, envisions this device as a game-changer. Notably, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is a significant shareholder, underscoring the belief that an AI-first consumer hardware is pivotal.

The Pin emerges not just as a gadget but as a liberator. Humane's mission is to free users from the shackles of phone screens and the relentless attention economy. Lead designer Imran Chaudhri articulates this vision, stating at a TED talk, "It’s a new kind of wearable device... to access the power of compute while remaining present in your surroundings, fixing a balance that’s felt out of place for some time now." The Humane AI Pin aspires to redefine our relationship with technology, fostering a seamless integration that enhances rather than hinders our human experience.

Approaching Humane's San Francisco headquarters, one might mistake it for an abandoned property. Plywood, spray-painted black, covers the windows, revealing no signage. The only indication of life is a waist-level touch-screen doorbell. Upon ringing it, a cautious pair of eyes scrutinize my presence before the door reluctantly creaks open. Two days before the public launch of the Ai Pin, Humane is still shedding its "stealth mode" disguise, evident in the inconspicuous exterior. However, as the door widens, I step into an entirely different realm—a sleek, Apple store-inspired space adorned with matte-white surfaces and exposed wooden beams. Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, co-founders of Humane, greet me, each proudly donning a Pin on their attire.

According to Bongiorno, Humane responds to a widespread hunger for an AI-first platform, emphasizing the need for enabling hardware to unlock novel experiences. As the CEO, she asserts, "It’s perfect timing." In the burgeoning landscape of AI hardware, Humane faces competition from the likes of Apple's former chief designer, Jony Ive, who has reportedly explored creating the "iPhone of artificial intelligence" in collaboration with OpenAI. While other startups experiment with similar prototypes, Humane claims the title of being the first to market—a litmus test for public appetite in this evolving space. Priced at $699 with a $24 monthly subscription fee, the Pin exudes the refined aesthetics reminiscent of Apple products, unsurprising given the company's roster of former Apple employees.

With 22 years at Apple, Chaudhri, instrumental in shaping the iPhone's user interface, and Bongiorno, an eight-year veteran in iOS software engineering, bring formidable expertise to Humane. The Pin's interaction, marked by natural language processing free from the stilted tones of previous virtual assistants, promises a seamless experience. Demonstrated versatility extends beyond language to visual inputs, exemplified by a staff member's query about a dietary choice, holding up an apple and asking the Pin if it's permissible—an inquiry met with a reassuring affirmation. Humane's foray into the AI hardware realm not only signifies technological innovation but also a commitment to redefining user engagement in a landscape hungry for a new wave of intelligent devices.

Despite its impressive capabilities, the Pin is not immune to familiar bugs for those acquainted with ChatGPT. During my visit, Kocienda tasked his Pin with crafting a haiku about the Golden Gate Bridge. While the result was a commendable poem, it failed to adhere to the haiku's syllabic structure. These deviations are inherent to systems like GPT-4, susceptible to mistakes and occasional "hallucinations" of information due to their probabilistic nature. Unlike knowledge-retrieval systems, they lack the ability to explain the basis of their assertions.

While the Pin's operating system can intelligently choose between querying a large language model and performing a web search, its voice-first interaction often obscures the information source. Without further investigation, assessing the reliability of a given answer proves challenging. Yet, these limitations appear surmountable. The device features a front-facing camera, a microphone, and an "Trust Light" LED that illuminates when either is active—an attempt to assuage concerns about potential public recording. Chaudhri emphasizes that the Pin defaults to not capturing audiovisual data unless explicitly requested. The company pledges not to sell or monetize users' private information for corporate gain or AI model training.

However, open questions persist, beyond Humane's immediate control. Chaudhri draws attention to my smartphone recording our conversation, noting that he's aware only due to my courtesy. He underscores the Pin's transparency, contrasting it with past wearables like Google Glass, which faced public skepticism. Humane's founders anticipate that the Trust Light feature will mitigate privacy concerns, positioning the device as more transparent than conventional alternatives. Chaudhri concludes, "We’ve got a device that is far more transparent than the one you’re using there, and I think that’s really important in this world that we’re living in." The Pin aims not only to push technological boundaries but also to navigate the delicate balance between innovation and public trust in an era where privacy is a paramount concern.

In conclusion, Humane's Ai Pin emerges as a groundbreaking leap into the AI hardware realm, promising a transformative shift in user interaction. Despite its impressive capabilities, familiar bugs remind us of the inherent challenges faced by advanced language models like GPT-4. The Pin's ability to adapt and overcome these limitations suggests a pathway forward.

The device's intelligent operating system and voice-first interaction offer a glimpse into a future where technology seamlessly integrates with human experiences. However, transparency and privacy concerns loom large in the public perception. The Pin's "Trust Light" attempts to address these worries, signaling when the camera or microphone is active. While Humane emphasizes the Pin's commitment to user privacy, the challenge lies in convincing the public of this pledge.

In a landscape where wearables have faced hurdles, Humane's founders express optimism that the Pin's transparency will set it apart. The comparison with conventional smartphones underscores their commitment to a new standard of openness.

As the Pin enters the market, its success will serve as a litmus test for public appetite for AI-first consumer hardware. Beyond technological prowess, its journey will navigate the delicate balance between innovation and user trust, shaping the narrative of AI integration in our lives. The Humane Ai Pin not only signifies a technological milestone but also stands as a testament to the evolving relationship between humanity and artificial intelligence in our increasingly interconnected world.