Image Credits: Human
It is here. After months of hype, leaks and revelations, Humane has officially revealed Ai Pin. The small device attaches magnetically to the wearer’s lap and collects data via a built-in camera. It is powered by a Qualcomm chip and utilizes AI. Humane believes it could one day replace your smartphone. It will be available to order on November 16 in the US
“Ai Pin is the embodiment of our vision to integrate AI into daily life, enhancing our capabilities without overshadowing our humanity,” the startup’s founders said in a release. “We are proud to finally reveal what we and the team at Humane have been working on for the past four years. For us, Ai Pin is just the beginning.”
It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Narrative Clip, the unfortunate life-logging camera. The square device (or squircle, if you will) has a camera and microphone, along with depth and motion sensors, which collect data that is processed on board by a Snapdragon processor. Voice control is at the heart of the product, as a seemingly logical next step from smartphone assistants like Siri. The pin communicates with the wearer via a “personal speaker” or paired Bluetooth headphones.
There’s no screen – that’s really the whole point – but there is a touchpad. The needle also responds to gestures. Unlike countless other products that have promised to free us from our screen addiction, however, Ai Pin is designed to be used without a tethered smartphone. It comes through a human-branded wireless network built on top of T-Mobile.
By far the most visually interesting bit here is the Laser Ink Display, which projects text like an incoming call onto your palm, instead of the touchscreen.
The device comes with a “battery booster”, allowing users to switch power sources during heat. The Pin “boasts a unique two-part design, consisting of the main computer and a battery amplifier. These are connected magnetically and powered wirelessly through clothes and clothing, allowing you to wear the Ai Pin in a variety of ways. With its perpetual power system, users can switch battery booster on the go, ensuring uninterrupted use and battery life throughout the day.”
Like the recently released Ray-Ban Meta glasses, the system features a “Trust Light” to let those around you know when the system is playing. Such recording has become a flashpoint for many privacy advocates, although we have yet to see how the general public reacts to these types of devices. The rise of services like Facebook may well have caused many such potential breaches.
Humane is quick to point out that Pin doesn’t listen for wake-up calls when it’s not engaged. “The device only activates upon user engagement and does not use ‘wake words’, ensuring it is not always listening or recording,” it writes. “The Ai Pin has a prominent Trust Light that indicates when any sensors are active, which is managed via a dedicated privacy chip. If compromised, the Ai Pin will shut down and require professional service from Humane.”
The system runs on Cosmos (CosmOS?), a proprietary operating system with AI. “A brand new AI software framework, Ai Bus brings Ai Pin to life, removing the need to download, manage or launch apps. Instead, it quickly understands what you need, and connects you to the right AI experience or service directly,” writes the company.
The specific variant of ChatGPT is strangely not mentioned by name in the initial release, although the press materials do namecheck OpenAI. “Humane’s unique collaborations with Microsoft and OpenAI give Ai Pin access to some of the world’s most powerful AI models and platforms and lay the foundation for new features that can be added as the technology evolves,” it noted. “Ai Pin is a standalone device and does not need to be paired with a smartphone or other accompanying device.”
The device experience can be customized outside the device using the Humane.center service. That’s an important part, given how the voice and touch-only interface significantly limits on-device customization.
“To manage and access your data, including photos, videos and notes, Ai Pin connects to Humane.center,” the company notes. “This platform acts as a central hub for your device, ensuring a streamlined interaction from setup to daily use. When users purchase Ai Pin, users are prompted to onboard via a privacy-protected portal, allowing the device to tailor its services to individual preferences. “
Humane’s “Hey Google” appears to be “Catch Me Up,” which reads “sorts through the noise” in your unread inbox. Meanwhile, the system promises to “create messages in your tone of voice.”
Some good(ish) news: Initial reports that the device would cost “upwards of $1,000” were shut down (but not that off) — $699 is hardly a steal or an unproven first-generation product. And then there’s the $24 monthly subscription fee. There are three Hulu plans.
Humane showed off a real-time translation feature, as well as the ability to recognize a bite of food you’re holding to let you know if it meets your exercise goals (and, presumably, if it’s a hot dog or not). For now, the list of features sounds a bit sparse, as the company promises that “as the device and platform evolve with future updates, so do the capabilities it unlocks.”
Music streaming service Tidal is the company’s first software partner, for an “AI-powered music experience.” Tidal CEO Jesse Dorogusker notes, “we want to raise the bar on listening experiences for fans and are excited to be the first music platform to integrate with Humane’s Ai Pin. We’ve partnered with Humane to introduce a seamless way for fans to engage with music wherever whatever they are. “Customers can use their Ai pin to play music based on their context and find the right Tidal track to enhance the moment.”
The level of hype surrounding the hardware launch is not unprecedented. However, it is extremely rare for an unestablished company that brings to mind the introduction of Project Ginger. Before the device was released, no less an authority than Steve Jobs reportedly predicted that it would change the way the cities of the future were built. That product would naturally be the Segway.
The language around the device and the accompanying press materials offer the kind of big, sweeping promises we’ve grown accustomed to around the Bay – world-changing technology that’s not much bigger than a book of matches. While the startup’s reported plan to launch during last month’s solar eclipse fell through (though the company’s X account is still loaded with mentions of the event), the company has presented the launch with a level of gravitas normally the domain of Apple events.
There are no coincidences in this small world, of course. Humane is deeply tied to Apple and trained in the ways of the so-called reality distortion field. Co-founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri — who serve as CEO and president, respectively — are former Apple employees. Their time at the world’s richest company was the basis for the hype that has been bubbling since last year.
Chaudhri spent 20 years as a designer at the company, before reportedly being fired in 2017, after sending an email citing the 13Th speech poet Rumi, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving within you, a joy. Unfortunately, rivers dry up, and when they do, you look for a new one.” Bongiorno spent eight years at the company, serving as director of software engineering for both iOS and macOS, before leaving in 2016. Both were most likely aware of Vision Pro during its protracted development.
Then there is the not insignificant exodus of former Applers. Over the course of the startup’s half decade, somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 ex-Apple employees reportedly work or have worked for the 200-person team.
The announcement comes conveniently during a fever pitch of excitement around generative AI, with the company pitching its first product as an early use case for the big language models that have captured the tech world’s imagination.
Every technology company, from the smallest startups to the Googles and Apples of the world, is trying to find effective ways to incorporate these technologies into real products. Ai Pin may be the first prominent device to capture that zeitgeist in a meaningful way, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Sam Altman being your largest shareholder (with around ~14% at last count) helps with Silicon Valley bona fides, despite a recent report that OpenAI’s CEO was quietly and independently working on what may have been a direct competitor with Apple design guru and “aluminum” exponent, Jony Ive.
“We believe in a future where artificial intelligence augments human potential, and Humane shares this vision,” Altman said in today’s release. “We’re proud to partner with them to harness AI and redefine how we interact with technology — and the world.”
Including Altman’s backing, Humane has raised $230 million, including a $100 million Series C announced in March. Investors include Kindred Ventures, SK Networks, LG Technology Ventures, Microsoft, Volvo Cars Tech Fund, Tiger Global Qualcomm Ventures and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.
Investors are certainly bullish, but is the world ready to look beyond the smartphone? Humane is far from the first company to ask the question. There’s been plenty of hand-wringing over the past decade about a world pasted onto the small screen, like scenes out of a John Carpenter movie. After all, this is the promise of the augmented reality headset. Google promised such freedoms with Glass a decade ago last February.
Humane is positioning its own vision of the future as the opposite of what Apple showed the world with the Vision Pro back in June – to fully immerse yourself in the screen or be freed from it. The story certainly hasn’t escaped Humane’s internal Slack channel. According to a former employee who spoke to The Information, “bashing” the headset was de rigueur among staff, ex-Apple or not.
It’s “spatial computing” versus “ambient computing.” Both terms have been floating around for a while. Ambient computing, in particular, is an abstract enough concept that people often disagree on the details. This is partly due to the fact that it was coined before the creation of the entities that will ultimately define it. Simply put, it’s technology out of the way by design. It’s a network of devices that work hard to make you forget they exist.
In recent months, Humane has tried to maintain its role as a secretive startup, while rationing a lot of information surrounding the device. In May, Chaudhri gave a TED talk titled “The Disappearing Computer: An Exclusive Preview of Humane’s Screenless Tech.” Wearing a black Ai pin against a black jacket, he arranged a call from Bongiorno (the two are also married) to preview the device’s palm projection capabilities.
“In the future, technology will be both ambient and contextual,” he noted from the stage, “and this means using AI to really understand you and your surroundings, to achieve the best results.”
In September, Ai Pin made a cameo on the beats of models walking the runway in Paris. Humane also gave Time Magazine a preview of the technology for inclusion in its 200 Best Inventions of 2023.
The company is currently offering a waiting list for those interested in the device. It comes in three colors: Eclipse, Equinox and Lunar. In the meantime, enjoy the almonds.
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