The Humane AI Pin worked better than I expected, until it didn’t

Look, I’m as much of a Humane AI Pin doubter as the next person. And I still think the wearable AI-powered assistant is suffering from a case of this thing that could have been an app. But this morning I finally got to spend some personal time with the pin, and you know what? It’s a damn cool gadget. It’s just buried under a layer of marketing so thick that it’s hard to understand what it could actually be if Humane wasn’t so self-serious.

If you spend time on Tech Threads or the like, you probably already know what the pin does: you clip it to your shirt, talk to it, and it uses generative AI to respond. It’s a standalone device with its own SIM card and there’s no screen, just vibration. That, and a tiny laser that projects menus and text onto your palm, letting you interact with mortal minutiae like Wi-Fi settings and media playback controls.

The idea, which was echoed as I watched a few Humane employees go through various demos, was that it’s meant to keep you connected while you unplug — less staring at screens and more living in the moment. AI helps extract relevant pieces from your calendar and email and answers your questions if you are curious about the world around you.

It’s all very nice, but let’s be honest: this thing isn’t a philosophy, it’s a gadget. Gadgets are fun, useful and frustrating – and all of the above seems to apply to the Humane pin.

The AI ​​Pin was really impressive at times. There is a vision feature that uses the camera to scan the scene in front of you when prompted, analyze what’s there and describe it out loud. I stood in front of a Humane spokesperson when he tried out this feature, and honestly, it hit the nail on the head. It described Mobile World Congress as “an indoor event or exhibition where people walk around.” Easy enough.

But it also pointed out the Qualcomm name on the signage behind me, and reading the badge around my neck clearly identified me as “a person wearing a lanyard from the The edge.” One too many, but pretty impressive considering I wasn’t that close to the pin and the lighting was dim.

But the pin is not immune to what gadgets often do: frustrate you immensely. Most of the AI ​​resides outside the device, so you’ll have to wait a few seconds for responses to your requests and questions – which isn’t helped by the convention center’s poor connectivity. It also shut down once after a brief message saying it had overheated and needed to cool down. The employee who demonstrated the pin for me said that this doesn’t happen often and that the continued use of the laser for demonstration purposes probably did it. I believe that, but still, this is a device that is meant to sit next to your chest and travel with you to many different environments, presumably warm ones too. Not good!

The laser projection is clearer than I thought it would be, but it’s still essentially light projected onto the palm of your hand. The hands are not evenly flat and it is difficult to keep them perfectly still. The text kind of dances around in front of you, and while it’s not difficult to read, it is is more difficult than reading text on a smartphone, for example.

It’s also impossible to get a sense of what it’s like to live with the thing in the hallway of a convention center. Can a cotton shirt support its weight? How easy is the laser to see outside in direct sunlight? Would people understand why the ‘trust light’ is on? Does the pin occasionally make things up, as some AI tends to do? I have way more questions than answers, but I think I at least have more zero answers now that I have seen it with my own eyes.

My first impression of the Pin is that it is there something there, but that’s not it the thing. And the problem is that all of Humane’s marketing has built it up that way the thing. It was first introduced during a TED talk, for heaven’s sake: that’s kind of ground zero for people who take themselves too seriously. Sai Kambampati of Humane told me that the AI ​​Pin is not intended to replace a smartphone. But it has its own data connection, its own monthly subscription fee, and its own smartphone-like price of $699. And its… not Does your phone need to be replaced?

Whatever lies ahead in mobile computing, I have a feeling it won’t exactly be the AI ​​Pin as I demonstrated it today. There are many more tests I want to do when the pin officially arrives in April. In the meantime, I didn’t exactly see the future, but I did see a damn cool gadget – just don’t take it too seriously.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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