Humane Ai Pin: what is it, and why should we care?

A startup is working on an AI-based “post-smartphone” wearable device that allows people to carry a digital personal assistant everywhere. Product placement is already top-notch, as seen during the Paris fashion week.

During Coperni’s Ready To Wear show at the Paris fashion week, a few models (including Naomi Campbell) carried an unusual accessory on the lapels of the blazers and blouses or even on the trousers they wore. Shaped like a rounded square, it resembled a small calculator or a clothes tag. 
The never-before-seen device probably left fashionistas unfazed, but it certainly drew the attention of tech publications, which were fast to report the first public appearance of Humane’s much-rumored Ai Pin. 

Founded by former Apple employee Imran Chaudhri, Humane is a new startup working on a new “post-smartphone” wearable device, the Ai Pin, that should somehow integrate artificial intelligence in an easy-to-carry way. The company has been teasing the device for quite some time but hasn’t shared any details about how the always-with-you AI assistant is supposed to work. All we know is that the Ai Pin will be a screenless wearable with a small laser projector that could display information in your hand and has an array of sensors, microphones, and speakers to fully interact with the user and others.

“The intelligent clothing-based wearable uses a range of sensors that enable natural and intuitive compute interactions and is designed to weave seamlessly into users’ day-to-day lives”, says Humane in a press release accompanying the reveal at the Coperni show. “The device is privacy-first, with aspects such as no wake word and therefore no ‘always on’ listening, reflecting Humane’s vision of building products which place trust at the center”. The Ai Pin will be revealed in full on November 9, the company said.

In other cases, we would have quickly archived the Ai Pin as just another vaporware project. What’s keeping us from doing so is the endorsement of Qualcomm. The chipmaking giant is officially involved in the project and will provide Humane with a new “advanced Snapdragon Platform” to power the device. It’s unclear whether Humane will use one of Qualcomm’s existing chipsets or if they could collaborate on a custom-built solution with the chipmaker.

While purposefully coy on details and explanations, Humane has actively pumped the buzz around the product. That’s a legitimate marketing approach for a startup whose lofty goal is setting the new tech paradigm for the post-smartphone era. At the same time, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any tech-enthusiast who would like to understand what kind of product Humane is developing. 

Picking a catwalk for the first appearance of the Ai Pin is an interesting choice that positions the device as a fashion statement rather than a next-gen technological tool. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this happen. Remember when Apple, to introduce the original Watch, invited lifestyle and fashion journalists by the dozens to its special event in Cupertino? We can still remember the furious reactions of the “pure” tech journalists excluded from the presentation in favor of colleagues from Vogue or Cosmopolitan. That was 2015, though, and one could say that the current success of the Apple Watch has way more to do with its pivot into health and sports territory than its original positioning as a fashion statement.

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