Humane debuts a $699 AI pin I'd be far too nervous to wear in public

An image of Humane's new AI-powered magnetic pin, snapped onto a leather jacket.
(Image credit: Humane)

As with all emergent tech, AI has been an absolute rollercoaster. We've gone from funky deep-dream psychedelia and crunchy robot voices that sort of sound like Spongebob to a legal and ethical minefield. While it's been used for some cool stuff, like DLSS upscaling, it's also, uh, been used by the UK government for welfare benefit claims, or to make NSFW mods without the original voice actor's consent. Boot, meet mine.

Still, tech companies have been hungry to find the next use case that'll finally catapult us into the future of hi-tech assistants. After all, who doesn't want a little brain in your pocket to chat with? One such company is Humane, who have revealed a very weird magnetic camera-pin-AI assistant thing you can buy for the low low price of… $699. Jeez. 

As reported by Verge, the device clips to the front of your clothes via magnet-slash-battery pack. You can also turn it into a pseudo-smartphone with a monthly $24 subscription via T-Mobile's network. "There are no wake words, so it's not listening, or always recording," says Imran Chaudhri, co-founder of Humane, in an explanatory video. "It doesn't do anything until you engage with it."

You can activate it with your voice (Chaudhri doesn't elaborate on how this is different from a "wake word"), making a gesture, touching it, or by a little projector display that shines on your palm which, I hate to admit, is kind of cool in a cute, budget sci-fi sort of way. So what can it do? Yes. 

Or at least, that seems to be the answer Humane wants to market. You can hold food up to it to get probably-accurate information, use it to translate stuff in real time (hopefully without a comic misunderstanding), or ask it to play music. It's a large-language model search engine you can wear. It also has a camera.

The issue is, a lot of AI language models are very good at sounding correct without actually being correct. They can pass advanced exams, sure, but, there have also been cases where lawyers have tried to use AI and it has fabricated cases wholecloth. It's impressive tech, but inconsistent, and without a web browser to, say, quickly fact-check what the AI tells you against human sources, I'm not sure how useful this thing actually is.

But it's also naive to assume AI isn't improving. Technology advances in waves, and you don't know whether you've hit the ceiling of what a new toy can do until you're there. That being said, I'm not entirely convinced by the sales pitch Humane's broadcasting here.

For starters, it's a hundreds-dollar gadget that's clipped to your jacket by a magnet. If you're worried about pickpockets and you have an expensive smartphone, you can just… put it in your pocket and keep your hand there. Whereas I feel like it'd be very easy for a thief to just snag this thing and bolt. Heck, if the magnets on my fridge are anything to go by, just getting bumped into could knock this thing into the abyss. Heaven forbid you trip and smash it, or spill a drink.

Secondly, people don't like having a camera pointed at them, even if it's off, so I can imagine this thing would start arguments anywhere outside of a corporate office. There are very few public places where I'd feel comfortable wearing something like this, let alone talking out loud to it like I'm in 2013's sci-fi Her or something. And you can't even awkwardly flirt with The Pin. Well, not yet, anyway.

I'm sure one of these out-there experiments will stick in the future, and these kinds of technologies don't come along without companies throwing lots of money into a well. If you want to be at the forefront of AI technology by having a large language model Alexa clipped to your jacket, knock yourself out. If not, having a search engine on your smartphone will work just fine.

Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.