For the record, I love eating meat. My summers are usually spent lakeside in Wisconsin, the land of cheese curds and bratwurst. And I love my steaks, charcuterie boards, and burgers as much as the next person. What I’m saying is, I’m not a vegan—but I do have a young kiddo with a tonoffoodallergies, so we are…
Before you disrupt everything, you have to deeply consider the current cultural norms or no one will wear your wearable.
For the past week, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Humane’s AI Pin.
As someone who’s worn and reviewed wearables of every shape and size, this pin baffles and befuddles. The premise is that it’s supposed to help you look at your phone less — something for which many people say they use their smartwatches. For $699 with a $24 monthly subscription, you’ll purportedly be able to call friends (like smartwatches), talk to voice assistants (also like smartwatches), interact with a camera (like smart glasses), and project a screen (also like smart glasses).
None of these concepts are new, so it’s wild to me that this thing has blown up the way it has. Sure, the form factor is flashy, but it flouts the chief rule of good wearable design: you have to want to wear the damn thing. Preferably, as much as possible. In public. Where people can see you, judge you, and interact with you.
Humane seems to think making this fashionable will do just that. The pin debuted at Paris Fashion Week on the lapel of supermodel Naomi Campbell. But ask Apple how going the fashion route worked for the first Apple Watches (poorly). While style is key, the most important thing about wearables is that they be versatile enough to wear all the time. This is effectively a high-tech brooch. And with brooches and pins, you typically wear them with outerwear. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that if you peruse Humane’s marketing images, nearly all show the device pinned to blazers or hoodies. But what happens when you go inside and take your outerwear off? What exactly are you going to pin this to in spring and summer?
Considering that this weighs about as much as a tennis ball, it’s going to drag down any T-shirt and forget flimsy blouses, dresses, or button-downs. I’ve used lighter magnetic lavalier mic clips when filming videos and if your shirt doesn’t have structural integrity, you’re going to have a bad time. If you want to use this pin every day, you’re going to have to be extremely intentional with your clothing, too. In the announcement video, Humane co-founder Imran Chaudhri certainly wasn’t. You can see the pin drag his sweater collar when he puts it on.
This is less of an issue with most other wearables. Smartwatches, hearables, smart rings, smart glasses, and AR / VR headsets are worn on the body. Once you put the device on, it stays put regardless of what else you’re wearing. You don’t have to transfer the device from outfit to outfit, which is a hassle and increases your chance of losing it.
The other issue with wearables? Water. A few years ago, I reviewed L’Oreal’s My Skin Track — a wearable sensor you pin on your clothes to measure UV exposure. I wore it on jackets and on my shirts. And then I threw it in the wash and accidentally destroyed it. Granted, this sensor was tiny and this would be harder to do with the AI Pin. But still, there’s a reason why earbuds, smart rings, and smartwatches have anywhere from IPX4 to 5ATM water resistance ratings. People get wet! An unexpected rainstorm, sweat, washing dishes, spilling drinks, getting splashed by a passing car because you stood too close to the curb — these are all things successful wearables can withstand. Meanwhile, in Humane’s product FAQ, it says that “For optimal performance, your Ai Pin and power accessories should not be exposed to water.”
These things combined are just inconvenient enough that I can see most people leaving this pin in a drawer to collect dust. But wearability aside, emerging tech like this has yet another hurdle: culture.
I’ve seen the AI Pin compared to Star Trek’s communicator badges, but there’s a big gap between that and what Humane’s making. It’s a fictional device in a fictional universe that has established norms for how these devices are used. When an officer needs to talk to a crew member, they lightly tap the badge and speak into it. It’s not weird because everyone around them understands what’s happening. That’s not a luxury Humane and other bleeding-edge wearable makers have in the real world.
Let me put it this way: In public settings, would you rather yell at your chest to talk to a voice assistant or pull out your phone to look up the information yourself? I know what I would choose, because I recently had to.
When I was reviewing the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses, the thought of saying “Hey Meta” in public made me cringe. I did it once on my commute to see how I would feel. It was embarrassing, and I never did it again. And that’s on a device where there’s a mic that sits directly in the nose bridge, pointed straight at your mouth. While some people have no problem hollering at Siri, it’s still a social faux pas to do it public.Humane’s pin has a “personic speaker,” but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of ambient noise. Even with the Meta glasses’ excellent nose mic and omnidirectional speakers aimed at my ears, I still had to speak quite loudly for the AI to register what I was saying. These glasses were discreet, so at least I looked like I was talking to thin air. Yelling at my shirt... that’s a step too far. That’s nothing to say of the camera, and how we as a society still don’t really know how we feel about body cameras at large.
These are a fraction of the scenarios and questions rattling around in my brain. But they all boil down to this: we don’t measure a wearable’s success by how well it replaces your phone anymore. The best wearables either act as an extension of it or do something your phone can’t, like collect real-time health data. So why is Humane trying to bridge a gap that doesn’t truly exist?
While I have my doubts about this pin, I would be thrilled to have my wearable world disrupted. But for that to happen, I’d need to try one of these myself. So Humane, ball’s in your court.
Still dreaming of the day I can have a low power lightweight medium range (multiple blocks) star trek communicator, using something like a extremely low data Lyra voice codec and some open source lorawan-like wireless protocol.
According to billionaire tech investor Marc Andresson, AI is good, fascists are saints, and anyone who stops rich people like him from funding, deploying, and doing whatever they want is a literal murderer.
In a new 5,200 word "techno-optimist manifesto,” Andreessen, the man behind prominent venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z)—which has invested in Facebook, Airbnb, Lyft, Skype, and many more well-known firms—argues that the only solution to the various structural problems created by capitalism is to do more capitalism—with uninhibited AI development at the forefront. He does so by invoking an obscure online ideology that has taken hold in some tech circles, but may be totally incomprehensible to the masses of people who ultimately use the products that a16z helps bring to market: “effective accelerationism,” or “e/acc.”
“We believe any deceleration of AI will cost lives,” Andreessen writes in the sprawling blog post, which reads like the ramblings of a college student who just finished his first reading of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. “Deaths that were preventable by the AI that was prevented from existing is a form of murder.” He then goes on to list a number of “enemies,” which are “not bad people, but rather bad ideas”—including sustainability, tech ethics, and risk management. Andreessen doesn’t explain why he thinks any of these ideas are bad, instead describing them as being part of a “mass demoralization campaign” that is “against technology and against life.”
To Andreessen, the researchers who have repeatedly shown the dangers and real-life harms of unchecked AI are just a bunch of Negative Nancys. “We are being lied to,” he begins in the lengthy rant, before dismissively listing a bunch of things that research shows unrestrained technology is actually doing, such as increasing inequality, enabling discrimination, and harming the environment. The blog post goes on to make various other popular techno-libertarian claims: Universal Basic Income—a policy that would make sure people have enough money to live, and is being explored by governments around the world— “would turn people into zoo animals to be farmed by the state.” Not to worry though, because AI is “a universal problem solver,” and the free market will solve everything, from “car crashes to pandemics to wartime friendly fire”—as long as we stay out of the way and let our wise tech overlords do whatever they want with no restrictions.
Andreeson’s arguments are well-trodden territory for tech capitalists who believe in effective accelerationism, the cultish tech bro dogma that has spread across the upper echelons of Silicon Valley for years. Effective accelerationists essentially believe that tech is universally good, that our planet is doomed, and that the only way to save the human species is by letting capital and resources flow upwards, so that beneficent billionaire autocrats can one day send us to a colony on Mars. Or something. Maybe.
The manifesto is grounded in some eyebrow-raising associations, including fascists and reactionaries. Andreeson lists the "patron saints" of techno-optimism, and they include Nick Land, one of the chief architects of modern "accelerationism" who is better known as championing the anti-democratic Dark Enlightenment movement that casts liberal-multicultural-democratic thinking as embodying a nefarious "Cathedral." Andreessen also calls out Filippo Tommaso Marinetti as one of his patron saints. Marinetti is not only the author of the technology- and destruction-worshipping Futurist Manifesto from 1909, but also one of the architects of Italian fascism. Marinetti co-authored the Fascist Manifesto in 1919 and founded a futurist political party that merged with Mussolini's fascists. Other futurist thinkers and artists exist. To call Marinetti in particular a "saint" is a choice.
None of this is new or shocking in itself. What is notable is that the rant is being posted unabridged on the blog of a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and parroted obediently and uncritically by the mainstream tech press. It gives further weight to viewing effective accelerationism—and its counterparts, “effective altruism” and “longtermism”—as the official ideology of Silicon Valley.
Some of the most prominent proponents of the techno-utopian dogma include disgraced crypto hustler Sam Bankman-Fried, currently on trial for securities and wire fraud, and OpenAI co-founder and billionaire shitposter Elon Musk, who spends his days replying to Nazis on the social media website he bought for $44 billion. Effective accelerationists have also propped up various nonprofits and lobbyist groups to push a vision of “AI safety,” which effectively entails an unregulated AI market with tech billionaires at the reigns. The same people were also behind a recent letter warning of an apocalypse brought on by an advanced Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI, if we don’t act now by giving rich tech executives exactly what they want.
Critics and AI experts have regularly noted the influence of effective accelerationism in the tech industry, and warned of the dangers of letting its proponents maintain control of tech development.
“It is not surprising that the field has been moving in a direction promising an ‘unimaginably great future’ around the corner while proliferating products harming marginalized groups in the now,” wrote AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, in an article for Wired about the group’s influence. “We need to liberate our imagination from the one we have been sold thus far: saving us from a hypothetical AGI apocalypse imagined by the privileged few, or the ever elusive techno-utopia promised to us by Silicon Valley elites.”
learning that Andreessen considers the literal co-author of the original Fascist Manifesto a "saint" makes you feel *more* positively toward Andreessen? that seems like a rather strange reaction to have.
Besides, I read the first half of the essay and then coming back to read this article makes me feel like its an overblown and nitpicky reaction when in fact the manifesto has a lot to like about it. I haven't gotten to the fascist section yet, so maybe I'll throw the whole thing out when I do.
On Friday night in Cleveland, Ohio, the Brooklyn High School football team was playing against visitors Beachwood High School, a school in a mostly-Jewish suburb. During the game, in what must have been a total coincidence, Brooklyn High coach, Tim McFarland was heard repeatedly calling for a play named "Nazi." — Read the rest
For years in both big cities and smaller ones, the cool kids would never be caught dining out at 5 p.m. That was cocktail hour, if anything. Anyone who actually ate a meal at this unhip hour was presumed to be either a tourist or an old person taking advantage of “early bird” specials. Now, though, it turns out we’re…