Humane Wants You To Have A Personal AI That Doesn’t Need A Cell Phone
You’ll see these faces much more as the hype around what’s already dubbed an ‘iPhone killer’ heats up. Welcome to the world, according to Humane, a wearable, AI-assisted device that can make calls, translate new languages, and, if the whispers are correct, a lot more besides all that.
The duo behind the device, Bethany Bongiorno (left) and Imran Chaudhri (right) are no strangers to Apple either. Bongiorno (CEO + Co-Founder) led critical teams to early products and was responsible for all software project management for iOS and macOS; Chaudhri (Co-Founder + Chairman) was a +20-year Apple veteran responsible for iPhone user interface and interaction designs, along with designing on Mac, iPod, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, AirPod and HomePod.
In March, the company got a $100m Series C injection ($230m to date) led by Kindred Ventures, notably including Sam Altman, Founder of OpenAI, which is a strategic partner. Here’s the leaked pitch deck.
The device itself is simple. A screenless, AI-powered, wearable LED projector that doesn’t require a phone, or any other device, to work. The device uses combinations of voice and gestures for input. For right now, details are sparse but will be forthcoming, according to Chaudhri.
Several features were demonstrated onstage. The standalone device wakes with a simple tap and Chaudhri used the built-in camera to identify if a chocolate bar was within his dietary requirements using his voice and computer vision versus barcode recognition. Another demonstration showed the device handling calls using LED projection and a minimal interface — clearly there is some gesture recognition happening. The ‘Catch me up’ function is especially poignant as more and more people struggle to keep inboxes and different channels in check. The translation feature is similar to what you get on phones today, but as Chaudhri remarked, not in his tone or voice — so the device uses a unique voice model. How this worked, and knew he wanted French is unknown right now.
We like to say that the experience is screenless, seamless, and sensing, allowing you to access the power of compute while remaining present in your surroundings, fixing a balance that’s felt out of place for some time now”.
Wearable devices that project have been prototyped and featured in science fiction for years, Humane seems like a good halfway step until holograms really become the norm. Check out Zari Fali’s blog for more ideas of what could be possible (he’s been following Humane for a while).
You’d be forgiven for thinking Humane is just another device, similar to Pranav Mistry TED talk on ‘SixthSense’, but the disruptive potential this could have is worth noting. From the lack of a cell phone (battery is going to be interesting, and this will annoy phone makers who want people tethered to their devices as much as they say the opposite), glasses/goggles manufacturers will also be mad as if this takes off, and who wouldn’t want a non-intrusive device that pairs back functionality(?), as this could sidestep the need for HUDs and right now, most manufacturers need them to be a big hit and a desired item. Beyond questions are battery life, price, and functionality, the issue of speed is also critical as people are used to speed with smartphones. Perhaps this doesn’t have to be one without the other, but I sense that Humane will push us to think more critically about things like speed, and focus more on the intent behind our actions and technology usage. No bad thing, but whether the public go for it en mass is a ‘wait and see’ moment. You can, after all, do all these on a smartphone, the case to spend more money on a device that does less, especially right now and the next few years, will be a tricky balance to get right.
Chaudhri remarked during his presentation that “in the future, AI technology will be both ambient and contextual”, a sentiment that is layered through all Humane materials — the Jonny Ives undertones for the corporate videos are no mistake; this is how you get people to follow and trust something new — focus on the base layer emotions. “This is good AI in action,” Chaudhri said on the TED stage, promising more details would be released in the coming months. Something the world needs more of right now.
Here’s the full talk (added after original posting):
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