The winner of the AI ​​gadget race may already be in your pocket.

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It all looked very promising. A crack team of ex-Apple designers and managers, backed by OpenAI head Sam Altman, invented a brand new type of wearable device for the ChatGPT era.

San Francisco-based Human has raised nearly $240 million on the promise that its AI pin can do with the iPhone what Apple did with the BlackBerry. The tiny device packs a microphone, speaker, camera and even a small laser projector into a magnetic lapel clip, resembling an Apple-designed Star Trek communicator.

But when, after six years of development, the AI ​​pin was finally released last month, it was panned by reviewers. Marquez Brownlee, a YouTuber whose 18.8 million subscribers make it a top tech tastemaker, called it “the worst product I think I've ever reviewed”, adding that it “basically happens all the time.” Wally was “bad at almost everything.”

Brownlee said that along with complaints about pin projectors, battery life and overheating, the built-in human assistant took too long to answer questions and often got them wrong. Other tech critics largely agreed.

Human Chief Executive Bethany Bongiarno has said the company is listening to feedback and plans to fix some of the issues with software updates. But the initial reaction to AI pin will be difficult for startups to overcome. It also represents another blow to Silicon Valley's long-running quest for a device that could usurp the smartphone as the centerpiece of our computing lives.

Human was the standard bearer for several startups hoping to harness the power of ChatGPT with new types of AI gadgets, including Rabbit, IYO and Brilliant Labs. Metta and Amazon are among the big tech companies developing AI smart glasses. They all hope that a simple portable device that puts a virtual assistant in users' pockets, ears or faces might break the Apple-Google smartphone duopoly that has held sway for more than a decade.

The idea of ​​AI wearables is not new. It may have been long enough for Silicon Valley to forget the debacle of Google Glass, the AI-powered headset that the search company launched in 2013 but largely abandoned just two years later. But Human's response will only fuel suspicions that the latest attempts to restart Glass are another manifestation of the AI ​​funding bubble.

Hardware, Silicon Valley investors like to say, is hard. This is the reason why most of them prefer to invest in software. Startups making devices rather than apps need to wrangle supply chains and working capital, putting a financial burden on an inherently risky enterprise.

Inventing new hardware categories has proven difficult even for the wealthiest big tech companies. Amazon and Google's smart speakers, while selling in the millions, have failed to become more than alternatives to radios and egg timers. Meta has sunk tens of billions of dollars into its virtual reality business, with little to no revenue.

At least virtual reality headsets offer something — complete digital immersion — that smartphones can't. It's less clear whether the latest AI gadgets offer a real advantage over just using an app.

Their advocates argue that they offer a cure for smartphone addiction and doom scrolling — a way to take our eyes off our screens and make us more “present,” without giving up immediate access to information or social connections. . They also say that by embedding cameras and microphones into glasses or seeds, AI can “see” what its user sees and hear what they hear. This “multimodal AI” could, in theory, answer questions, identify objects and signs, or translate text.

Meta recently expanded its Ray-Ban smart glasses, which pack a camera, microphone and speaker into a lightweight frame. Piggybacking on classic Ray-Ban designs is a smart way to smuggle AI devices into the mainstream. But for those who don't want cameras in their faces, the voice-activated ChatGPT mobile app seems to work for many queries as well.

Seventeen years into the era of the iPhone, the smartphone has become indispensable to more than half of the world's population. And the increasing ubiquity of wireless headphones makes them a more likely interface for AI assistants than smart glasses or badges. Human frustration shows just how far AI has to go before it replaces the endless utility of the smartphone. For the foreseeable future, the best AI device is the one already in your pocket.

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