The AI Pin That Takes Away Worlds
Why the AI Pin has no chance of replacing the smartphone
The natural world is great—apart from the fact that we all try to escape it every chance we can get. I don’t mean this in a cynical way; it’s simply true. When presented with a stretch of free time, no one willingly sits and does nothing. We distract ourselves with games or media that sweep us off into other worlds. In the past, this often meant reading books or magazines, going to the theater, making up stories, or playing board games. Today, it typically means scrolling social media, reading articles online, playing video games, or watching movies.
This is why the smartphone is so powerful. It’s a single device that serves as a portal to all of these engrossing, semi-immersive experiences. Since the smartphone has been around for a while, it’s common to hear speculation about what might come next. Will it be glasses? Retina implants? Brain implants?
For the folks at the tech startup Humane, the answer is…a pin. Yes, a pin, like the kind you wear on your shirt or coat. Snap it on, and there you go. You can call people, send texts or email, order food, get answers about the weather or the latest news in the world. It even projects visuals onto your palm, and with slight movements, you can do the equivalent of swiping and clicking. And it’s available for $699. Welcome to the phone-free future.
In many respects, the pin is a technological wonder. It’s essentially an AI buddy straight out of a sci-fi movie. But unfortunately for the innovators at Humane, the pin hasn’t gotten the sort of praise they might have expected. Effectively, people don’t really know what to make of it. Kara Swisher called the video promoting the Pin one of the weirdest things she’s ever seen. She added that the device, “didn’t serve any need.” And there are myriad comments about how the experience of using the AI Pin for practical purposes (like searching for nearby restaurants) would be so much worse than the phone.
None of the reviews I’ve seen really zero in on the heart of the issue: The AI Pin can’t possibly replace the smartphone because it isn’t designed to serve as a portal of any kind. It’s not, as Christopher Nolan recently said of the smartphone, a whole world in your pocket. Instead, the Pin is designed to be, effectively, a glorified Alexa. And in the context of looking for a smartphone replacement, no one’s asking for Alexa; we’re asking for a new portal machine.
The AI Pin is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because the Pin does indeed fix all the problems with the smartphone: it fixes social media addiction, doom-scrolling, Instagram filters, endless exposure to outrage and propaganda. But, in removing these things, it removes the ability to take you anywhere. And when I’m sitting on a train or in the dentist’s office, or wherever, I want to be swept away. I want to be enraptured. Enthralled.
And that’s frankly not too much to ask. Novels have been accomplishing this for centuries. Any new device that comes at the smartphone should at least be able to simulate the fundamental power of text on a page.
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