Humane's Wearable AI Pin Hints at a Phone-Free Future

The artificial intelligence device conjures a glimmer of what may one day be a world without screens.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
5 min read
Humane AI Pin

Don your personal assistant in the form of Humane's AI Pin

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

At this particular moment in history, it feels unimaginable that we might one day once again live in a world free of smartphones. And yet, some in the tech world are convinced that in the future we may not be glued constantly to the phone screens that have become so ubiquitous in our lives.

With recent advances in AI, a new breed of micro devices are starting to emerge that offer some of the same functionality as phones, but that exist for the primary purpose of being personal assistants that can sit in the palm of your hand or latch onto the lapel of your coat. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, I got my first real-life glimpse of the Humane AI Pin -- a device designed by two former Apple employees who are charting a course towards a screen-free, AI-powered future.

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Humane announced the AI Pin back in November of 2023, and it's currently available for preorder in the US for $699 (as well as increasingly with a number of operator partners around the world). On top of this, there's a $24 monthly subscription fee to pay that covers connectivity, secure data storage and access to Humane's AI service.

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The Pin is a petite, subtle, square-shaped computer that sits on your chest with the help of a magnet. You interact with it primarily through voice, but also using gestures on the front-facing touchpad. The aim is to have an expert and always-available assistant ready to help you out with any query while remaining present, rather than getting lost in whatever's happening on your phone screen. "Something that's really important about it is that we want to live more in the moment," said Bethany Bongiorno, CEO and co-founder of Humane.

Demoing the Pin's capabilities using her personal device, Bongiorno showed how the Pin, which is activated by touch rather than with a wake word, could quickly answer simple questions, such as converting dollars to euros. More impressive was the Pin's translate function, which she used to ask for local cafe recommendation in Catalan (it can speak up to 50 languages in total). When she landed in Barcelona, Bongiorno's pin knew exactly where she was and automatically set itself to speak the local language. But if someone approached her speaking a different language entirely, the Pin would realize and be able to automatically adjust.

One notable aspect of the Pin's otherwise minimalist appearance is that above the touchpad is a module with a camera with an LED light to show when the device is in use, as well as something slightly unexpected: a laser. The laser can beam images and text onto your hand using a technology that Humane calls Laser Ink. 

Hands-On With the Wearable Humane AI Pin

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Bongiorno used the camera to take a photo of me, before projecting it onto her palm. She also demonstrated how the laser picked up on the mid-air gestures she was making with her fingers, allowing her to interact with the information being projected using swipes and pinches. "This is something that's really critical, because there are moments where you might not want to speak to it, or you might not be in a position to speak to it," said Bongiorno.

It was one of the more mind-bending tech demos I've seen at this year's Mobile World Congress, and it did show that the Humane AI Pin is more than just a wearable version of an AI chatbot. It's a tiny box of tricks that packs more technology under the hood than is initially apparent. I haven't left the house without my phone in years, and I'm intrigued to know how I would manage navigating the world, or even nipping to the store, with just the Pin for company.

Due to the fact the Pin has its own phone number, it's a totally standalone device that doesn't require it to be paired with a phone. Not only can it make calls and send messages, but it can use AI to help you craft those messages, as well as synthesize the messages you've received so it's easy to catch up on what you've missed when your group chat explodes. For now, the AI Pin supports SMS, but WhatsApp and other messaging service compatibility is coming, says Bongiorno.

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The same is true of other partnerships. For now, Tidal is Humane's music streaming partner, but more are coming. Bongiorno showed how it's possible to get the Pin to play music for you in the same way you would ask a smart speaker, using the Beatles as an example. You can also ask the device to make you a playlist or answer questions about a song or artist while a track is playing. The AI Pin will pair with your Bluetooth headphones or the speaker in your car for a totally hands-free, phone-free music experience. 

A number of accessories are available so you can adapt the Pin to be worn in different situations, including a clip for bag straps, shields for changing its appearance and providing protection (a little like a phone case) and a latch for loose and light clothing of the kind you might wear to work out in. In the box you'll get a charging case and battery booster, which also doubles as the rear magnet that attaches the Pin to your shirt. The front of the unit has about five hours of charge, but with a booster, Bongiorno said her Pin usually makes it to around 4 p.m. each day. At this points she swaps the booster for a spare, which sees her through evening.

Humane is still a new company in the tech space, and the AI Pin still has a lot to prove. The early demo Bongiorno showed me something I'd never seen before, but also made me wonder how it will be received by a wider audience. It certainly won't be for everyone -- the price alone will exclude many, and others may have privacy concerns. 

Bongiorno assured me that Humane had made this a priority, adding the LED indicator to show when the camera was in use and opting not to use a wake word so the device wasn't always listening. Users can also view and delete their encrypted data at any time through their own web page.

Ultimately the AI Pin is a first-generation product created at the advent of the AI revolution, so in many ways it's just our first step into a brave, new world. It may not be the giant leap away from smartphones that doomscrollers like me are ready for, but I suspect it offers a prescient glimmer of what's to come.

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.

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