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In the Face of Humane and Rabbit, It's Time for Google to Flex Its AI Power

Commentary: Google doesn't need a dedicated AI device. But it's time for the company to bring a more powerful Large Language Model to the masses

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
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Eli Blumenthal
4 min read
Making AI helpful for everyone

Google talked a lot about AI in at its I/O developer conference last year. 

James Martin/CNET

The last 18 months in the technology world have seemingly been dominated by two letters: AI. Whether it was the launch of OpenAI's ChatGPT, new features from Google and Microsoft, the proliferation of creative photo and video editing tools (including one that may have fooled Katy Perry's mom and placed the signer at the Met Gala), chatbots like Meta's Meta AI that are now ever-present across the social media giant's apps, or the prospect of more major companies, namely Apple, rumored to be getting into the space, AI has been everywhere. 

Even modern everyday gadgets have been infected. In introducing its latest flagship Galaxy S24 phone series, Samsung placed a keen focus on highlighting its "Galaxy AI" software. Last week's launch of Google's more affordable Pixel 8A was accompanied by a fresh touting of "Google AI" and everything it can do, from photo editing to search, translation and transcription. Even Apple's latest iPad Pro and M4 chip launch talked up the tablets' AI potential

With Google's I/O developer conference set for this week -- and Microsoft's Build and Apple's WWDC due in the next few weeks -- we're about to get a whole host of new AI announcements. OpenAI even preempted Google I/O with its latest ChatGPT updates on Monday

As one of the first out the gate, Google has a chance to set the stage and show how its AI vision is different from the rest. Or at the very least, continue to reinforce that it's all about AI. At last year's I/O, the search giant mentioned AI over 140 times in its 2-hour keynote. We know, we counted

A new generation of AI on devices 

The Rabbit R1 AI assistant

The Rabbit R1

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

In addition to having AI thrown into products and announcements, 2024 has also seen a new interest in AI-powered devices -- namely consumer AI products like the Humane AI Pin and Rabbit R1

Both of these devices arrived with plenty of ambition and hype, and in their current iterations have so far failed spectacularly. Rabbit touts an ability to use your voice to order everything from an Uber to a meal on DoorDash from its colorful $199 box, but early reviewers reported this rarely works as advertised. As YouTuber Michael Fisher put it, asking the AI device about the world around you will result in "a little more than half the time you'll get a response that's actually truthful or useful…while the rest of the time you end up with unreliable trash."

Hallucinations have been an early issue for a variety of AI systems, including Google's own Gemini chatbot (previously known as Bard). 

Hand holding the Humane AI Pin

Humane's AI Pin

Photo by Scott Stein/Retouched by Viva Tung

Humane has flashy hardware for its AI pin, but at $699 (plus a $24 monthly subscription) its ambitions to replace the smartphone in 2024 were too ambitious. CNET's Scott Stein found the device, which like the Rabbit often relies on voice-driven AI to accomplish tasks, "amazing in concept but so frustrating in execution." It similarly was hit-or-miss when asking seemingly simple questions and it doesn't connect to your phone, which means it's limited in being able to stay current with everything that is going on in your world. There is no email, no texting from your main number (you can message people through the device, but it's via a separate phone number), and music is only through Tidal. 

With Google Assistant already available on millions of devices, Google has a strong foundation to take advantage of this latest trend with a product people are already familiar with. It has a robust ecosystem that allows it to interface with a range of devices from smart appliances like thermostats and lights to third-party applications. It is also well integrated into the many Google services you likely already use, such as Gmail, Maps and Photos. 

Enhancing the Assistant with Gemini's smarts (assuming it has ironed out many of the earlier kinks) could lead to Google fulfilling the same mission Humane and Rabbit set out to achieve, just instead of replacing the phone it's revamping it. 

In a post on X ahead of Tuesday's I/O keynote, Google seemed to hint at its ambitions to join this latest focus on AI products, with a presenter holding up a phone and having it describe the world around it in real time. This functionality has been one of the key demo features for both the Humane Pin and Rabbit R1. 

The good news is we won't have to wait too much longer. Google I/O begins on Tuesday with the opening keynote set for 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT. Here's how to watch it live.

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Editors' note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. The note you're reading is attached to articles that deal substantively with the topic of AI but are created entirely by our expert editors and writers. For more, see our AI policy.