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The Humane AI Pin worked better than I expected — until it didn’t



Look, I’m a Humane AI Pin doubter as much as the next person. And I still think the wearable, AI-powered assistant suffers from a case of this-thing-could-have-been-an-app. But I finally got to spend a little face-to-face time with the pin this morning, and you know what? It’s a darn cool gadget. It’s just buried under a layer of marketing so thick that it’s hard to appreciate what it actually could be if Humane wasn’t so self-serious.

If you spend time on Tech Threads or the like, you probably already know what the pin does: you clip it to your shirt, talk to it, and it uses generative AI to answer. It’s a standalone device with its own SIM card, and there’s no screen — just vibes. That, and a little laser that projects menus and text onto your palm so you can interact with mortal trifles like Wi-Fi settings and media playback controls.

The pin projects menus on your palm, and a few basic gestures act as controls.

The idea, reiterated as I watched a couple of Humane employees run through various demos, was that it’s meant to help keep you connected while unplugging a little bit — less staring at screens and more living in the moment. AI helps fetch relevant bits from your calendar and email, and answers your questions when you’re curious about the world around you.

It’s all very lovely, but let’s be real: this thing isn’t a philosophy, it’s a gadget. Gadgets are fun, helpful, and frustrating — and all of the above seems to apply to the Humane pin.

The AI Pin was genuinely impressive at times. There’s a vision feature that will use the camera to scan the scene in front of you when prompted, analyze what’s there, and describe it out loud. I stood in front of a Humane spokesperson as he tried out this feature, and frankly, the pin nailed it. It described Mobile World Congress as “an indoor event or exhibition with people walking around.” Easy enough.

But it also pointed out the name Qualcomm on the signage behind me, and obviously reading the badge around my neck, identified me as “a person wearing a lanyard from the The Verge.” One too many the’s, but pretty impressive when you consider I wasn’t standing all that close to the pin and the lighting was dim.

The pin didn’t seem to be pulling on the hooded sweatshirts Humane’s employees are wearing at the show, but I’m not sure how a thin cotton shirt would fare.

The gesture navigation was also impressive — more fluid and responsive than I thought it would be. I wasn’t allowed to put the pin on myself, and it’s hard to get into the right spot to project the laser onto your own hand since it’s really a single-user device. I tried. But a couple of Humane employees demoing the product, who obviously had lots of practice with it, navigated the projected menus quickly and easily just by tilting their hands and tapping two fingers together.

But the pin isn’t immune to the thing that gadgets often do: frustrate the hell out of you. Most of the AI is off-device, so there’s a solid few seconds of waiting for responses to your requests and questions — not helped by the convention center’s spotty connectivity. It also shut down on one occasion after briefly flashing a notice that it had overheated and needed to cool off. The employee demoing the pin for me said that this doesn’t happen very often, and that the continued use of the laser for demonstration purposes probably did it. I believe that, but still, this is a device meant to sit next to your chest and go with you into lots of different environments, presumably including warm ones. Not great!

Projected text on your hand is just never going to look as good as on an OLED.

The laser projection is clearer than I imagined it would be, but it’s still essentially light projected onto the palm of your hand. Hands aren’t uniformly flat, and they’re hard to keep perfectly still. Text kind of dances around in front of you, and while it’s not difficult to read, it is harder than reading, say, text on a smartphone.

It’s also impossible to get a sense of what it’s like living with the thing in a convention center hall. Could a cotton shirt support its weight? How easy is the laser to see outside in direct sun? Would people understand why the “trust light” is illuminated? Does the Pin occasionally make things up, the way some AI tends to? I have a lot more questions than answers, but I guess at least I have more than zero answers now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

The AI Pin is just a gadget, not a lifestyle.

My early impression of the Pin is that there’s something there, but it’s not the thing. And the trouble is, all of Humane’s marketing has built it up to be the thing. It was first introduced at a TED talk, for pete’s sake: that’s like ground zero for people who take themselves too seriously. Humane’s Sai Kambampati told me that the AI Pin isn’t intended as a smartphone replacement. But it has its own data connection, its own monthly subscription fee, and its own smartphone-esque price of $699. And it’s… not supposed to replace your phone?

Whatever’s ahead of us in mobile computing, I have a feeling it’s not exactly the AI Pin as I saw it demonstrated today. There’s a lot more testing I want to do when the pin officially arrives in April. In the meantime, I didn’t see the future exactly, but I did see a darn cool gadget — just don’t take it too seriously.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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