I don’t need glasses normally, and I don’t need AI glasses either

Writing this initially with pen and paper on a bus ride accompanying more than 100 4th graders on an overnight school camping trip, it’s a fitting time to reflect on why I’ve turned three AI-powered hardware devices in the past month or so.

One such manufacturer, Humane, seems to be heading for a fire sale, despite claiming they want a $1 billion buyer. As I wrote about before, their AI pin is a confoundingly bad and useless device. The only reason I bought it at all is simple: so you don’t have to.

The next to come and go: Rabbit’s R1, the most hyped device at CES even without a physical presence there thanks to a charismatic founder doing a compelling Steve Jobs routine. If only it was more than a bit – a hardware tease. Selling for a quarter of the Humane Pin price tag and without a monthly subscription, it more than paid for itself when they announced customers would get a year of Perplexity Pro with a purchase. At least it’s not a total loss.

The bunny branding, clever both in the launch video and the device’s on-screen iconography (it even managed to ship around Easter) was fitting for a magic show. Except this rabbit, instead of being pulled out of a hat, stayed hidden inside eating its own feces.

Even staying connected to the wifi seemed challenging for this Trixless rabbit; getting it to switch networks when I brought it to an event to demo proved impossible, so it stayed in my sport-coat pocket.

Then came the Ray-Ban Meta sunglasses, which at least worked as sunglasses. The camera and video recording were intuitive, though the image quality looked no better than what I captured with my old Snapchat Spectacles pre-pandemic. Those also looked cooler; the funkier Ferrari-themed Meta Ray-Bans were sold out by the time I got these. Playing music through the sunglasses worked fine indoors and outdoors; my Audible book was inaudible outdoors at the loudest volume. Voice commands, like asking it to recognize what I was looking at, were sporadically accurate.

All of these devices failed for similar reasons, and you’ll likely have figured them out so long ago that if you’ve heard of the devices already, you probably decided not to buy them.

But we’ll list them anyway:

1) They’re solutions in search of problems. The Ray-Bans in particular, which were the closest to delivering on their promise, may one day evolve into Mission:Impossible-style accessories. I’d like to be able to scan a room and see which people I know and how I know them. Or I could suck It up and, you know, talk to them.

2) The rich keep getting richer. In the past couple of weeks, ChatGPT showed off the 4o Swiss Army Knife, Google shared upgrades to Gemini and its AI-enhanced search results (even if it then faced some setbacks), and Microsoft revealed its plans for a hardware-software Copilot mutant (mutant a la X-Men – it’s a compliment). That R1 breakthrough demo in January seems quaint now. See also: why agencies and others trying to build their own tech in-house will have a hard time keeping up, and why they’ll mostly build on top of other platforms or reskin them.

I’ve still been pre-ordering other AI gadgets. A new wave takes the form of AI pendant-sized mics that listen to and make sense of whatever you’re doing. I may be flagged on some ‘do not sell to this guy list’ and may need to go under an assumed name – like David Berkowitz. But I have some fantasy that I’ll one day open an AI gadget box without worrying about how I will repack it for UPS.

In short, you probably have all the AI-powered devices you need. I did get one truly useful device – a new HP with a zippy i7 processor and more RAM than any LLM I talked to said I’d need. Before, my older one was dragging, and I could barely run some AI apps I was downloading, let alone plugin-heavy Chrome.

So you will need some upgrades if you haven’t done so lately. I hadn’t paid that much attention to PC chip specs in 20 to 25 years. Back then, it was to play games like Sim City. Now, it’s to do my job- and this high-performing laptop costs half what I paid in 2000, even before adjusting for inflation.

That bodes well for Apple, Microsoft, HP, Dell, and others who can make their best case in a generation for consumers, professionals, and businesses to upgrade their hardware.

Maybe one of those hardware titans will buy Humane – not for a billion dollars, but for the humane purpose of putting them out of their misery.


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