— Humane

A tiny smartphone-esque device you navigate with your voice and a projected interface on your hand isn’t in fact the biggest idea Humane is introducing with the Ai Pin. It’s a future without apps.

The Ai Pin, as a device primarily built around interacting with artificial intelligence, doesn’t use discrete applications at all. It instead directs spoken requests through an AI model or third-party service that has what you need via something Humane calls the “Ai Bus.”

I think it’s easy to agree that the multitude of attention-grabbing, time-wasting, mood-ruining apps we have on our phones is a cause for concern, but ditching them for something entirely hands-off? That introduces other kinds of problems that could make justifying the already niche Ai Pin even harder.

The Case Against Apps

Apple calls the feature that lets you monitor app usage and set limits on iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Screen Time. The name has always seemed like a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really your smartphone screen that is the problem or needs to be limited, it’s what’s happening on that screen.

There are whole industries built on capturing and manipulating your attention through your smartphone. Every social media app that makes money on advertising is trying to do this to some extent, getting you to see ads, trying to figure out which ads might “work” best for you, and relying on algorithmic feeds to keep you around for longer looking for the next interesting post.

I’m not sure we could definitively say these apps are a bad thing, but they do have an effect on our mental health, and they’re hard to avoid — all of our friends and family are already there.

Why shouldn’t complex, multi-purpose apps like Slack be unbundled into nebulous experiences manipulated by and delivered to us through some kind of artificial intelligence?

It’s not just direct manipulation, either. The cognitive demands — the focus some apps require to use — have grown. Even apps that are meant to help you get work done can introduce their own kind of distractions. It’s easy to drop into Slack to respond to one message and then end up spending the next 20 minutes flipping through channels to see what your coworkers are talking about or working on.

Why shouldn’t complex, multi-purpose apps like Slack be unbundled into nebulous experiences manipulated by and delivered to us through some kind of artificial intelligence? It saves us the trouble and distraction of navigating yet another interface, and we tackle the tasks we need to get to faster.

This idea of a “distributed app” you interact with via an AI appears to be the setup Humane has arrived at with its Ai Pin. The company is currently partnering with third-party service providers like Slack to build custom experiences that offer access to their functionality and platform in a completely distributed way. If you ask the Ai Pin to “catch you up,” it summarizes upcoming events and the messages you’ve received, including messages shared to an app like Slack.

Based on what Humane has shared so far, you could have the Ai Pin pull up a specific piece of information from a Slack thread without having to look at a screen, dive into the app, and search for it yourself. It’s not clear if it will be available at launch, but one imagines you could initiate a voice or video huddle with a voice command in much the same way. If it works correctly, that’s all the benefits of being connected to your coworkers through an app like Slack, without having to actually use it yourself.

The Case For Apps

But why should we give up apps, the thing that turned smartphones into the essential, multifunctional tools we know them to be now? App stores, be it Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, are what allow smartphones to behave like computers.

If you don’t like the built-in email app that came with your phone, you download a new one. If you need a quick way to edit the photos you capture, you download an app that can help you do it. If you don’t like the built-in voice assistant your phone has, download an app that lets you access one that’s actually useful.

Apps not only fill in the gaps in functionality of your smartphone, they make you more capable too. What you’re able to do out of the box with your phone is very different than what you might do a year from now as you explore new apps.

Sure, the app-based revolution of the early days of iOS and Android may have cooled off, most of us have the same 5–10 third-party apps, but the ability to download what you want, even filtered through the content policies and economic demands of an app store, is an important right that feels silly to give up.

What do you do if you don’t want to listen to Tidal on the Ai Pin, do you have other options for streaming music? What about podcast apps? These problems are easily solved on a smartphone, but it’s not clear how they’ll be solved on the Ai Pin until Humane explains how developers can create their own experiences for the device.

Humane Is On To Something

Whether the thought of never opening another app is appealing, Humane is trying things in the personal electronics space that will make people rethink what we have. “We’re here exploring the possibilities in all these spaces so you can rethink how you experience music, shopping, communication, and more,” Humane co-founder Imran Chaudhri shared in an interview with writer and investor Om Malik. “It’s not about replacing something or declaring app stores obsolete.”

Humane’s belief, according to Chaudhri, is that the new distribution and development methods that AI opens up warrant thinking of new kinds of devices and new kinds of experiences, and the Ai Pin is just the first of many. Whether or not dedicated AI hardware catches on outside of the smart home remains to be seen, but Humane’s notion of an “Ai Bus” sharing information between services and essentially directing traffic for your requests feels like a possible future for all generative AI platforms.

“It’s not about replacing something or declaring app stores obsolete.”

Just last week OpenAI introduced “GPTs,” its tool for creating your own ChatGPT-esque chatbots for hyperspecific use cases, with the ability to limit their skills and upload specific information to train them. These GPTs could focus on anything — offering you creative writing help, training tips, or anything else you can explain in plain text — and will be accessed in a GPT Store where you can add them to your account. From there they live alongside normal ChatGPT for whenever you need them. This makes OpenAI the main interface for a variety of different types of tasks and it’s not hard to imagine the company shifting to some kind of “Ai Bus” type model where it becomes the default interface, looping in GPTs and even whole other AI platforms as needed to complete a request.

Humane’s Ai Pin might not be for everyone in terms of its features or price ($699 + $24/month subscription). But if it can nudge things in a more interesting direction and if its wilder ideas can find a home in the tools you already use, the Ai Pin could have a positive impact on your life without you ever having to buy one.

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