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Why did YouTuber Brownlee’s review of Humane Ai pin stir up a social media storm? | Explained

The story so far: The Humane Ai pin, a wearable device built to harness the advances in generative artificial intelligence, was launched in November without much fanfare. But in April 2024, a nearly 25-minute-long video by American gadget reviewer Marques Brownlee made the device go viral for the wrong reasons.

What can this device do?

The Humane Ai pin is a square-shaped device that can be attached to clothing with the help of a magnetic base, that also functions as the power supply. The device is capable of accessing generative AI models and platforms from Microsoft and OpenAI, enabling users to run AI-related tasks (without a display screen).

The pin can be used to access the Internet, take pictures, shoot videos, make calls, listen to music, and even project media onto a surface. The company says the pin can help with translations in real time.

The product package includes the Ai pin, battery booster, charging pad, USB-C cable and adapter, charging case, and an extra booster. The cheapest variant of the Humane Ai pin costs $699, and customers also have to pay $24 (not including tax and other fees) for its accompanying subscription every month. The subscription gives users a special cell phone number for the pin, and unlimited talk, text, and data privileges.

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The Humane Ai pin works on its own and does not need to be connected to a smartphone or PC, according to the makers. A ‘Trust Light’ at the top shows when the device is activated, for privacy reasons. It does not use wake words like an Amazon-made smart device. The Ai pin runs on a Snapdragon processor with a Qualcomm AI Engine

The Humane Ai pin can project media onto one’s hand
| Photo Credit:
Humane AI press kit

Who is behind the Human Ai pin project?

The Humane Ai pin is the brainchild of Humane co-founders Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, who were both designers at Apple. Chaudhri worked on creating the Macintosh, iPod, iPad, Apple Watch, and iPhone, while Bongiorno was a Director of Software Engineering at the luxury device maker.

Humane announced in March 2023 that it had raised $100 million in a Series C round. Some notable investors included LG Technology Ventures, Microsoft, Tiger Global, Qualcomm Ventures, and even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

The collaboration with OpenAI was to help integrate the company’s technology into the Humane device and “deliver OpenAI and Humane AI experiences at scale to consumers,” said Humane in a news post last year. Humane has also teamed up with Microsoft to bring its services platform to market, and use Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure.

The Humane Ai pin device comes in three variants
| Photo Credit:
Humane AI press kit

Why has the Humane AI pin stirred up controversy?

American gadget reviewer Marques Brownlee, who has over 18.5 million followers on YouTube and is a widely trusted name in the consumer tech market, posted a review of the device, titling it ‘The Worst Product I’ve Ever Reviewed. . .For now.’

Brownlee introduced the Humane Ai pin to users and carried out multiple tests to showcase its features, assess its speed, and even put the device in a race against his cell phone. However, the outcome was not favourable for the startup.

Though Brownlee praised the device’s fine craftsmanship, he criticised the Humane Ai pin’s unreliable battery life, its poor camera quality, heating issues, slow information retrieval, and the product’s overall failed execution.

In one test, Brownlee asked his Humane Ai pin to scan a car and tell him what it was. While the device took several extra seconds to tell him that the car was a Tesla Cybertruck, Brownlee used his smartphone in the same interval to scan the vehicle and instantly pull up the name of the car and dozens of other photos and links.

“This clip is 99% of my experiences with the pin – doing something you could already do on your phone, but slower, more annoying, or less reliable/accurate. Turns out smartphones are pretty incredible,” he posted on X on April 15, but also admitted there were upsides to the product’s screen-free concept.

Brownlee pointed out the Humane Ai pin lacked an app ecosystem and said the device introduced multiple instances of “friction” when trying to do simple tasks like calling a taxi while on the move, or sending a photo to a friend.

Hallucination was another issue, according to Brownlee, as large language models are still experimental in nature and prone to making errors when generating responses.

How was the review received on social media?

On social media, several tech entrepreneurs criticised the “clickbait” nature of Brownlee’s video title. One viral post claimed his review title was “distasteful, almost unethical,” because of his large following. But others went so far as to say that harsh negative reviews could kill innovation in the emerging generative AI field and stop tech companies from releasing new products.

On the flip side, supporters said that customers deserved fair product reviews and usable products, no matter what the cost to companies might be.

Humane did not issue an official statement regarding the review that went viral. But co-founder Chaudhri ‘liked’ a post by an X user who claimed that YouTube reviewers “want you to stay addicted to all those apps and overpriced cell phones.” Chaudhri also ‘liked’ another post that re-shared Brownlee’s review and claimed that the problems in the pin were caused by the GPT4 back-end.

Meanwhile, Bongiorno on April 15 posted in response to a user who appreciated the product. She expressed her gratitude, admitted there was a lot to fix, and said she “won’t stop trying to build new things that hard.”

What did Brownlee say about his controversial review?

On April 17, Brownlee posted a follow-up video titled, ‘Do Bad Reviews Kill Companies?’ where he defended the integrity and honesty of his gadget reviews.

He recalled times when he was accused of killing or bankrupting tech companies because of the way he negatively reviewed their gadgets—whether it was a smartphone or even a car—but noted that such companies were usually already struggling in the market or that other gadget reviewers had also criticised the same product and identified weaknesses before he did.

Brownlee clarified that he did not invest in the companies behind the products that he reviewed, and also trashed claims that he took money in order to wound companies like Humane Ai.

“Do bad reviews kill companies?” he mused, “or do bad products kill companies?”

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