For global technology giants, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in devices is nothing new. Companies like Amazon, Samsung, Apple or Microsoft claim to have worked with tools such as machine learning (machine learning) for more than a decade. What has changed is the degree of sophistication of these programs in their interactions with users, especially since the launch of platforms like ChatGPT. Along these lines, a handful of start-ups have added fuel to the debate, arguing that smartphones and virtual assistants will soon be displaced by new devices that put AI at the center.

Companies are incorporating artificial intelligence into glasses, watches and all kinds of products. However, there are devices that go much further. One of the newest and that has attracted the most attention in the industry is the “AI Pin” from the American company Humane. The device, developed in collaboration with Microsoft and OpenAI, is a wearable virtual assistant that is worn on clothing and has no screen. In addition, it incorporates a microphone and a speaker, but also a touch panel and a camera to record visual information and gestures. It also has its own “unlimited” internet connection and is linked to other devices through bluetooth (for example, headphones).

According to Humane, to interact with the brooch you can use your voice or manipulate a type of laser screen that is projected onto the palm of your hand. The gadget is capable of taking photos or replying to messages automatically. Also perform complex functions, such as calculating the calories of a food, translating dialogues in real time, summarizing conversations or answering questions as ChatGPT would do. However, to view content such as photos or videos in more detail, you must access a platform called “center” through a computer, where all the information is stored.

Screen of the Humane device, projected on the palm of a hand, in an image provided by the American company.
Screen of the Humane device, projected on the palm of a hand, in an image provided by the American company. humane

Its creators are Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, two of the minds who designed the iPhone and Apple's iOS operating system. A Humane spokesperson tells EL PAÍS that the company's objective is to enhance “human” experiences over digital ones, reducing the use of devices with screens. As explained in the start-up, the brooch collects information from “every aspect of our lives” through daily interactions. With this data, artificial intelligence can “learn” the user's habits to create personalized “AI experiences” and solve problems without the need for a mobile phone or applications. At the moment, the company has not published details of how these “experiences” will work, but they will be linked to its own operating system, named Cosmos.

The company has started an aggressive marketing campaign to position itself. In fact, the brooch was showcased by supermodel Naomi Campbell during Paris Fashion Week 2023; and will be presented during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. The device will go on sale in the United States in April, and the expected price is $699 (about 650 euros), but you will also have to pay a monthly subscription of $24 (about 22 euros) for the services. The spokesperson for the start-up indicates that, at the moment, they do not have a release date in Europe.

A tamagotchi as an assistant

This gadget is not the only one of its kind. The American company Rabbit presented its R1 device in January, a virtual assistant and “pocket companion”, created with the help of the well-known design firm Teenage Engineering. This device, whose appearance is inspired by the tamagotchi from Bandai popular in the 2000s, reached 40,000 orders at the launch of its pre-sale. Unlike Humane's, this project does have a screen (4.88 inches), and its creators present it as a logical continuation of virtual assistants and mobile phones. Along these lines, they assure that it is capable of doing everything a smartphone, but also to identify objects in real time or execute functions as complex as purchasing a flight on your own. It is operated through its touch screen and voice commands.

In Rabbit they propose that R1 is a necessary response to the complexity of interfaces. According to the company, the logic behind the device is simple: it uses artificial intelligence models so that its system “learns” to operate programs that already exist. In this way, it allows users to easily and quickly interact with mobile applications by voice, or solve their queries through automatic internet searches. In fact, its creators promise that in the future you can be personally taught how to use almost any program through its “learning web mode.”

“We've reached a point where we have hundreds of apps on our phones with complicated designs that don't talk to each other. As a result, end users become frustrated with their devices and often get lost,” said company founder Jesse Lyu in January. Then they also reported that the cost of the device will be $199 (about 183 euros), although more than one industry analyst has calculated that this figure would not be enough to make their business sustainable if additional payments are not included, as is the case with the assistant. of Humane.

Beyond mobile

Big technology companies are also in a race to make the most of this technology. For example, Meta announced in September 2023 that they would incorporate their new artificial intelligence assistant (Meta AI) into the smart glasses project they have with the Ray Ban brand. According to Mark Zuckerberg's company, this addition will allow you to control different features of the glasses through your voice, as well as ask them questions.

David Alonso, director of Samsung's Mobility Business in Spain and Portugal, explains to EL PAÍS that some of its devices already have a processor dedicated to these functionalities. The company recently announced that its “mobile AI” will be present on both phones and tablets, and that it will allow functions such as real-time call translation, image editing with generative AI or assisted internet searches. Alonso affirms that the concept of “ecosystem” will gain value with AI, because this technology will link devices as different as tablets, watches, televisions or household appliances.

Alonso also highlights that this is the first generation of devices that have AI as a priority, and he does not think that possible new devices will displace those that currently rule the market. “They have been killing the mobile phone for many years now. There is talk in many forums about its disappearance. But what we see day by day is that the smartphone It is more alive than ever and is an essential tool. Now, with these new artificial intelligence functionalities, we are witnessing the beginning of a new era of telephony, which will go far beyond a device or a screen,” says the Samsung executive. In this context, Alonso adds that AI is not only helping to personalize experiences, but is also making devices more accessible and inclusive for people with visual limitations, as well as more sustainable in terms of energy consumption.

Beyond devices

For Andrés Pazos, senior director of business development at Alexa in Spain, the way in which AI can enrich user experiences goes beyond the devices themselves. An example of how AI is already changing the relationship with the real world, Pazos tells EL PAÍS, is the way in which voice commands are reducing the digital divide. The executive highlights that increasingly fluid interactions through dialogue allow older people or people with some type of limitation to interact more easily and efficiently with devices, without having to learn commands or interact with a screen. Pazos assures that artificial intelligence has been key in this process, since it has allowed the devices to learn to interpret different ways of speaking to process user requests.

Another example is the so-called “smart real estate” (Alexa smart properties), a service that allows you to interact with different spaces through voice assistants. This technology is already being implemented in hotels in Spain to allow guests to request recommendations, in-room meals or dry cleaning services, and in nursing homes. In the short term, it is hoped that factors such as light and temperature in a room can be controlled and save guests time. For Pazos, the future is an AI that will function as a “brain,” connecting to a network of devices to provide each user with a personalized experience, and even anticipate their needs.

For the Amazon executive, the future will consist of achieving what he calls “environmental intelligence”, that is, ensuring that devices make our lives easier by working harmoniously and fluidly through AI and interconnectivity. “We are talking about a step beyond artificial intelligence. It would be interacting with all the services in an organic way, and when they are not needed they go into the background. That one does not have to learn to use the devices, but thanks to artificial intelligence we are allowed to interact in such a natural way that one forgets that they are there,” he concludes.

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