The terminal problem with AI assistants

A terribly clunky thing I tried to make in 2012 using an Arduino LCD shield that would attach to our fridge and show weather and tweets etc

The thoughtful and very watchable reviews of the Humane AI pin and the Rabbit R1 AI assistant devices by Marques Brownlee have been doing the rounds (see below). His Rabbit R1 review is especially interesting towards the end where he talks about how shipping barely functional products has been normalised. You can kind of see how tech companies pulled this trick with devices where software and firmware can be updated ‘tomorrow’ to add new functionality, though it’s harder to see how that worked with the Tesla Cybertruck, which is, and always will be, a rusty brick, but anyway.

What really strikes me about these AI assistant devices, though, is not just how far behind smartphones they are, it’s that I don’t think they can EVER compete with phones. There, I’m sticking my neck out. I think they are either a doomed class of device, or they will morph into something much more phone-like.

Both the Humane AI pin and Rabbit R1 devices require these things:

  • an internet connection to cloud AI services
  • a user interface involving voice recognition
  • a speaker or Bluetooth headphone connection
  • some kind of display
  • a rechargeable battery
  • a camera

Phones already have all of these things. They have all of these things that work far better than anything in either device. They also have apps which allow you to access all kinds of services now and in the future. The Rabbit AI is going to have ‘Large Activity Models’ to watch how you use other apps and services and mimic it? Well, I mean, EUWWWW, but even if you’re deranged enough to think this is a good idea, there’s nothing to stop Apple or Google or someone else adding that functionality to a phone.

For those AI assistants to find a niche, there has to be something paradigm-shifting about the form factor and / or UI. Maybe the Humane AI pin’s projector and gestures comes close, but I still don’t see how it’s easier than using a phone. So even if more services are added, and if the woeful battery life of these devices is improved, I still don’t see them finding a niche alongside your phone, let alone replacing them.

I’m probably wrong. Ping this back to me in 5 years when everyone has abandoned phones and has a little gizmo with an annoying personality stapled to their shoulder.

Update – 6 May 2024

You may find this article on Rabbit’s co-founder quite interesting:

Those Marques Brownlee review vids in full

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