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Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Smarter and More Invisible Devices?.

Nov 14, 2023

You have probably come across the little pin that, for twice the price of the cheapest Apple Watch, wants you to attach it to whatever you are wearing at chest height to be your new daily AI companion. It bears many similarities to devices that you probably have around you, might have been notified about in this briefing, or are even reading this briefing on. However, Humane hopes that you find something in this new footprint that your current devices are not offering you yet. They are joined in the exploration of new form factors for AI by companies like RayBan with their Meta-collaborated sunglasses.

Beyond merely “putting” the AI on you, making it useful requires it to interact with the world, putting design constraints on the physical form factor that calls for a camera, microphone, and speaker. This is where functional design constraints and true user wishes and comfort might differ. While Humane envisions a seamless integration of AI into our lives, it would, so far, require a lot of awkward chest touching and a bunch of colored lights shimmering at you from your conversation partner.

I feel that the main difference in what Humane is trying to accomplish is to make AI readily and, apparently, more naturally available to you. This might very well change the way we experience and interact with the world around us. While we are used to, in some form, “reaching for” the powerful technologies around us to use them, Humane tries to eliminate or at least shorten that “reaching.” And as it is not particularly hard to imagine future iterations that become much better, more mainstream, and less visible, the way they might further integrate technology into our experiences is fascinating.

The American philosopher Don Ihde wrote fundamental pieces on the relationships between humans and technology that describe and conceptualize how technologies mediate our human experience. As such, they can embody us, meaning that we interact with the world through technology. Other technologies, such as infrastructure technologies, exist in the background of our existence, as we experience them but do not directly interact with them. A third type is hermeneutic relationships, in which we understand more about and perceive more of the world through technology. Traditionally, these have been rather distinct types of technologies, taking shape in the form of individual products. However, technologies have quickly evolved beyond those individual categories, providing functionality that spans across them. The pin hints at future versions that might do precisely that in a particularly interesting fashion:

With fewer hurdles of activation, devices are becoming a closer part of us (hermeneutic relationship), while also shaping how we present ourselves to the world (embodied relationship). Thereby allowing us to know more of what we are seeing and be able to communicate in new ways, all while the tech is becoming increasingly more invisible. Such relationships have been defined by the Dutch philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek as augmentations. But, potentially more drastically, by becoming ever more invisible, a technology someone around you might be using to engage with you could be seen as background technology from your point of view. Thereby classifying it as something that shapes your experience of the world around you but in a way that blends in with the context and doesn’t involve direct interaction with you.

For now, picture the last time you used Google Lens to inquire about something. It is quite obvious when someone is engaging in a hermeneutic relationship to use technology to know more about the world than they naturally would. But how about 5 years from now? It will certainly become less obvious as we become ever more augmented by technologies. Although these are not opposing developments, they seem interesting for the challenges they might present. What future products might allow us to do so? How should they be designed with an awareness of these relationships? And when will we be unaware of someone interacting with us through technology? (via Julian)