And while lots of people love Apple Watches, Alexa speakers or Meta Quest VR headsets, none of those have yet shoved aside the smartphone as the center of your digital life.
But the dream lives on. The 2024 twist will be gadgets designed to make the most of artificial intelligence technologies like ChatGPT.
Expect to hear a lot this year about AI computers that clip onto your clothing, AI devices you wear as a necklace, AI robots, AI laptops with AI keys, AI smartphones — and more computers for your face, wrist and living room refashioned as portals to AI.
These AI gadgets may become the most-talked-about technology of 2024. And AI gadgets might be the most pointless technology of the year. That wouldn’t be the worst thing.
I’m snarky about AI gadgets and the hype building around them. But I also want to encourage myself and you to be cautiously curious.
There’s a lot of malarkey but also shreds of promise in trying to move beyond the smartphone.
Let’s talk about what might be useful about AI gadgets and what might be hot air.
What are AI gadgets? Do you need them?
The hype you’ll hear about “AI gadgets” is two distinct happenings.
First, there are companies noodling on new forms of computers — like glasses, jewelry, robots or pager-like doodads that are supposedly tailored for AI.
They’re also pitched as being less obtrusive than your phone for snapping photos, texting your new crush and asking a chatbot for shopping advice.
You should expect most of these AI gadgets to be half-baked, creepy or terrible ideas — or all of the above.
Take the new “Ai Pin” — that’s how the company capitalizes it.
This gadget that you clip on your clothing summons a chatbot and can project the weather forecast onto your palm with lasers or something. The computer brooch from Humane costs at least $699 plus a $288 annual subscription.
I have not tried the device, but it looks like a beautifully designed art piece that no normal human should buy. (Humane says that “new technologies deserve new devices.”)
That probably goes, too, for the experimental necklace that records everything you say and hear so an AI can replay the good parts.
I’ve also heard enthusiasm in Silicon Valley about the new model of Meta’s computerized sunglasses with a chatbot. Former iPhone designer Jony Ive is working on some kind of AI gadget with Sam Altman, the fired and rehired OpenAI CEO.
Even Altman is cautious about AI gadgets. Most of the ideas about AI-tailored computing devices are “quite bad,” he said in an October interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The problem with anything that tries to be “better” than your smartphone is that those devices are familiar, useful, ubiquitous and ingrained in your life.
But it’s also fair to believe that as AI and the internet move ahead, the devices we use to access them shouldn’t stay frozen in the past.
Evan Spiegel, the co-founder and CEO of Snapchat’s parent company, has been working for nearly a decade on glasses that combine what you see around you with digital images.
He has been refreshingly candid about how long it will take to give you something great beyond the smartphone — and how worthwhile the hunt is.
“Despite smartphones crawling into nearly every part of our lives, they still feel like they get in the way of fully experiencing the world,” Spiegel said in an email. “It’s time for something new.”
Spiegel believes that the glasses his company has been slowly improving for years “will provide a more sensational computing experience that’s more easily shared with friends and grounded in the real world.”
An ‘AI smartphone’ is really just a smartphone
The second category of AI gadgets are smartphones, smart speakers, laptops and other devices whose innards are re-engineered to let you talk to AI chatbots, make your photos look better with AI or translate a video from Japanese faster and more easily.
Expect Samsung to brag about its “AI” Galaxy phones coming this month, although the iPhone and Google’s Pixel smartphone have for years been changing to take advantage of what AI can do.
This kind of AI remodeling of devices you own is less flashy but potentially more useful than new AI gizmos.
But, honestly, don’t pay attention to hype about AI smartphones and AI laptops.
Just know that when you buy your next phone or computer, it will have more AI capabilities than your last one. Everything else is mostly hot air to try to sell you a new phone or PC or make a company seem cutting-edge.
There will be so much baloney about AI gadgets that aren’t worth buying, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the dream they represent. You deserve fresh ideas for more immersive and less confining digital experiences.
Lawyers working for 23andMe did something dumb. According to TechCrunch, the lawyers blamed people using bad account passwords for letting hackers steal genetic and ancestry information of millions of people.
It’s always a mistake to blame the victims of rampant cybercrime. Period.
My colleague Tatum Hunter has pointed out that 23andMe set up its computer systems so if criminals knew or guessed someone’s password, they could dig into the heritage of other people that 23andMe considered the customer’s relatives. Not good.
(The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Read more from Tatum on what 23andMe users can do about the hack of the company’s computer systems.
The news organization 404 Media also questioned whether it’s worth giving any company your genetic information, which might be used or stolen in ways you can’t imagine.
But it’s also true that you’re safer — not safe, but safer — from criminals stealing your online information or money if you use a strong, unique password for each of your digital accounts.
I know, I would rather visit the dentist than deal with online passwords. We can help. Read these:
- The ultimate guide to setting and managing strong passwords
- The system of passwords is broken and it’s not your fault