The Worst AI vs Influencer Debate I’ve Ever Reviewed …Yet


Last week, while I was sitting here getting all worked up about TikTok’s development of artificial intelligence with the potential to upend the future earnings for that quarter of Gen Z’ers looking to enter the influencing game, I happened on a quirky review in The New York Times by Brian X. Chen about something called the AI Pin. Humane, the company that developed the pin, was founded by two married ex-Apple employees Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, who raised $250 million from OpenAI and Microsoft to develop a stylish magnetic square that attaches to your shirt, has a laser beam and a camera and acts as an AI virtual assistant. Lest you get too excited, as I did, no, the laser cannot be used to blast away your enemies and/or Thanos. It is very small, and its functionality is limited to beaming a display onto your hand, which you rotate back and forth to unlock the device. Because two-factor authentication wasn’t enough of a bitch, I guess.

The AI Pin, according to the majority of reviewers who were sent an early demo, was a steal at $700 (not including the price of the monthly subscription to its proprietary cloud software) only if you desperately needed a cool-looking but cumbersome and often glitchy gadget to make you feel as hip and cutting-edge as that one guy on the news back in 2014 raving about Google Glasses. His job was Futurist the way Ken’s job was beach. The life of the AI Pin is more taxing, as it burns through its battery in two hours when its not complaining of overheating and turning itself off completely. 

For all that work, Humane’s functions include taking blurry photos at angles that can only be described as Skinamarink-ian, hallucinating incorrect answers to math problems and answering questions about bagels by telling you that carbs make you fat.

Not going to lie, it sounds a lot like someone tried to replicate the unique experience of receiving a 3 a.m. Ambien work text from me in 2014. Or like, a really shitty JARVIS, which you know must make Elon so mad that somewhere out there, a Cybertruck just lost its wheels hitting 90 mph and a small child on its way down a residential street built way, way too close to Delaware Memorial Bridge and its last remaining load-bearing beam.


This is more or less the same conclusion The New York Times review came to: you can feel Chen reaching for something to find remarkable in the potential the AI Pin represents, landing on the the weird flex but okay praising of the device for reccomending the correct type of clothing to pack on a trip to Hawaii. Once there, however, the Pin got a little gaslighty, denying the existence of a food truck selling loco moto directly in front of it. (We get it, Brian. You went to vacation. Ugh.) 

“While the Ai Pin was occasionally useful and impressive, it was wrong, unhelpful or inefficient enough times to drive me back to my phone,” Chen ultimately shrugged. The subhed of the review was a little more pointed, saying “The $700 pin… can be helpful…until it struggles with tasks like doing math and crafting sandwich recipes.”

Now, this is all well and not-so-good, but what does it have to do with the creator economy? Well, despite such a lackluster review, no one (as far as we know) came after Mr. Chen on social media, claiming he failed at his job because he was critical of the product. Humane’s co-founder, specifically, didn’t go onto X to make a since-deleted subtweet about laughing in the face of his haters or some such; it’s employees didn’t feel the need to respond in Finnegan’s Wake-length novels about how hard they’d worked only to be disrespected by a barbed title. The New York Times’ didn’t create a feeding frenzy of “builders” and builder-sympathizers who are now claiming to be fighting the good fight against their natural enemy, creators.

Because that would be insane, right? There’s a word reserved for reviewers and critics– be they from Wirecutter, IGN or their own YouTube channel — who give the appearance of being too deferential to a brand’s product: they’re called shills. Shills are literally (according to the Internet, or at least Red Letter Media) the worst thing a person can be, even if you’re just a regular consumer super-fan and not, like, making it your job to present as a neutral authority on the subject.

AND YET, when YouTuber Marques Brownlee posted a video review of the AI Pin to his YouTube channel MKBHD to his 18.6 million subscribers, the backlash was swift. The response could best be summed up in this insane take from founder Daniel Vassalo:

“Hard to explain why, but with great reach comes great responsibility. Potentially killing someone else’s nascent project reeks of carelessness.

First, do no harm.”

Literally…what? Since when are we applying the hippocratic oath to professional reviewers? 

“We disagree on what my job is,” replied Brownlee, displaying far more restraint than I did when the Jeremy Strong stans came for me earlier in the week. It’s sad that Brownlee has been forced to explain, over and over in various media, that his work doesn’t entail working as any company’s hype machine, but it seems that everyone is conflating Brownlee’s undoubtable reach with his being an influencer. Influencers get paid by brands to promote products, and that payment can come in the form of cash, swag or travel…all of which have monetary value and are taxable as income.

Mr. Brownlee has responded with a brilliantly articulated response to the whole hubbub, which you can watch here, but basically boils down to how interchangeable “reviewer” has become with influencer. “The thing about reviews is if they’re not honest, they’re basically useless,” argues the YouTuber, who ends by saying that while he respects the people and companies out there taking the gamble at innovation, “my reviews are technically not for them.” 

As to the claim that his review will single-handedly bring down this $250 million tech startup, Mr. Brownlee makes the fair assertion: “All that any honest review actually does is just accelerate what’s already going on.”


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