Technology news

Are we really ready to dump our smartphones?

Hello, it’s tech editor Alexei Oreskovic here.

Whenever a hot new gadget appears on the scene, the first question to ask if you’re trying to predict its chances of success is whether this new thing is so useful that people will decide to make it a new daily habit.

Are you really going to adjust your lifestyle so you can ride that cool-looking Peloton bike every day, or put on those Snapchat Spectacles?

When Humane finally revealed its Ai Pin wearable device on Thursday, I found myself asking the opposite question: Is this so essential that consumers will choose to eliminate a major daily habit?

The habit to be eliminated is our addiction to screen-based dopamine hits—the compulsive urge to scroll through video feeds, check for new messages, and count our likes. That’s the whole point of Humane’s new product. By using AI, speech recognition, and laser projection, the gadget does away with the screen and all its temptations.

It’s a laudable goal. But I wonder if breaking our collective screen addiction is something consumers really want. By now, the smartphone, and the apps that have grown around it, have become so ingrained in our existence that it’s hard to imagine life without them. And let’s face it, we enjoy looking at silly TikTok videos and mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, or X, during meetings.

I haven’t actually tried the Humane Ai Pin yet, and it’s clear that its creators, former Apple employees, have the design bona fides to create the next big thing. My sense from what I’ve read is that the $699 clip-on device offers all the utility of our smartphones (messages, instant information retrieval, etc.) in a healthier format, but none of the “fun” stuff. It’s dinner at a friend’s house whose parents force you to eat your vegetables and who don’t have even a crumb of junk food or dessert.

Habits, especially unhealthy ones, are hard to break. They burrow into our minds and attitudes, and even into our physical gestures. Consider this advice from the American Cancer Society for ex-smokers trying to fight a craving:

“If you miss the feeling of having a cigarette in your hand, hold something else – a pencil, a paper clip, a coin, or a marble, for example.”

Is the world ready to quit our smartphone addiction cold turkey? Maybe Humane needs to include a rectangular slab of plastic for users to hold in their hands and help them forget about the smartphone.

Alexei Oreskovic

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop a line here.

Today’s edition was curated by David Meyer.


Ad fears. The ad-buying platform Trade Desk yesterday issued a weak revenue forecast that sent its share price south by over 30%. As Bloomberg reports, other ad-reliant businesses such as Meta and Snap also fell on the news. Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Geetha Ranganathan and Kevin Near: “Economic pressures may be weighing on the advertising market and revenue-growth reacceleration that’s modeled for 2024 may be premature.”

Nvidia’s China chips. Nvidia is determined to not let U.S. export controls stymie its AI chips’ fortunes in China. According to the Financial Times, the company has now developed three new chips for the Chinese market, named the H20, L20, and L2. Chip consultancy SemiAnalysis: “Nvidia is perfectly straddling the line on peak performance and performance density with these new chips to get them through the new U.S. regulations.”

Tumblr trouble. Automattic’s custodianship of Tumblr is not panning out well, and the venerable blogging platform will be reduced to a skeleton staff in the new year, with most of its 139 employees being shifted elsewhere within Automattic. The WordPress firm bought Tumblr four years ago for all of $3 million, but, as TechCrunch notes, it’s losing $30 million a year.

Musk biopic. There’s going to be an Elon Musk biopic, Variety reports, and Darren Aronofsky—who specializes in character studies of destructive obsessives—is going to direct it.


Opening Windows. On Nov. 10, 1983, Microsoft announced Windows 1.0 as a new window manager and graphical interface to extend its MS-DOS operating system. Journalists were invited to the announcement with a press kit containing a squeegee and washcloth. The new system could run on IBM-compatible PCs and was billed as being cheaper than the just-released Visi On operating environment from VisiCorp. However, due to subsequent delays, it would take another two years for Windows to actually be released in the form of version 1.01.


Elon Musk and Sam Altman are arguing over whose bot is better: Grok is ‘cringey boomer humor’ while ChatGPT is ‘about as funny as a screen door on a submarine’, by Eleanor Pringle

Exclusive: Unicorn Carta lays off another round of employees, by Jessica Mathews

Bill Gates predicts everyone will have an AI-powered personal assistant within 5 years—whether they work in an office or not: ‘They will utterly change how we live’, by Chloe Taylor

Biden must decide whether patent-infringing Apple watches can be imported into the U.S. from China by Christmas–but Congress could neuter America’s ability to protect its IP altogether, by Andrei Iancu and David J. Kappos (Commentary)

Apple pays $25 million to settle suit over favoring foreign hires and making it so hard for U.S. workers to apply that few or none did for certain jobs, by Bloomberg

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak was hospitalized after a ‘minor’ stroke that left him dizzy and unable to walk, by Bloomberg


Torment Nexus apology. The science fiction and fantasy writer Charlie Stross has written a very entertaining rant in which he apologizes for his profession’s part in “the Silicon Valley oligarchy’s rise to power.” Riffing off that meme about the “Torment Nexus,” he provides a fascinating potted history of the literary-philosophical traditions that informed the SF that in turn influenced the likes of Elon Musk and Peter Thiel.

“American SF from the 1950s to the 1990s contains all the raw ingredients of what has been identified as the Californian ideology,” Stross writes. “It’s rooted in uncritical technological boosterism and the desire to get rich quick.” The current AI mania, he adds, is “bullshit. There are very rich people trying to manipulate investment markets into giving them even more money, using shadow puppets they dreamed up on the basis of half-remembered fictions they read in their teens.”

Whether or not you agree with it, the piece is a thought-provoking counterpoint to Marc Andreessen’s recent ode to accelerationism—a creed that Stross derides as “the right wing’s version of Trotskyism, the idea that we need to bring on a cultural crisis as fast as possible in order to tear down the old and build a new post-apocalyptic future.”

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