Are you ready for the all-hearing AI wearable?

Limitless introduces its new soft- and hardware, recording everything you hear, see, and say. Are we entering the area of everyone walking around with surveillance hardware?

To your surprise, this post is not about the Humane AI Pin, which recently became the center of tech news as Marque Brownlee told his 18.6 million subscribers that it is the worst product he has ever reviewed. The device is getting way too hot, it is incredible slow, and the projector makes it hard to read things, while Marques Brownlee mentioned that the overall build quality is remarkable.

Screenshot of homepage

This post is about another AI wearable (yeah, I thought one of them was already one too many), that recently came out of stealth. It is called Limitless, it is a web app, a Mac app, a Windows app, and a wearable from the makers of Rewind, an AI assistant which records everything you see, say, or hear on your Mac and iPhone, loved and funded by your favorite elite of venture capital (obviously sarcasm), as Marc Andreessen, Sam Altman, Elad Gil, David Ulevitch, and others smile at you with their testimonials on Rewind's website.

Go beyond your mind’s limitations: Personalized AI powered by what you’ve seen, said, and heard.

When I found out about Rewind for the first time, I was excited, as I usually am when there is software that does something completely new, in terms of something I have not seen or experienced before. I really liked its visual design language, its website, and the design of the app, everything felt fresh and new. Nevertheless, an app that records everything you do on your screen, say, and hear does indeed raises some privacy concerns. Rewind states that it is private by design. All your recordings will stay locally on your Mac, so no one else, not even Rewind can access them. Sounds pretty good so far. If you want to use additional features like meeting summarization or Ask Rewind, there is indeed some text-based data which will get sent to the cloud and is encrypted in transit. Fair enough. All that, combined with a hefty price tag of $19 per month (billed yearly) for the Pro subscription, does indeed give me the feeling that Rewind is private by design.

Side-note: If you want to experience and use an app like Rewind but you have still concerns, go ahead and check out Memento, which is inspired by Rewind, but completely open-source.
Screenshot of "Private by design" section on its homepage
Rewind – Private by design

So, I could assume they would apply the same practices to their new app and hardware too, right? Let us take a closer look on Limitless.

At first glance, Limitless' idea seems to be pretty similar to what Rewind is doing. However, while Rewind does indeed seem to be private by design, Limitless is meant to collect data in the cloud and the real world too. For now, the core focus of Limitless and especially the Limitless Pendant, which is the name of the wearable, lays on meetings, as it want to help you make the most out of them. The Limitless Pendant is a small, slim, round, rubbery gadget, which you can clip onto your shirt, wear on a string around your neck, or any other way as long as it can record everything you hear, and then use AI to transform and make sense of it. This AI wearable is part of a whole system consisting of the hardware, and a macOS app, a web app, and a windows app to experience personalized AI.

The Limitless Pendant, an AI wearable, displayed on homepage
The Limitless Pendant - a $99 AI wearable

Throughout my week, I do not have that many meetings, and I am immensely grateful for that, not because I do not like meetings, but to make the best out of a meeting there is the need to follow a certain structure, get everyone involved and engaged, and still make sure to create a casual atmosphere. Depending on the type of meeting, the right preparation can make the significant difference a meeting that could have been an email or a meeting that leaves all attendees motivated and energized.

Limitless' Prep feature gives you context from your Gmail, Google Calendar, previous meetings, and any in-person conversation you have before the call. I assume that "giving context" means that is gathering the data from your emails, your calendar events, and your previous meetings to generate the meeting preparation and provide you with additional context. I am not that busy, I do not have that many meetings, and I will do my best to not become any busier or plaster my calendar with more meetings, which is the reason I will never understand or experience the need for an AI-powered app that scrapes my data to create a preparation for an upcoming meeting.

While you are in the meeting having your conversations, Limitless is listening and transcribing the conversation in real-time. One of the most valuable things I do when getting off a meeting is rephrasing everything that has been discussed using my own words and style, simply to recall what has been said or what should be tackled on next. I have not been using any AI to do that job for me not because I am "AI-denier" but rather because I feel joy doing things like taking notes or writing meeting summaries on my own, manually, so I am obviously biased. I know that I am not the target group of such an AI-powered device and app, my calendar is way too empty to justify it, which means it is clearly targeting professionals, business people, entrepreneurs, and people who are jumping from one meeting to another, because guess what, instead of thinking about ways of having less meetings, a device that helps me to have even more meetings, since I no longer need to pay attention to all of them as AI will record, transcribe, and summarize everything for me, seems to be the way to go, at least for Limitless.

Besides that, software and hardware like Limitless still leaves us with privacy and surveillance concerns. Limitless collects human data from users. They can state as much about data privacy, encryption, anonymization, protection from 3rd party AI providers, as they want, the fact that it gets collected and stored in the cloud still leaves room for that data to get compromised. I do value that Limitless knows about the fact that they are handling personal, private, and confidential data and therefore did the outmost to make sure to protect that data. However, whenever AI is involved in handling personal and confidential data, there are too many uncertainties, due to the complexities and the general lack of human oversight.

A screenshot of privacy measures and statements
Loads of privacy measures, but are they enough?

What worries me the most about Limitless is that the AI wearable is meant to be with you all time and uses beam-forming tech to clearly record the person speaking to you and not your surroundings. A small LED lights up whenever the Limitless Pendant is recording. There is a so-called "Consent Mode" which detects new voices and does not record them until the software hears them agreeting to being recorded. Here is the thing: the company who decided to go the extra mile to implement all those privacy-focused measures to make sure your data is safe, also decided to turn that consent mode off by default (according to a report by The Verge). Everything you record with the Limitless pendant will get uploaded to Limitless, where AI will mingle with your data and make it accessible through all the apps. Limitless had the chance to continue its privacy-focus and go for turning consent mode on by default making sure no-one gets recorded until they actually agree to get recorded. However, Limitless decided to turn it off instead. Why?

It almost feels like this single decision alone erased all the privacy measures Limitless took. At this point, the whole idea and company could not feel more sketchy and creepy. Imagine seeing someone with that device clipped onto their shirt and they start talking to you, while you know that chances are high that the person did not turn on consent mode but rather record everything you say. That alone makes it clear to me how unusable that device actually is. Every single encounter you have while commuting, going for grocery shopping, having an appointment, or anything else, you would need (or at least that is what I would expect from humans wearing that thing) to ask for consent to be recorded. And now imaging yourself getting encountered with that kind of question, and the overall situation.

I am having a hard time believing that the idea and goal of Limitless is to create tools that augment human intelligence with artificial intelligence to overcome the brain's limitations. The fact that they created such an intrusive, surveillance device, turning off a so-called consent mode by default, and getting access to all kinds of apps you are using on your computer, gives me creepy vibes and alarming feelings.

Till next time! 👋‌‌‌‌

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