I've fallen and I can't get enough of AI
LF102 | Far from CES, two breakthrough consumer tech launches herald a radically more ambitious vision for 'age tech'
Agetech is an ugly word, and has an ugly history, with the 1980s ad for LifeCall’s pendant - I’ve fallen and I can’t get up - defining the space, stoking fear and helplessness and probably ensuring that the percentage of people who adopt pendants, even if they’re paid for, is in the single digits.
So what irony that a smart, neck-worn pendant is now the buzz of the cool kids, and may actually help the much-maligned tech world deliver meaningful impacts in the lives of the vulnerable and fragile. Together with another gadget that is a fresh take on the Walkie Talkie (invented during WW2) The future of agetech is here, forty years after 1.0.
This isn’t a post about CES
I spent the past week in San Francisco at the start of JP Morgan health conference then headed to CES, and came away with my head spinning, dizzy with new tech, gadgets and a high from reconnecting with old friends and colleagues. Rather than a long list of interesting startups and takeaways (happy to provide if anyone’s interested, other flavors are available), my three key takes are:
The South Koreans were absolutely dominant, from the SK theme park, Hyundai’s keynote, to the digital health hall, of which it seemed to me 50% were from South Korea (including the world’s smallest, wearable blood pressure monitor).
AARP AgeTech Collaborative has been huge for the ‘agetech’ space. It’s done a fantastic job convening the space and was generous in sharing the limelight with the many innovators at its impressive booth, during Summit keynotes and its fabulous After Dark party. Kudos Rick, Andy and team.
The two most interesting new products weren’t at CES. Then to the point of this post - in a world of high quality video and viral launches, the two startups that got me most excited weren’t in Las Vegas (or not at any scale). This post is actually about Rabbit and Tab, and how they’re the future of agetech.
1. TAB: An always-on personal companion / smart tamagotchi
Avi Schiffman is a serial inventor who created a massively popular Covid tracker and built software to find homes for 10,000 displaced Ukrainians. His latest project - seemingly produced as a one-man band - is a $600 smart pendant that listens to what you say and runs an LLM off your life. It has elements of the Humane Pin, but feels less corporate, more bare bones and flexible, and as such probably easier to adopt. It listens to what you say and then provides insights - such as ‘what did we discuss over dinner?’, and anything else an always-on companion would have access to.
Check out the video of his demo here. It was announced in October and has just raised $1,.9m, so hit the headlines this week. TAB could be fun for a 25 year old but life-changing for an 85-year old. An always-on smart companion could help those suffering cognitive decline (i.e. all of us…) and needing social companionship (again, all of us…).
While remarkable in taking existingLLMs on the road, even more jaw-dropping and ambitious was the world of voice-to-action that Rabbit sketched out.
2. RABBIT. No, not that Rabbit
Until this week, if I told you that I just ordered a Rabbit, you’d naturally think I was getting a jump on a spicy Valentine’s gift for my wife. But this LA startup just delivered a somewhat Jobs-ian virtual product launch that, even if it doesn’t deliver, will reframe the consumer tech space.
From Apps to Jobs To Be Done
Jesse made the point that the ‘App’ paradigm has been around 15 years and delivers an increasingly poor user experience due to the proliferation of apps and lack of integration. I don’t want to download one of five e-scooter apps, I want to get from A to B; I don’t want to download an app to order food, I want to order food… The proliferation of apps means that every brand and service gets to create one, but this creates a fragmented and confusing space, need to remember passwords etc. Rabbit operates above the level of the app, allowing you to securely register your information with the service providers you care about and then does what you want such as booking travel or ordering pizza.
It does this via a ‘Large Action Model’, which it positions as a more useful platform than the Large Language Models (LLMs) in use by AI tools today. The keynote demonstrated what happens if you ask a LLM such as ChatGPT to book a flight - it provides a number of flight options but doesn’t have a way to book it, similar with booking Uber or food delivery.
The device is fast, promising a 500 ms response time, which should make it feel as instant as a regular conversation, and includes a screen and a camera, allowing you to interact with the world (e.g. one use case is pointing the camera at the fridge and asking it what I should make for dinner based on the available food) . It also has a “teach mode” which allows you to train it to do real world tasks (such as booking holidays). Announced at a $199 price point, they’ve apparently sold 40,000 devices in the first few days.
Rabbit could be to Apple what OpenAI is to Google
A virtually unknown small startup delivering a game-changing AI solution that leaves Big Tech scrambling and flat-footed? OpenAI’s launch in November 2022 made history as the fastest ever adoption of a consumer tech service, and Rabbit may be doing something similar.
An evolution of consumer tech
These two products feel significant as new trajectories of tech, in particular Rabbit. Whether or not this particular device is the gamechanger (Jonny Ive has his own plans, but it is probably too well funded to succeed…), Rabbit shows us the future we want and need. Removing apps really would be a new paradigm that doesn’t constrain what we do to a bunch of little icons on a flat screen. Here’s a rough take on the jumps we’ve seen in consumer tech, with an agetech lens applied.
It’s not that Rabbit doesn’t need apps, it’s that it allows the user to do more with them in a seamless way. As such this is an operating system innovation not an application innovation, and the OS teams at Apple and Google are probably now scrambling to catch up (and re-heat a spiked innovation project from five years ago “that did exactly that”).
What’s next? Joined up local ecosystems…
Rabbit in particular seems to offer a promising solution to the perennial tech integration gripes - allowing the user to log in once to their existing services such as Spotify or Expedia, and have their own personal ecosystem deliver what they need. This seems that it could go a long way to the integration and ecosystem challenge of actually delivering ‘thriving in community’ (rather than aging in place), that I’ve been noodling on as the Hive concept over the years.
Have pre-ordered a Rabbit and will be interesting to see if the reality matches the hype (answer, almost certainly it won’t, and that’s ok). Either way, it seems the ground has shifted and what we want, need and expect from consumer tech has just shifted up and to the right. Looking forward to see these tools being applied to benefit millions of people who need them most.