Putting ChatGPT In Your Wireless Earbuds Is Infuriating and Occasionally Magical

Nothing’s new generation of wireless earbuds are the first to put ChatGPT just a simple hand gesture away.

Yellow Nothing Ear A wireless earbud in a hand.
Photograph by Raymond Wong

Whether you want it to or not, ChatGPT is weaseling its way into your life.

It’s in your web browsers; in your cars; lurking in your email; and for the first time ever, it’s setting up shop inside your actual ear canal.

A new integration between Nothing and ChatGPT makes the AI chatbot accessible via a squeeze gesture when using a combination of the company’s phones and its new generation of Ear and Ear A wireless earbuds. Just squeeze twice, hold, and boom — ChatGPT is listening in.

The idea is that ChatGPT can be used as a replacement for your day-to-day voice assistant and bring a dose of Large Language Models (LLM) to your life on the go. Naturally, as a fan of both wireless earbuds and documenting the procession of AI into our day-to-day lives, I had to give the integration a spin.

The results? Just like most future-changing AI nowadays, it’s a bit of magic with a hefty dash of madness.

Ear A(I)

Putting an LLM in your ear is as jarring as it sounds.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

When I first found out about Nothing’s ChatGPT integration my first reaction was “duh.” Linking wireless earbuds and AI just makes sense. While Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa have all diligently carried the torch of the last decade as far as voice assistants go, their usefulness has stagnated.

Sure, the Google Assistant can semi-reliably turn my lights on and off, set timers, and yell the weather at me, but start to lob complex search questions or (God forbid) a more “generative” query like, “What should I make for dinner tonight?” and the magic is lost.

For that reason and others, LLM-powered AI chatbots like ChatGPT have been slowly encroaching on the space once occupied by voice assistants of yore, and Nothing’s integration is just the latest example. To use the integration you currently need either Nothing’s Ear or Ear A wireless earbuds and a Phone 1 or Phone 2 with ChatGPT app downloaded on it. (Note: the integration will slowly roll out to all of Nothing’s products by June.)

I encountered a bug in which ChatGPT refused to stop listening after my initial query.

To set up ChatGPT on your earbuds, make sure you have the latest firmware and system updates on your Nothing phone and for your wireless earbuds via the Nothing X app. Once you’re all up to date, all you have to do is go into the Nothing X app, navigate to controls, and assign ChatGPT as your voice assistant.

It’s a funny thing choosing ChatGPT as the default assistant because my first reaction is: “What do I do now?” Naturally, I started with something practical: asking ChatGPT to write me a poem about shrimp.

Please stop listening to me.

Photograph by James Pero

A little poetry couldn’t hurt.

Photograph by James Pero
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Fun! But I figured — since this is a voice assistant after all — I should maybe test it on something more practical too, so I asked it where to get a bowl of pho near me. After some follow-ups like, “Did you have a specific area in mind or should I just find pho places nearby?” followed by, “Can you share your current location?” ChatGPT was off to work finding me some noodle soup.

The results were... fine! One of the locations was close to where I live, while the other was in a different neighborhood. A quick Google Maps search, by comparison, pulled up places that were actually close to me and offered me more options than just two restaurants.

I was preparing to be underwhelmed, but then ChatGPT’s generative side kicked in and asked me if I wanted more details on either of the recommended establishments. Naturally, I was along for the ride.

ChatGPT then explained to me that one restaurant also offers other options like banh mi and spring rolls (hell yeah), while the other is “laid back,” “popular,” and known for its “friendly service.” I was curious where those opinions came from so I inquired and was told “a variety of sources.” AI obfuscating its sourcing? Who would have thought?!

The future can be infuriating.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

Putting ChatGPT in your ear is in some ways as convenient as it sounds. Hearing responses in a more natural cadence is actually a bigger perk than most might give it credit for, even if it is just a parlor trick of sorts, and being able to scream into your earbuds’ microphone is a great way to avoid whipping your phone out on the go.

In other ways, the experience was mildly infuriating. I encountered a bug in which ChatGPT refused to stop listening after my initial query. Repeated pleas on my part to get ChatGPT to stop were given lip service by the app, but it continued eavesdropping until I pulled open the app on my Phone 2 and manually turned the microphone off. I would say it’s a nightmare scenario to have an AI hot mic — Nothing needs to fix this bug fast and make sure it never happens again.

Say what you will about Siri and Alexa, but they at least know when to stop. What I mean to say is that the experience could use some polishing, but for anyone familiar with interfacing with LLMs, that fact shouldn’t really come as a surprise. This is apparently the future, but for now, it’s also very temperamental.

The Magic of More

I lobbed all sorts of queries at ChatGPT that one might toss at a traditional voice assistant, and while the results varied — sometimes they were as good as a typical search, sometimes they were worse — the potential revealed itself. Right now, ChatGPT’s greatest gift may not be answering the questions we know we want an answer to, but answering the ones we didn’t even know we wanted to ask.

Even if ChatGPT underperforms as a voice assistant in its current state — the version I was using couldn’t even tell me what the last Knicks score was — it’s not difficult to see how LLMs from OpenAI or a competitor (looking at you, Apple) combined with a form factor like earbuds could be incredibly useful.

ChatGPT’s greatest gift may not be answering the questions we know we want an answer to, but answering the ones we didn’t even know we wanted to ask.

With the dots connected (i.e. access to real-time information on weather, sports, and the like) and some fine-tuning (maybe helping ChatGPT understand when to stop listening), an LLM in your ear is a lot of power and I doubt Nothing will be the last company to realize that.

For now, however, ChatGPT-integrated earbuds are more of an academic example of what AI chatbots could do — and one that’s saddled with a lot of distracting flaws. That’s great for your old, tired Google Assistant, but maybe bad for anyone looking to move on from it.

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