July 19, 2024
Don’t blame MKBHD for the fate of Humane AI and Fisker

Humane AI raised more than $230 million before it even shipped a product. And when it finally released its Ai Pin — which costs $699 plus a $24 monthly subscription — pretty much every tech reviewer came to the same disappointing realization: This much-hyped product, which promises to disrupt the smartphone’s dominance, is not very good.

Yet some onlookers are declaring that Marques Brownlee, the hugely popular YouTuber known as MKBHD, will be single-handedly responsible if the company eventually fails. Soon after Humane AI dropped its long-awaited product, the conversation evolved away from the product itself and instead toward how Brownlee spoke about it in his own review.

Brownlee’s video title is admittedly a bit clicky: “The Worst Product I’ve Ever Reviewed… For Now.” But when you watch the actual video, the title delivers on its promise.

“It was really hard to come up with a title for this video,” Brownlee says in the review, which currently has over 5 million views. “But I will say, at one point, my working title for this was, ‘This product is either the dumbest thing ever, or I’m an idiot.’”

Brownlee is unusually influential, with over 18 million YouTube subscribers, but his critiques are on par with other reviewers’ commentary: The pin has bad battery life. It is difficult to wear. It makes mistakes too often to be reliable. Its laser projection screen is completely ineffective outdoors. And it’s simply not worth the same sticker price as an Android phone.

Still, the review kicked off a maelstrom on social media.

“I find it distasteful, almost unethical, to say this when you have 18 million subscribers,” former AWS engineer Daniel Vassallo wrote on X on Sunday. “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.”

Another tech content creator, Alex Finn, wrote on X: “MKBHD bankrupted a company in 41 seconds,” referring to the opening of his video. Finn later added, “If this video never came out, they would have sold so many more.”

As the conversation picked up steam, MKBHD tweeted back to Vassallo, saying, “We disagree on what my job is.”

When reached for comment, Vassallo said, “Many people thought I was defending Humane or its product. I wasn’t. My observation was about MKBHD’s scale of influence and how that power deserves more rigor than the sensational headline on YouTube: ‘The Worst Product I’ve Ever Reviewed.’ The power to crush a company shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that headline is what most people will see. The actual review was fair and balanced.”

An underdog worth $800 million

Critics of MKBHD’s video are operating as though Humane AI is an underdog in the space. But this isn’t a green, early-stage startup trying its hand at building new hardware. This is a company that raised a Series C round and attracted investors like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and various top venture capital firms before consumers even got their hands on the product.

“Call me cynical, but I’m wary of startups with huge war chests of capital but no commercialized product to speak of,” TechCrunch reporter Kyle Wiggers wrote after last year’s Series C raise.

When asked for comment, MKBHD directed TechCrunch to his newer YouTube response to the situation.

“All that any honest review actually does is just accelerate whatever was already going on,” he says in the video.

Less than a day after posting it, the follow-up video has over 2 million views.

This isn’t an isolated incident for MKBHD. The YouTuber was also accused of inciting the downfall of EV startup Fisker after he negatively reviewed the Fisker Ocean car in a similarly titled video last month: “This is the Worst Car I’ve Ever Reviewed.”

After Brownlee posted his review, Fisker laid off 15% of its staff and stopped production. But Fisker was already in free fall before Brownlee said that the Fisker Ocean was the worst car he’d ever reviewed. Indeed, at the time, it revealed in a regulatory filing spied by TechCrunch that it had just $121 million left in the bank.

More, in the month preceding the MKBHD review, federal safety regulators began investigating the Fisker Ocean for complaints about the brakes not working well. TechCrunch separately learned that Ocean drivers had been complaining to Fisker about poor brake performance, faulty key fobs and sudden power loss for months. One customer wrote to Fisker that they feared for their life when their car suddenly lost power while driving on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.

So is Fisker failing because it put out a dangerously poor product, or is it because a very popular YouTuber said that the car is bad?

Thankfully, Humane AI’s subpar pin won’t put anyone in mortal danger. But these parallel incidents display the same misplaced rage at Brownlee over his honest critique of troublesome products.

An uncomfortable yet familiar critique

Some Black techies viewed the critique of MKBHD through a different lens. “If Brownlee were anything other than Black, this would be ‘an honest review that shines a light on the AI bubble,’” one Black founder told TechCrunch. “Instead, he’s ‘harsh,’ and ‘it’s not fair that he can bankrupt such a well-funded company. He should be more graceful in his critique.’ In a world full of shams and frauds, Marques should do exactly what he thinks is right. And he did.”

Some also observed in criticisms of Brownlee’s review so-called tone policing, a technique used to dismiss especially what Black people say based on how a message is delivered versus the content of the message.

Indeed, one Black investor observed to TechCrunch that Brownlee’s review hits on two biases in tech: “Tech has issues with bias against Black people. Tech has issues with the media being a critic [and] not a cheerleader, so of course, tech has issues with a Black tech media take that is critical of fanboy topics like AI and IoT.”

Either way, it’s notable that a YouTuber is perceived as having the power to make or break a company.

In an interview with fellow YouTuber interviewers Colin and Samir last week, Brownlee reflected on a past era of media when tech reviewers at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were some of the only voices that consumers sought out for their opinions on new tech. Now, anyone on the internet can have a say, regardless of their institutional affiliation.

“When a YouTube video of mine goes up on a product, there are very frequently hundreds others going up on the same product around the same time,” he said. “There are so many more voices now.”

Source link