Thursday, May 1, 2008

Augmenting Your Memory Through Lifelogging

Man, what was that guy’s name? Met him a few minutes earlier and I’ve forgotten already. What if I have to introduce him to my friends? This could be embarrassing.

Our memory, it usually works okay, but not always. Wouldn’t it be great to have a photographic memory! Just concentrate and pull up whatever you need. Michael Kingman --- that’s his name! Two kids, lives in Philadelphia, an attorney for Morris and Stengle, was telling me about this great Italian restaurant on Walnut and 18th, …

Well you get the idea. Total recall. Remembering EVERYTHING that happens to you. And not just images --- sounds, voices, temperature, emotions --- EVERYTHING.

Lifelogging, sometimes called lifeblogging, is the name of this capability to record and recall every aspect of the flow of your life. Scientists believe that technologies developed over the coming years will provide total recall. We will be able to share our personal experiences with others, too. Sounds great, huh? Well maybe, but there’s a downside, as you might expect.

Let’s start at the beginning. Lifelogging is possible today, but it’s primitive. For example, Microsoft Research has invented a lifelogging device called a SenseCam, which hangs around your neck and automatically snaps a picture once a minute. As an alternative, the SenseCam may be triggered by a change in light, temperature or movement.

The SenseCam provides a digital record of virtually everything you see. If you combine images with a digital recording of everything you hear, well, then you really have something. That conversation with Mr. Kingman, for example, could be replayed to provide all the information you picked up from him.

Okay, this is a pretty trivial example, but you get the picture. In theory, every aspect of your life could be digitized, but is it worth it? Will these technologies make our lives better, richer, more fulfilling? Should we provide the capability to relive portions of our lives and experience the emotion of the birth of our first child, the excitement of winning the big game, or the quiet pleasure of exchanging wedding vows? Or maybe we just want rapid access to information for business purposes? Or memories to leave for your children after your death?

Have you read Dune by Frank Herbert? A society of women, called the Bene Gesserit, have the ability to pass along their entire lives to a younger Sister at the time of their death. Over the centuries, these Sisters accumulate many lives, which they may call on for guidance or information. What if you could call up not only your own memories, but the memories of others, such as ancestors, scientists, explorers, jet pilots and many others? Would that be a high or what? Isn’t the future full of surprises?

Now for the downside. Privacy might become a thing of the past. Think it’s bad to see an unauthorized personal video on Youtube? What if your whole life could be put on the net for anyone to browse? Even more frightening is what the government could do with a disc containing your memories. What if all citizens were required to record their lives into a government controlled storage? Hello, 1984.

Lifelogging is just one of many developing technologies that will have a massive impact on our lives over the next few decades. And we are far from ready. That’s why I write cautionary novels like PeaceMaker and Unholy Domain.

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