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E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

Posted October 06, 2009 3:01 AM by Sharkles

In a world where people use technologies like Twitter and Facebook to update their status instantaneously, it was only a matter of time before someone took information-hosting to the next level.

Enter Gordon Bell, a 75-year old Microsoft researcher. For the past decade, Bell has been moving the data from his brain onto his computer. By carrying video equipment, cameras, and audio recorders, he's able to record all aspects of his daily life – including conversations, commutes, trips, and other daily coming and goings. Bell also records pictures of receipts, bills, and medical records. He even makes PDFs from each webpage he views!

The purpose behind Bell's constant recording is to create a digitized "e-memory" to back up his biological one. This way, he doesn't have to remember a single detail of his days. If he needs to recall something in particular, there is an entire 350-GB, multimedia transcript to reference.

Bell's Future Predictions

Social media and smart-phone technologies have begun to make it easy for people to record their routines. Many people update their social-networking statuses constantly for their online "friends," while many others carry location-aware technologies on their persons almost 24/7. While these options are widely popular, they have yet (as far as this author knows) to be used for personal database warehousing.

Bell predicts that everyone's life histories will be accessible online. In fact, he believes that by 2020, not only will the information be available, but that it will also be searchable. Visibility, he says, will be a personal choice; his recordings are only available to him, but he acknowledges that some people might want to be more public by using blogs or social media.

People who move to Bell's system wouldn't have to worry about storing information in their minds, a revolution that Bell says will "change what it means to be human." But those who question such reliance on computers say that the human brain will become mentally sluggish as a result, a concern that Bell tries to combat. "People have no memory of phone numbers now because of the cell phone -- their address book is in a cell phone. So I don't think they're getting any worse or any less facile about that. What an e-memory does, to me, is gives me a really wonderful free feeling," he said.

Would You Want to Record Your Own Life?

If you're interested in becoming your own personal librarian, you might not have to wait long. Microsoft is in the process of creating the SenseCam, a device worn around the neck that takes pictures "passively". Not surprisingly, Gordon Bell has been using a SenseCam for his recordings (he does work for Microsoft, after all).

Personally, I don't think I need 500 images of me sitting at my desk or getting coffee – the main activities that comprise my daily routine. I once had a brief affair with Twitter - and I occasionally post something on Facebook - but other than out-of-the-ordinary happenings, I am content with living life as it's presented to me. People I meet or things I see can be important, beautiful, etc., but I like that it's up to me to remember those things or draw my own meanings. I guess I just like what it means to be human right now.

What do you think?

  • Would you want to document all aspects of your daily life?
  • Do you think Bell's prediction will come true by 2020?
  • Do you think this bodes well for humanity? Or will it be detrimental?

Resources:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/09/25/total.recall.microsoft.bell/index.html

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/09/28/man-boots-memories-from-brain-straight-to-computer/

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/cambridge/projects/sensecam/

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/gbell/

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Guru

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#1

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/06/2009 1:53 PM

The idea is awesome but it makes me wonder if this is only the first phase of a plan to clone himself and then implant memories from his previous life.

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Kaplin
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#2
In reply to #1

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/06/2009 2:55 PM

That sounds like a great idea for a sci-fi movie/novel. Let's get writing!

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#3

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/06/2009 5:09 PM

Hi Sharkles - Great topic! I listened to the recent BBC World Service radio interview with Mr. Bell. He's definitely a fascinating guy, and a personal hero of mine for completely "Going Digital".

Reminds me of the old debate of bringing calculators to engineering exams. Some professors banned them, and I did feel like I learned more from those classes.

If we dedicated the entirety of our lives to a hard drive, then collectively we might be more vulnerable to manipulation, like that detailed in Orwell's 1984. Who were we at war with last week?

And what if a massive solar flare hit us, or one of those electric-motor killing bombs went off near your personal memory storage location? How would we recover if we were as technology-dependent as Mr. Bell?

Answers to your questions:

1. Would you want to document all aspects of your daily life? Yes.

2. Do you think Bell's prediction will come true by 2020? Maybe.

3. Do you think this bodes well for humanity? Or will it be detrimental? I think it will be a good thing overall, considering the amount of data we're all having to deal with these days.

Thanks for the nice blog.

- Larry

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#4

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/06/2009 7:31 PM

Would you want to document all aspects of your daily life?

No, if I wanted to do that, I would write in my journal. I don't think everyone needs to know everything about me. What would this do for people trying to find jobs if all their information was online to see? You would have to be a saint to get a job. Plus, there is already a big enough problem of people going on facebook with prospective employees without another way for employers to sneak into your personal life. I know you can keep it private, but still...

Do you think Bell's prediction will come true by 2020?

I kind of hope not.

Do you think this bodes well for humanity? Or will it be detrimental?

I think it could go either way.

I think that while facebook and twitter have their positive aspects, sometimes it is a bit much. Especially when people have to post every single thing they do. Diego put it well in Ice Age when he said, "Do we need a news flash every time your body does something?" I seriously don't.

For personal keepsakes, I do wish that I had more pictures and stuff from my ancestors. I don't think I need to know everything about them, but it would help me to figure out where I came from. I don't think they should be accessible to everyone, just the family. I don't think it being public should even be an option. If they want it public, they can post the pictures on facebook (or other social media site)!

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#5

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/06/2009 10:15 PM

Personally, I don't think I need 500 images of me sitting at my desk or getting coffee

I wouldn't mind them.

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#6

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/07/2009 2:41 AM

New facilities may become one day's favourite business. It is all part of the business strategy. May be suiting people with busy occupations. The question is at what cost?

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Guru

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#7

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/07/2009 6:10 AM

The philosophical issue: Who am I?

Am I just the memories? Thoughts?

How much time will go in entering activities into databases?

Where will this stop? Am sitting at the comp entering dat may ultiomately be the only activity when awake.

I just say:

Que Sera Sera...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVuEC3r7a-o

Let it be...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdopMqrftXs

I just want to live quietly and like the Arab steal silently away when the time comes.

In my opinion the preduiction is self defeating and will not happen.

Distinctly bodes ill if it does happen.

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#8

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/07/2009 8:28 AM

Details of our daily existence do not make us more or less human. A random receipt means very little if you have no memory of why you made the purchase. Ideas are far more important in describing what it is to be human. How much of his day does Gordon waste pdf-ing web pages and the other meaningless details of his life that could be spent on being human? Read a book, write a note to a friend, take a walk...stop wasting your life Gordon!

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#9

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/07/2009 5:32 PM

"wouldn't have to worry about storing information in their minds"

How do you keep your mind from storing memories? if it was true then you should be able to get rid of those ghosts of the mean nasty things you've done in your life and that (I hope) will torture you for life.

Just think about this: When writing was developed and the print press widespread, none of the auto-biographers lost their memories !

This is just nonsense !

You can rely on a dabase for keeping information that would require you some effort to memorize (mostly numerical or such data). It only makes you more lazy.

But there is no way you can electronically record an event that you trully consider important and then erase it from your mind.

I don't see how this fallacious concept could change your perception of being human.

Artificial Alzheimer ? BULLSHIT !

Yahlasit

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#10

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/08/2009 8:14 AM

The best parts of my life have been when I "lost me" - when I disappeared into the moment - became invisible and unimportant to the greater life I was engaged with. These experiences have taken place in the natural world. Technology with its invasive vibrations and "busyness" tends to preclude that state of mind - and it is in only in that state that I've experienced transcendent happiness with no shadow of the fleeting melancholy which is such a feature of "happiness" in the human world.

Technology with for all its promise of opening "new worlds"; in its means of production, dissemination etc. degrades, devalues, destroys the non-human world. It makes us too self-focused, too concerned with our own appetites - it makes us no greater than the measure of ourselves. It can so easily preclude humility, which is essential to the sense of the miraculous.

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#11

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/12/2009 12:21 PM

I have a good number of videotapes and cassette audio tape recordings. I used to carry a tape recorder much of the time.

I also shot a good number of S8 films, and have written a fair amount.

Sometimes I get around to editing things so that they may have value. I am pretty much of the opinion that simply recording all, is a waste of time.

You will be much more satisfied if you do embark on massive documentation of your experiences if you incorporate the editing process into that work from the get go.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/12/2009 12:22 PM

Hind sight's 20/20

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#13

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/12/2009 12:24 PM

Few know what means

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#14

Re: E-Memories: Changing What it Means to be Human?

10/12/2009 11:12 PM

I was instantly reminded of Krapps Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. I did not mention this in my first post.

Years ago I was fortunate to see a production of this play.

I wonder if Mr. Bell has ever seen Krapps Last Tape, and what it would do to him if he did.

Mr. Beckett is very interesting since he actually was an underground fighter for the liberation of France. In Waiting For Godot, nothing happens. In Krapps Last Tape nothing happens.

I once thought that many of the great Saints were distinguished for doing nothing at all.

So Mr. Bell is doing as much as he possibly can to make sure his entire life is filmed and recorded, and only accessible to him.

No wonder I am reminded of Krapps Last Tape, and Theater of the Absurd.

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