The Friday Fillip

This fillip revisits something I blogged about two years ago (Flogging). Microsoft researchers are working with computer scientist Gordon Bell to develop a system that will record, annotate, and make available to recall, nearly every aspect of his daily life. A number of videos describing the project and showing aspects of it have emerged since I first blogged about it. And Bell and co-author Jim Gemmell published a book last year about this long-term experiment, Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything (Roughcut). (Amazon lets you peek inside the book at a few of the first pages.)

The project is described in Microsoft Research pages, MyLifeBits, and in a video on the C-SPAN website (76 minutes). The project aims to capture every webpage Bell visits (not simply the URLs), every TV show he watches, every telephone call he is party to, all of his paper documents, and limitless snapshots of his daily life via the SenseCam he wears around his neck.

I suppose it’s important to note something I missed or didn’t emphasize last time around: Bell and Gemmell want us to know that this isn’t an exercise in life blogging, but rather in life logging, i.e. recording without publication. Even so, this obsessive attention to detail and insistence on the past puts me in mind of madness. Yet, the experiment explores what is for me a truly important matter, that of annotation and recall: as Gemmell jokes in his talk, there’s no point in having a “write once, read never” system. Our institutions, large and small, operate in effect as our external memory and recall devices at the moment; and as we “offloaded” knowledge/memory from our minds into books, so our institutions are now “offloading” book learning and knowledge into computer systems — a.k.a. KM.

There’s a page on the Microsoft site of demo videos, short bursts of film showing various aspects of the system in operation (all done a few years ago now: it looks so MS dated — “…we upgraded to Windows XP…” — in the current world of Apple shiny). And for something a little more dizzying, have a look at the videos made by running together all the shots from a SenseCam during a day in Cambridge and a day in Rome.

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