Device to store 'lifetime of memories by 2026'

A device no bigger than a sugar cube will store and record high resolution footage of every second of a human life within two decades.

Experts from Microsoft and the BBC joined computer scientists last week to hear the prediction at Memories for Life – a project aimed at maximising the benefits of human memory via ICT.

Gathered at the British Library, the group called for a debate on how advances in computing and the mass collection of people’s information both have huge implications for society.

Concern that ‘human black boxes’ will erode civil liberties challenges researchers to develop ideas and techniques that will let people get more out of their memories, without losing their privacy.

The researchers have said it is “taken as a given” that individuals will continue storing an increasing amount of information about themselves on computer, like images, documents, e-mails and audio files.

Though the project is not restricted to a single research objective, according to the BCS, which attended the debate, the project is primarily tasked with exploring ways researchers can manage and use PC-stored information.

“Collectively, this data could become an important aspect of the ‘memory’ of individual users, especially if it is accumulated over a lifetime,” M4L said in a recent statement.

“The goal of Memories for Life is develop technology which helps people benefit from their digital memories.

“This could range from improved search technology, to memory aids for the cognitively impaired, to artificial intelligence systems which give medical advice that is based on analysing a person’s digital memories.”

Last week, the project discussed large scale 'experience repositories', like early childhood interactions or 'big brother' records.

But the cost of such repositories, just for experimental use and even if the basic data is collected by third parties, would be very high.

One hope is that devices dubbed ‘memory aids’ could help the elderly and others with memory problems, but currently, it is understood there are no datasets for the M4L community ready for immediate use.

Partly this is due to the group’s ongoing debate about what information - type, size, subject and period of collection – could be used to make a dataset.

One researcher at the debate has also said non-linguistic data that has been described linguistically would be useful to obtain, such as notes written by a doctor about a person’s medical data.

In London last week, Cliff Lynch of the (US) Coalition for Networked Information, warned that the advent of the ‘human black box’ spells trouble for the average citizen.

He reportedly told the project: “Imagine having a personal companion that whines at you three times a day, telling you that you are eating the wrong things and that you spent more than you earned today. The scary thing is it might be foisted on us.”

But Prof Nigel Shadbolt, president of the British Computer Society( BCS), said the development process has already begun.

“In 20 years’ time it will be possible to record high quality digital video of an entire lifetime of human memories. It’s not a question of whether it will happen; it’s already happening.”


20th December 2006

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