H+ Magazine
Covering technological, scientific, and cultural trends that are changing–and will change–human beings in fundamental ways.

Editor's Blog

James Kent
March 1, 2010


Man inserting memory card into brain

It will happen some day. It is inevitable. In the near future, someone will decide to record every moment of a human life from birth to death in digital storage. This will be more than an extreme reality TV stunt. It will mark the era of personal memory offloading, an adaptive memory technology that records and indexes every single moment of your life. Offloading personal memory begins with a personal memory device, or a PMD. The basic PMD would be no more complex than a small video and sound recorder that captures your every experience. A PMD could be easily fitted shortly after birth; the least invasive option would be like a Bluetooth headset worn over the ear connected wirelessly to a local device no larger than a cell phone. Once installed, the PMD would capture and upload all first-person memories to a centralized database for indexing, search, and recall.

Data captured by the PMD would be linked over the internet into distributed software services like GPS, Google Maps, facial recognition, speech/text recognition, brainwave analysis and so on. It would create an ongoing record of the people, terrain, and objects in your vicinity. Contextual memory stored in the PMD’s back-end database would be total, like tracking your avatar moving through the World of Warcraft or Second Life, except plotting actual data from real life in real time. Whatever you do will be captured by the PMD for later playback and recall. Your PMD will remember every place you visit, every person you meet, every conversation you have, every object you look at, every movie you watch, every meal you eat, every page you read, every email you write, everything.

Would the PMD remember where you parked? Always. Will it warn you when you are about to walk away and leave your hat and sunglasses on the bench behind you? Totally. Will it send you birthday reminders, schedule your meetings, remind you to pick up your dry-cleaning and let you program your DVR with voice commands? Yes. Will it find your car keys and remote control for you? Maybe. Will it record your innermost thoughts? Probably not. It won’t always be perfect, but it will greatly extend your normal range of memory, and over time it will become like an indispensable part of your brain.



Brain on motherboardExternal data is easy to record and index, but internal memory such as feelings, thoughts, ideas, and dreams present some engineering challenges. The PMD could be fitted with an invasive brain implant to extend functionality, but to keep things simple, let’s consider some cheap, non-invasive solutions. Biometric data such as temperature, galvanic skin response, brainwave activity, pulse, respiration rates, and perspiration levels can monitor mood, arousal, activity levels, and so on. This biometric data, no matter how spotty, can be used to generate a dynamic emotional profile for any individual as they move through their day. Speech and behavioral analysis can also track levels of focus and activity to indicate mood and engagement in reality. Facial gestures and voice pitch can be tracked to sense subtle emotional reactions to stimulus. There could be a service that monitors your diet and daily routines to see if you are acting in healthy or unhealthy ways. If environmental data capture is complete, filling in emotional data from biometric analysis would be a simple software task.

With your PMD you would be able to say, “Remember the time I did (activity) with (person) at (location)?” and your PMD would search your memory database and stream the audio, video, and emotional rendering of the experience to your cell phone. Or you could ask, “Remember that book I read on chimpanzees? Who was the author?” Multiple memories may fit your query and be returned as a basic search list with text, video, and audio links. Similar memories with substituted variables might be offered up as tangents. Your request may provide you with “links” to other activities at that same location or to other books you have read by the same author. Beyond that, you could watch yourself relive important memories, or if friends and family members had similar devices, you could share personal events and watch group memories through multiple perspectives. Human memory integrity need no longer rely on lossy neural compression and the unreliable he-said/she-said narratives that compose written history. It would all be a matter of public record stored in time-stamped relational database tables for all of history. At the very least, it may save a few arguments between married couples.

Brain resoucesThe PMD sounds like science fiction, but the technology for creating it exists today. It could be an iPhone app. The engineering hurdles would be the physical disk space and CPU cycles needed for daily storage, compression, and indexing of video and audio data for every person with a PMD. Let’s assume storage and CPU cycles are solvable problems and that indexing and compression of video and speech data will only get better and faster over time. So pretty soon, for a moderate monthly fee, you could get a PMD system bundled with your cable, cell-phone, or internet bill. With a pocket or desktop unit, your daily memory will be locally stored and indexed. The relevant data points would then be uploaded to a central server for global storage and cross-indexing with other personal memories and digital records over the course of your lifetime. Like a Tivo, your PMD would be able to predict which memories you want to save, which memories your friends and family will like, and which memories are private, redundant, or expendable. It would be easy to customize these features for each individual, making indexing personal memory an intuitive task that would involve automatically setting user preferences based on daily routines; mirroring actual learning and memory networking in the brain.

Engineering a PMD is a relatively simple challenge, but the ramifications of such a device go far beyond personal memory storage. If a smart device is tracking and indexing your personal memory, every aspect of your life can then be recreated in virtual space and reviewed from any angle. Each night, our personal memory would be indexed and compressed while we slept. This would be a sort of “digital dreaming” — our digital dreams would naturally grow over time to mirror our personal dreams. Your digital memories and preference files from any period in your life could be assembled to create a virtual avatar that looked, talked, and behaved just like you. You could have a digital ghost that acts out probable behaviors in hypothetical scenarios, like a dream projecting itself into a videogame future. This digital version of you would exist long after your physical body was gone. People in the future would be able to log on and meet you, relive your memories, or place your avatar into a virtual simulation. It is not immortality, but it beats a MySpace page by a long shot.

Will it warn you when you are about to walk away and leave your hat and sunglasses on the bench behind you? Totally.

Most interestingly, the PMD can be used a social memory or cloud memory device. If you select the social memory networking option, then your public memories can be shared with anyone who shares overlapping memories with you, making shared social memory (the collective consciousness) an instantly accessible reality. This raises some privacy issues, but cell phones already track our location and capture audio and video; capturing every moment of environmental data for cloud-memory rendering is merely the logical endpoint of this technology. You could jump in on a friend’s memory stream and share their experiences over the internet; you could watch a rock concert through the eyes of the guitarist, lead singer, or anyone in the crowd. Then you could replay that concert over and over from different angles. With environmental data capture from multiple PMDs, recreating any event in virtual space becomes a matter of video crunching and graphics rendering. Rendered PMD cloud data could recreate crime scenes or accidents for review in court; create virtual classrooms and training centers; or make vacation memories available to friends on Facebook. You would never again have to ask, “Remember that time…?” All you would have to do is send a link to their PMD. They will remember.

24 Comments

    The NSA has just let a contract for 400 million of these things for installation in all americans, in order to protect us from becoming terrorizers.

    Neat article, but what about surrounding perspective too or feeding the various id's. Just think of a natal side approach hybread. A set-up of video monitor and camera for finding and plotting points in a 3D space on a human and overlaying a 50% transparent type render over the actual body parts, through 3D glasses or monitors that augment the sandbox experiment being viewed. I.E. I see my predator toon and look at my arm, and see the transparent over lap rendered over body parts. Full on blurring the lines of VR and reality as to play with, and in both, at the same time. The id of the many is great and vast. 1 problem with a offsite shared record base is RIAA type restrictions, as I ran into that with my 15min+ videos I can't put online in normal ways. Though the self monitoring has and will be cool as it advances even more. I love seeing the direct coralation between a tired body mind and the fully active and engaging body and mind. Sleep, diet, fitness, mental excorsize and such all play rolls and are cool to see real time or in playback. To find balance feeding the id's, and to swim in the abyss with out being drowned by it, or even to become it. To leave the footprints for the future to re asimble, though I think the files should be private controlled rather than off site dumped, and after life the archive would become public. Other wise the id's sickness will manifest in society in bad ways, just think of stalker types and twisted fans. Just my 2 cent's P. I'll stick with 8 cams on my head with a USB hub, and 4-8 surrounding perspective view points for others or me to view threw, and keep my data on my side. And to view through a HMD or 2 if stacked right, and get a weird telli presence on me in my own environment. Yes more nauseating effects but oh so cool, and way weird at that. But I like to feed my id's good as you see P. 2L84U2C SunTzu4U :) Plug me in!

    A PMD could be very comfortable, but this makes it also dangerous, because you will stop to use your own brain in the longterm. And that will damage your intelligence and communication abilities:
    What do you work on? - See my PMD profile...
    Do you think that is true? - Wait, I check wikipedia
    What did you do last week end? - I have a photostream, you know...
    What's sin 45? - Where's my calculator?
    Did you changed that function? - No idea, let check the svn
    Where do you live? - let me check my gps log

    Let's not forget the totalitarian question. The government now has to monitor all the datastreams for "terrorists". Then, if anyone learns something they were not supposed to, well, accidents happen, no? And, oops, that hard drive crashed right in the middle of a backup - scrambled everything incuding poor, accident-prone, Mr. Smith's back up copy of *what he knew*.

    I get the impression that this article tries to present the PMD idea as a positive development, but to me, it seems like a privacy nightmare with very limited merit for the actual quality of personal life.

    It certainly beats a MySpace page, but for the very properties at which it beats it, I deliberately chose not to have a MySpace page in the first place.

    Having read many of Wiillam Gibson's 'cyberpunk' novels in the early nineties this makes me feel very uncomfortable, I think its within his short story collection Burning Chrome that he writes about the purchasing of dead peoples memory units for pleasure to vacation in somebody elses life, this has dire consequences when the protagonist downoads the memory of a deranged killer.

    and if thats not unsettling enough there are several scenes in the Wim Wenders film, 'until the end of the world' , where a device to make the blind see is used draw memories from the brain into a visual form, the seduction of reliving old memories leads to an eventual state of catatonia difficult to become free from.

    We have all become accustomed to believe that all inventions,all government policies are for our own good.From vaccines to airport scanning to a number of past and present activities being enacted,some without our knowledge we just assume that the "powers that be"would never do anything to harm us.That is how every new policy,every new invention,every new law that will remove more freedom is portrayed.And as with all of them,they start out very innocently(Patriot Act)and then before you know it this great product of government has turned your life upside down.

    interesting article, I have a feeling that the social norms surrounding privacy will probably change in the future, I mean, haven't they already change because of products like Facebook, and Twitter. But the social norms of privacy would have to change a lot before this technology would take off.

    Vision already starting to be realised -> http://www.clarity-centre.org/sensecamwiki/index.php/Main_Page

    Technological advancement seems fascinating and interesting but not when it touches extreme ends. PMD could definitely be dangerous in the long term. Not using your brain for a longer period of time could be damaging. You could lose sensory signals and symbolic understanding. In other words you'd be left crippled.
    online backup

    a memory project from 256 MB 124 GB 1000 GB
    hi i am trying find out what memory
    that can hold electric signal

    but don't know what the memory is called

    winkie212003@yahoo.com

    I hope it will never come true. But for sure we have a tendancy for it. You know it is appalling how little we begin to mean. Have you seen any part of Mr. Freeman (here is one of the parts http://www.tubesfan.com/watch/mr-freeman-part-6 but unfortunately it is in Russian ). So, Mr. Freeman gives the following situation: imagine that you returned several thousands years back with a flesh card in your pocket, on which there is all the knowledge of human civilization. But if you do not have the computer you are useless, you do not know anything. And it is true, we became very computerized. Very few know something but the majority of people can only sit in front of the computer and enjoy what others created.

    Otherwise known as Lifeblogging, this is probably going to be one of those technologies that you might worry about now, and wonder how you lived without once it's an actuality.

    It is likely to become an actuality because it's a primary component of a fully functional VR interface. To have VR you are GOING to have to be "On Camera" in one way or another, through any of a number of sensor technologies. To have the one, you have to have the other.

    But this does not have to be a bad thing. Read this article: http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/politics/sousveillance-wearable-computing-and-citizen-undersight

    MINDTECH seeks to establish a network of laymen and media. This group will be dealing with the social and ethical sides to research, development and the implementation of emerging technologies in our society.

    Meanwhile, philosophers working alongside the researchers say it’s time to find out more about how the public feels about such bionic research, which in some cases is being used to enhance human memory, physical abilities and perception.“

    Not yet published research materials in interdisciplinary brain research and development of computer-brain interface must therefore be attributed to an unknown number of defenseless experimental subjects, many with families whose lives are destroyed in a wild orgy of computer abuse. This is to copy the cognitive behaviors and human perception in the development of quantum physics. Try The items have no options or informed consent, served as on-line research materials on aging.
    Read http://www.mindcontrol.se // Magnus Olsson SWEDEN

    I think once PMDs can be built from organic substances (think Battlestar Galactica) this will become a viable option. Until then, it would be too easy to lose/erase valuable data (memories).

    The real limiting factor to this type of technology is batteries. We lack a battery technology that would enable always-on recording in an appropriately portable form factor that would last through 16 hours of wakeful recording. Everything else-- from tiny pinhole cameras that fit in a pen, to recording on mobile phones, to indexing by OCR and speech recognition on the PC nightly-- exist today. If we had better battery technologies, cobbling together a workable solution would be fairly trivial.

    "Human memory integrity need no longer rely on lossy neural compression and the unreliable he-said/she-said narratives that compose written history. It would all be a matter of public record stored in time-stamped relational database tables for all of history."

    So, basically, there would no longer be any such thing as intellectual property. A system that would passively record the author of a book you read could just as easily record the entire text of a book you flipped through while browsing Barnes & Noble. That's great for people who read books, but awful for people who write books. The system you propose would also allow you to automatically record and play back the card number and pin of the person in front of you at the checkout line. That's great for thieves, but awful for everyone else. A system like that would also allow you to relive events over and over again. That's great for people with self-control, but awful for people without it.

    I don't think a personal life recorder will ever be ubiquitous simply because you don't personally own most of the things that happen in your life. Anyone else who participates has at least an equal share. Would you be okay with someone recording while they're in the locker room at the gym? Would you be okay with a gynecologist recording while they're inspecting lady parts? Would you be okay with a priest recording while listening to confession? Just take a look at Facebook if you think that people can keep things private.

    "Engineering a PMD is a relatively simple challenge"

    OK. Go ahead and make one, Mr. Kent.

    How utterly boring and how very invasive. I dont want it that way, i want additional memory for storing facts, so i can build knowledge faster and better.

    This is something that I would sign up for in a heartbeat. The only concern that I would have about tech like this would be the security of the data. What would could a hacker do to someone's life if they hacked into their memories? I agree with Joseph about the battery issue but I think digital security as a whole would also have to make some very large strides before anyone would truly trust a product like this would be safe to use.

    "External data is easy to record and index, but internal memory such as feelings, thoughts, ideas, and dreams present some engineering challenges."

    Yeah, "some" being the operative word. A device like the one you suggest implies the solution of the most difficult questions in cognitive neuroscience and the physical basis of mind. I do agree that this will one day be technically feasible; however, I would guess around 2050 at the earliest.

    Hmm, would it remember a thought or an idea though? And I'm not even talking about an 'innermost' thought; just an ordinary surface thought, like say, a joke I thought of, but then forgot?

    And with respect to the biometric analysis compiling your emotional reactions and so forth... would it just categorize these emotions so you could look back and say 'ah look at that respiration rate, I guess I was pretty bored at that meeting' or would you be able to access the emotional experiences themselves, and have them recreated for you? The first option doesn't really sound very interesting; I more or less remember how I felt at various times, and what good is having hyper-accurate biometric data about the physiological correlates of ones past feelings? (Ah yes, johnny's first Christmas; just look at what was going on with the dopamine in my prefrontal cortex, I was so happy.) The second option would seem to require a bit more than data recovery, since you would need some way to stimulate the brain into the same emotional state. But then, even if you could recreate the emotional state, would you be able to recreate the content of the experience, in terms of what you were conciously thinking and perceiving at the time?

    Why not just strap a litle camera to your head with some memory banks, forget about the biometric analysis nonsense and just call it a day? Just have a perpetual recording device, and I guess you could program it to remind you of certain things, like whether or not you've still got your hat on. It'd be pretty useful, and would probably actually work.

    When we can include qualia and a fresh supply of sleeves (new bodies) that can make use of the autobiographical qualia, we will be immortal. Just be sure to have remote back-up with redundancy out the wazoo and a good insurance policy for your sleeve.

    Right, the weakpoint of all life logging is that it tends to exclude thinking. We need an artificial memory system for thought expression, reflection, and retrieval as well (and maybe even far more). (disclosure: I am developing one myself: artificialmemory.net). And Microsoft Research's MyLifeBits or Semantic Web applications are still very far from delivering such as system.

One Trackback

  1. By Key to Good Memory May be Rest on July 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    [...] futuristic technologies to ensure you hold on to new memories. Just take a break. [Image Credit: hplus magazine]Storing Information Takes Time“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories [...]

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