Your entire life in a hard drive

Your entire life in a hard drive

Summary: Would you want a digital archive of your life? Every memory, every encounter, every click, every breath and damn near everything?

TOPICS: Microsoft

Would you want a digital archive of your life? Every memory, every encounter, every click, every breath and damn near everything?

Two researchers at Microsoft Research think so.

In the March issue of Scientific American Microsoft researchers Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell outlined a digital life experiment called MyLifeBits. Armed with an endless stream of cheap storage these guys are recording every aspect of daily life.

This duo writes:

Human memory can be maddeningly elusive. We stumble upon its limitations every day, when we forget a friend's telephone number, the name of a business contact or the title of a favorite book. People have developed a variety of strategies for combating forgetfulness--messages scribbled on Post-it notes, for example, or electronic address books carried in handheld devices--but important information continues to slip through the cracks. Recently, however, our team at Microsoft Research has begun a quest to digitally chronicle every aspect of a person's life, starting with one of our own lives (Bell's). For the past six years, we have attempted to record all of Bell's communications with other people and machines, as well as the images he sees, the sounds he hears and the Web sites he visits--storing everything in a personal digital archive that is both searchable and secure.

The applications are obvious especially as we age and Alzheimers becomes more prevalent.

Below is your life in a network (credit: Microsoft Research):


The biggest enabler is storage. Today, 60 years of your life can be stored for $600 in gear. The Microsoft researchers predict that "in 20 years $600 will buy 250 terabytes of storage--enough to hold tens of thousands of hours of video and tens of millions of photographs. This capacity should be able to satisfy anyone's recording needs for more than 100 years."

The downside: It's all a bit big brother-ish. Privacy? A hacker could access my vital signs. I have no idea why someone would want that information, but it's a bit strange.

Bell and Gemmell also write of a SenseCam, "a camera developed by Microsoft Research that automatically takes pictures when its sensors indicate that the user might want a photograph." If SenseCam detects a warm body it takes a picture. If light changes as a person moves to another room the camera takes a picture. They write:

"A recent study led by researchers at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, showed that a memory-impaired patient who reviewed SenseCam images every night was able to retain memories for more than two months."

That's pretty useful.  But if you're in the locker room it's a different story. Why is Microsoft tinkering with this digital archive on steroids idea? This information will ultimately be dished out by that Home Server sitting in your closet.

The Scientific American story is part of a bevy of Microsoft Research coverage this week. Some recommended reading on Microsoft Research:

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Where do I find the time to review my life?

    While I am reviewing my life the system will also be recording this.

    I can then review myself reviewing my life.

    Then I can review myself reviewing reviewing my life.

    Do the people at Microsoft believe that we have nothing better to do than stare at our own navels?
  • Where to start.

    This should be mandatory for ALL elected officails. Yeah, right!
  • Finul Cut

    Has anyone Seen Final cut. This sounds oddly similar to that. I for one would love to relive some memories over and over. But there are several I would not. I would not want to store my entire life. Videos and random pictures are enough to remember by.
  • Will they tackle documents?

    Let's see what happens if I try to store my entire life's worth of electronic documents. How many different versions of software do we need? Starting from Leading Edge Word Processor, through Word Perfect, various MS Words (Mac and Windows), etc.

    Of course once you've amassed 250 TB of files and memories and bad TV shows, how the heck do you find anything within it?

    Don't get me started on backup...
    Robert Crocker
  • Add search to this and then you have something...

    Obviously the next step of this would be search capability. That would make this technology VERY useful.

    I've been thinking about this idea for a long time. Being able to pass information of this detail and size from one gneration to the next. It has huge and powerful implications.
  • Don't I wish!

    I've often wished for a camera mounted to my shoulder - or at least something that recorded everything I look at and hear. It would sure help in those arguments where my wife insists I said, (or she said) something that I have no memory of, probably because it happened more than a few hours before, and I just don't have that kind of storage in my brain any more. I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, so how am I supposed to remember a conversation I had three weeks ago? I suppose the trick with this software would be to recognise the "important" things in your day and throw out all the dross. Someone introduces themselves and Google BrainSearch(TM) would keep a copy of their name and face on file, so the next time you met them, it would prompt you with their name. You would no longer have to worry about remembering anniversaries or what size your mother preferred in slippers - or if she REALLY wanted a robe, and not slippers and what her favorite and least favorite colors were. You could cross reference all sorts of events in your life and even Alzheimers patients wouldn't have to worry so much - except, of course, if they forgot how to use it. :-) Sign me up!
  • Oh Boy! We all get to play Google.

    And in the end when we die our next of kin will erase it or write a Mommy Dearest novel and make big bucks while we toil away by logging.
  • One number: 1984 (nt)

    nt = no text
  • As if the privacy nightmare is not bad enough.

    Is this how far removed from reality microsoft research is? As if we don't have enough to worry about our rights and privacy being eroded in waves already? Why in blue blazes would any sane person want their entire [b]life[/b] online, naked and open for all to see and store? This is just beyond me.
  • Privacy is but the FIRST concern

    I recall reading a story a few years back about a gentleman who decided to jettison his paper life, that decided to store everything that represented him on a computer. I remember at that time thinking this was a BAD IDEA, and my opinion hasn't changed about it yet.

    While many will speak about their concerns for protection of the privacy of their "life bits" being stored on a hard drive" somewhere, the greater concern should be for persistent access. Eventually, there will be sufficient algorithms created to provide protection through encryption and passwords, including the use of biometrics that you will be able to protect a SINGLE INSTANCE of information stored IN A SINGLE location.

    But the issue that should concern anyone considering the storage of information in electronic forms is the ability to stay ahead of the technological curve and retain access to the information. We have seen media shift from form to form, and become obsolete. We have seen countless changes in operating systems and upgrades to (and elimination of) applications that render files created on earlier versions inaccessible. And we have seen file formats that are no longer supported or that become unable to convert.

    Is anyone willing to see this happen to "their life bits"? I don't think so. And who will pay the ongoing costs to support periodic conversion and migration? Another consideration for anyone who thinks this may be an alternative for them... think strongly about creating a "digital will".

    Make sure you have your passwords and access codes stored somewhere that your heirs and family members will find them if you become ill, incapacitated, or die. There have been enough cases in the news of families who have lost the ability to access e-mail accounts, bank accounts and other on-line services when someone no longer has the ability to access them. A couple of landmark cases involved on-line e-mail service providers and the surviving family members of service personnel. What if it wasn't simply e-mail, what it if was YOUR and YOUR FAMILY's LIFE BITS?