Would you put your life in Microsoft's hands?

The software giant is developing a system which enables individuals to store their photos, home videos, emails and letters on the Net, like a 'virtual shoebox'

Microsoft is working on a system which will enable users to record every event and incident in their lives onto a 'virtual brain', which will be searchable in a similar way to super-search engine Google.

For example, users will be able to save all their photos and home videos on the system to recall at a later date. Similarly important emails, letters and details of personal conversations or meetings can be stored using the MyLifeBits software which is currently under development in Microsoft's San Francisco labs.

New Scientist, which broke the story, refers to the project as a virtual 'shoebox' -- the kind of indispensable collection of memorabilia and documentation which most people have in a cupboard or on top of a wardrobe.

The benefit of storing such information digitally is that it becomes more easily searchable. If you want to find photos of Timmy's third birthday then you will be able to type keywords -- which you will have entered at the time of saving -- such as 'Timmy' or 'birthday' into the search tool and within seconds -- while your offline cousin might still be rummaging through boxes -- you will have the picture you were after.

Similarly, you will be able to type in dates and MyLifeBits will return a list of everything relating to those dates which has been entered into the system, whether it be photographs, emails, home videos, contacts, work documents or anything else which can be captured and recorded digitally.

Gordon Bell, one of the developers of MyLifeBits, told New Scientist: "Imagine being able to run a Google-like search on your life."

Bell is also head guinea pig for the project and is currently in the process of loading everything he can muster into the system.

Of course the two obvious downsides to such a project are memory and security. Bell predicts within five years it will be possible to buy a 1000Gb hard drive for under $300 (£195) -- hinting at the kind of resources which might be necessary to run this kind of application, with picture files and videos putting particular strain on a machine's memory.

But security is a far less clear-cut argument, determined as much by user's attitudes as technology. With people still reluctant to store sensitive information on computers for fear of security breaches, the mindset of the average computer user may have to change considerably before people are willing to use this tool as anything more than a glorified photo album.

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