Memory and Database

Saturday, November 11, 2006

MyLifeBits Project


MyLifeBits is a lifetime storage of everything.



It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush's 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks.



“A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility” - As We May Think, Vannevar Bush, 1945

There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort.

THE EXPERIMENT: Gordon Bell has captured a lifetime's worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio.

GOAL: To push the boundaries of information computers can handle.

This experiment was dreamt up at Microsoft's Bay Area Research Centre in San Francisco, where Dr Bell works. He agreed to become a guinea pig in his own life's experiment. In an era of relationships defined by informal emails, of mobile phones snapping crimes as they unfold, the project was seen as an extension of our desire to store snippets of our existence. By recording his life in the present, Dr Bell hopes to give a glimpse of all our lives in the future.

THE SOFTWARE RESEARCH: Jim Gemmell and Roger Lueder have developed the MyLifeBits software, which leverages SQL server to support: hyperlinks, annotations, reports, saved queries, pivoting, clustering, and fast search. MyLifeBits is designed to make annotation easy, including gang annotation on right click, voice annotation, and web browser integration. It includes tools to record web pages, IM transcripts, radio and television. The MyLifeBits screensaver supports annotation and rating. We are beginning to explore features such as document similarity ranking and faceted classification. We have collaborated with the WWMX team to get a mapped UI, and with the SenseCam team to digest and display SenseCam output.



Gordon Bell is recording as much of his life as modern technology will allow it, storing it all on a vast database.

A miniature camera dangles from his neck and snaps pictures every minute, immediately committing the scene to a memory built not of neurons but ones and noughts. Sensors also note changes in light, shifts in temperature and also store the info.

He has stored so much of his life on his computer that he may very well forget how to remember. “I look at it as a surrogate memory.” If he wants to recall something, he just switches on and sifts through the days and months.


BEGINNING PROCESS:
Scanned virtually all:
Books written (and read when possible)
Personal documents (correspondence including memos and email, bills, legal documents, papers written, …)
Photos
Posters, paintings, photo of things (artifacts, …medals, plaques)
Home movies and videos
CD collection
And, of course, all PC files

SUPPORTING OPINIONS:
Technologist: “we can” an opportunity e.g. 1 TB disks
For all of us with new media: a need e.g. jpg. Mp3
Environmentalist: eliminates “atoms” (paper, CDs…)
For business--memory enhancement & faster search: Let content analysis and data mining discover trends and correlations in our lives…that even we don’t know.
Business: It costs more to delete than it costs to store
Preservationist: decays or disappears unless its saved
For the human pack rat: “I may need it some day.”
For posterity and nostalgia: “Maybe others will want it.”
Stories and ambience: basis for creating content
For the aging & failed memory: surrogate memory

TRICKY DECISION:

While sorting through old files and scanning them in, his assistant found a memo with a stern note urging:
"Do not ever reproduce this."

It was an extremely frank letter purging his thoughts on a company he was involved with at the time. It named names, pointed the finger, ranted. It was never meant to be posted, copied, or seen by anyone other than himself.
"I decided we should put it on the system after all. I still feel the same about it, but it's on there," he says.


QUESTIONS:

If all of our computers will one day store even a minor mountain of detail from our public and private lives, how will we ever be able to organize it?

What software will rummage through our electronic minds for connected events, perhaps a conversation about a picture taken on some seaside trip on a dank day one May?

CONS:

Dr Bell has logged all but a handful of his most personal experiences, those few left out because no computer system is completely secure against a determined hacker. Some of the information held on the database is also of ambiguous ownership.

Who decides who else can pore over the details of the conversations he has had, the people he has met? "I'm not worried about someone going in there and mining my innermost thoughts, but there is the whole issue of security and control that I think we can solve."

The hard drive of his computer crashed, losing four months of data.
In a report on the project, he describes it as "a severe emotional blow, perhaps like having one's memories taken away."

More worrying to Dr Nack is the effect Dr Bell's vision could have on a future society. Stick a video camera in someone's face and they will behave differently. "If everything we do is recorded for scrutiny, it can hinder social development," adds Dr Nack. In short, surveillance of the people, by the people, could lead to an unsettling society of conformists, he warns.

SIMILAR SYSTEMS:
Already, a similar system is being tested by a small group of people with degenerative brain disease in Cambridge. In the evening, the husband of one woman on the trial reviews the recorded day with his wife. It reduces her anxiety that she will forget important moments.

For Dr Bell, MyLifeBits is more of a back-up memory. "There were people walking around New Orleans after Katrina with soggy shoeboxes of things. My whole life moves with me, I don't need to carry these things," he said.

HOW MUCH OF HIS LIFE HAS BEEN RECORDED?





Began in 2001:
Recorded:
1,300 videos
5,067 sound files (including conversations)
42,000 digital pictures
100,000 emails
67,000 webpages.
Recently, the system has started logging every step Mr Bell takes using GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and is beginning to store health data, from calories burned to individual heart beats.

HOW MUCH MEMORY DOES A LIFE NEED?

Microsoft researchers believe that technological advances will ensure one terabyte of memory is enough to store everything except video for 83 years. Many iPods have 20 gigabytes of memory, or one fiftieth of a terabyte. If we recorded video constantly, we would need an extra 200 terabytes of memory.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,3605,1674359,00.html
http://research.microsoft.com/barc/mediapresence/MyLifeBits.aspx

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