Memory and Database

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Nova's Paper about 'Memory'

The Many Wonders of Memory

Memory is the ability to remember, mentally retain impressions of past experiences, and the process of taking in and storing information to retrieve at a later date. The mind works in such a way that it sifts through information that is taken in remembers according to its use.

Senses are used for survival, telling us that objects are too hot to touch, our mind cautions against it. The senses are also the first step of forming memories. Everything we perceive through our senses of sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch enters our sensory memory. From there our mind determines how we might find experiences or information necessary in the future, whether it be memory for skills and procedures (procedural memory), or memory of the knowledge for the meaning of words and how to apply them (semantic memory), or even the memory for facts (declarative memory).

The study of memory goes back many centuries, and has been improved and tweaked along the way. In order to improve the human memory, technology has become a crutch, but before that, people came up with other mnemo-technics, (the process or technique of improving or developing the memory.)

Centuries ago the mind and the human memory was thought of as a device implanted for survival. The early Greeks perfected a system of memory that allowed them to remember vital information that would come in handy for their survival. “They used the mental imprinting of any objects or key points to be remembered onto specific locations along a pathway previously memorized from an actual temple. To recall the points in their proper order, one simply had to take the walk through the temple in one's mind, observing the contents left at each location along the way.” (Viola, 470)

During the early 1500’s Giulio Camillo created a "Memory Theater.” He aimed at creating a real space: a small wooden theatre, with manuscripts and notes stuffed in the various seats. His goal was to store ancient learning in an accessible form separate from books.
Today the storage of memory in order to increasing the quantity a human mind can remember information has become dependant on technology. Human memory and technology memory is all a matter of convenience and luxury.

During the 1950’s internal memory in computers first began to take existence. It was first made of tubes of liquid mercury several feet long. In order to function as storage, electrical pulses were converted to sound and back to electrical in a continuous loop, the slow conversion enabled the digital data to function as storage.

Technological memory has improved drastically over the last 50 years. In 1954, magnetic drum memory was used in the IBM 650 Computer, introduced in 1954. It held two thousand 10-digit words. That much memory today would fit on the head of a pin. The size and capacity of computer memory continued to improve, two years after the Magnetic Drum Memory, the tubes in the Whirlwind were replaced with magnetic cores, which were much more reliable.
More recently memory is stored on small chips. Memory is stored in many different ways, some that are able to be deleted and replaced and some that is permanent.

In today’s society technology has been used to assist the mind to remember important things. An artificial memory aid was invented to assist people that suffer from ADD or ADHD, or even Alzheimer’s. It is a handheld device modelled after the function of the brain known as the "phonological loop", which uses short snippets of acoustic information as a memory cue. The device has a speaker, a microphone and controls for recording and playing audio. The user can record things that they wish to remember at a later time, and just like the mind, it reminds the user of what was requested to be remembered.

As technology advances, solutions have been invented to create alterations and advances to the human mind, in order to fix problems. A new advancement has been introduced to insert a chip in the brain, used fix problems with the Hippocampus which "encodes" experiences so they can be stored as long-term memories elsewhere in the brain. It is said that if you lose your hippocampus you only lose the ability to store new memories, you still have access to the old memories that are already stored.

In order to accomplish this advancement, the inventors had to do three things: devise a mathematical model of how the hippocampus performs under all possible conditions, build that model into a silicon chip, and then Interface the chip with the brain. Once that was done, the chip would have to be tested on animals, before actually inserting it in a human brain.
Inserting a chip in brain introduces many ethically concerns. For example, currently no one has been able to prove whether or not humans have any control over what the mind remembers. If so, would brain implants of the future force some people to remember things they would rather forget? The mind enables humans to forget painful memories.

Another big ethical concern arises when the person gives consent to the implant. The people most in need of it will be those with a damaged hippocampus and a reduced ability to form new memories. If someone can’t form new memories, then to what extent can they give consent to have the implant?

There seems to be a constant need and desire for increased ability to boost the human memory. In 1945, Vannevar Bush had a vision, to create such a device, called a memex, that would create a database of knowledge; “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” (Bush)

This was a dream that has become a reality thanks to Gordon Bell. With the help of modern technology, he has invented My Life Bits. He has inserted his whole life onto the computer, including: books, personal documents, memos, emails, bills, legal documents, papers written, photos, posters, paintings, photo of things, artifacts, medals, plaques, home movies and videos, CD collection, PC files and much much more. His goal is to determine the limits of modern technology.

Creating such a database of a human’s life, can lead to controversy. When is it ok to store a person’s life, when so many other people are involved? Doesn’t that invade others’ privacy? When compiling the data Gordon ran into such a dilemma, he came across a memo insisted upon “never being reproduced.” In order to archive every bit of his life, he had no choice.
The other issue that is brought up, is the dilemma of searching for specific memories, information, or situations. We have such a desire to archive and access our memories, but since a single person’s life consists of tons of experiences, information, is it a realistic feat to compile all of our memories for later access?

How far will we go remember?


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