Recent media interest in “lifelogging” technology sent me on a meandering trip down memory lane to the largely forgotten 1995 movie “Strange Days“, written by James Cameron and starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Lewis.
|“If you think the invention of television and the internet have had a profound impact… imagine how much being able to record perception would shake things up.”|
Strange Days is set in 1999 in the days leading up to millennium celebrations (which was an effervescent concept back in 1995, when the Y2K bug still had menacing teeth and people were blissfully ignorant of The Great Cab Shortage to strike in the wee hours of the new millennium).
Strange Days is a mediocre movie – with one key exception: it features a black-market technology, known as “wire-tripping”, that enables people to record and playback perception (sight, sound, touch, smell, thought, memory – the whole shebang, as experienced by the person who recorded it).
Here’s the trailer (to get a sense of wire-tripping, watch the first part).
If you think the invention of television and the internet have had a profound impact on society, imagine how much being able to record perception would shake things up. You’d certainly think twice before lying. And, overnight, everyone would develop advanced powers of empathy to rival Obama and… Oprah.
Back to lifelogging.
For the past decade, Microsoft engineer Gordon Bell has been heading up MyLifeBits – a project with the goal of developing a system to digitally capture and organise everything in a person’s life. That person is Bell – he has captured and digitally stored a lifetime’s worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures and voice recordings. He has also begun to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television and radio. He is perhaps the world’s first truly paperless person.
|“With such an overwhelming volume of data – a recording of every conversation and visual moment you’ve experienced – the key to success in lifelogging hinges on organisation and search.”|
Hanging around Bell’s neck wherever he goes is a device called a SenseCam, which takes pictures of whatever is in front of him at predefined intervals (generally within a few minutes) or when the sensor detects a change of light, signalling a change in environment. The pictures are stored on a server along with constant audio, some video and the rest of Bell’s “life”.
Along with colleague Jim Gemmell, Bell has written a book called Total Recall, which chronicles his lifelogging project.
With such an overwhelming volume of data – a recording of every conversation and visual moment you’ve experienced – the key to success in lifelogging hinges on organisation and search. Just as powerful search has brought some kind of order to the internet, making it infinitely more useful, so too will it transform hundreds of thousands of hours of multimedia into a pool of data from which you can retrieve almost instantaneously a conversation you had with your grandfather when you were 10, a picture of the clothes you wore on your first date, or even, through aggregation analysis, how much sleep you got when you were 19 or how much money you’ve spent on alcohol.
In the video below, Top Gear’s James May, in an attempt to glean insight into his life, wears a SenseCam for an entire weekend.
Recording perception as seen in Strange Days might be some way off. However, as TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington observed recently, it won’t be long before hardware and the internet become sufficiently advanced to enable the capture of the full video and audio of one’s life, instantly uploaded to the cloud and indexed.
The real question is: will people want to?
If Facebook and Twitter are any guide, the answer is a breathless “Yes“.
Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine.
Follow him on Twitter: @PaulDRyan