Within five years, our personal computers will be able to store everything we read, write, hear, and many of the images we see including a bit of video. Vannevar Bush outlined such a system in his famous 1945 Memex article. Since 2000 a team at Microsoft has been working on MyLifeBits to hold all cyberizable items from both personal and profession lives including articles, books, email and written correspondence, photos, telephone calls, video files, web pages visited. They are extending the reach to capture psychological data through wearable devices e.g. the SenseCam from Microsoft's Cambridge Lab, and BodyMedia.While such a system has implications for future computing devices and their users, these systems will only exist if we can effectively utilize the vast personal stores.
While capture has implications for future computers and users to have such a surrogate memory the implications in other facets of a person's life raise many issues. For the user who may look at several hundred web pages and emails each day, the over arching research question the system needs to answer is: What can it provide and do so that an item can be managed so that it can be easily found again? Just navigating the stored life of individual would at first glance appear to take almost a lifetime to sift through especially if we are interested in a famous person e.g. Einstein. How will technology help us better archive these individuals?
MyLifeBits is currently focused on retrieval including the hopefully automatic addition of meta-data (e.g. document type identification, high level knowledge). Such data is essential for the user and future archivists, because without such higher level knowledge and concepts, the vast amount of raw bits from individuals will be completely unusable. The "Dear Appy" problem (unreadability due to degradation) is most unsettling to archivists and computer professionals. Can we provide a lasting store? While we are making progress in the capture of less traditionally archived content e.g. meetings, phone calls, video automatic interpretation and index of voice still lags. The most cited problem of personal archives is the control of the content including personal security and privacy, together with joint content ownership. In many corporations, periodic document expunging is a standard. Similarly, one's life that is not in publicly available documents, is owned by the organization. Will items have to be expunged when an individual is no longer part of an organization?
Gordon Bell is a senior researcher in Microsoft's Media Presence Research Group -- a part of the Bay Area Research Center (BARC) maintaining an interest in startup ventures.
Gordon has long evangelized scalable systems starting with his interest in multiprocessors (mP) beginning in 1965 with the design of Digital's PDP-6, PDP-10's antecedent, one of the first mPs and the first timesharing computer. He continues this interest with various talks about trends in future supercomputing (see Papers …presentations, etc.) and especially clustered systems formed from cost-effective "personal computers." As Digital's VP of R&D he was responsible for the VAX Computing Environment. In 1987, he led the cross-agency group as head of NSF's Computing Directorate that made "the plan" for the National Research and Education Network (NREN) aka the Internet. His Supercomputing and the CyberInfrastructure page lists articles, memos, talks, and testimony regarding the various aspects of computing including funding, goals, and problems in reaching to the Teraflops in 1995 and Petaflops in 2010.
Beginning in 1995, Gordon had started focused on the use of computers and the necessity of telepresence: being there without really being there, then. In 1999 this project was extended to include multimedia in the home (visit Papers… presentations, etc.). Presently, he is putting all of his atom- and electron-based bits in his local Cyberspace, including everything he has accumulated, written, photographed, presented, and owns (e.g. CDs). This project is called by MyLifeBits, a successor to the Cyber All project.
This presentation was recorded at Accelerating Change 2004, November 5-7, 2004. Check here for the complete Accelerating Change archives.
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