Total recall - The lifeloggers are coming
Lifelogging has been around for almost three decades. In the 1980s, the general public looked at early lifeloggers like Steve Mann with disgusted amazement. Today, cheap storage and smart mobile devices in combination with social media could make lifelogging the next hype.
The goal of lifelogging is easy to describe but still hard to achieve: to record and archive all information in one's life. This includes all text, all visual information, all audio, all media activity, as well as all biological data from sensors on one's body.
The most comprehensive poject on lifelogging has been so far MyLifeBits (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/mylifebits). Since 2001, Microsoft Research is capturing all the information from the life of Gordon Bell, a senior Microsoft researcher.
Bell has collected images of every Web page he has ever visited and every television show he has watched. He has also recorded phone conversations, images and audio from conference sessions, and with his e-mail and instant messages. In 2003, Bell even began wearing a SenseCam, a digital camera designed to automatically take pictures without any user interaction. The camera hangs around Bell's neck and snaps pictures with a fish-eye lens every 30 seconds or whenever it senses someone approaching.
But why collect all these data? “I think of the system as a personal memory. I feel immensely free by having all the information there," says Gordon Bell. He thinks that forgetting is not a feature, but a flaw. He aims for “Total Recall”, thus the title of his latest book, meaning a surrogate brain to complement his own gray matter.
The importance of leaving a lifelog legacy was dramatically underlined for Bell, when his colleague and inspirator Jim Gray didn’t return from a sailboat trip in the Pacific in 2007. “We’d all like to see an immortal Jim,” said Bell.
So, is lifelogging only for navel-gazing geeks with a bad memory? Such a cynical verdict might be premature and wrong in view of the possible services, which could be enabled by lifelogging. By using semantic Web technologies, the bulk of personal data could be used in various ways. You could, for instance, feed a personal avatar with your data, who would go out on the Web for you and retrieve whatever information you could be interested in, based on your personal preferences. Another service area is e-health. The continuous monitoring of personal health data collected and communicated via body sensors, it would be possible to increase the well-being particularly of chronically ill and elderly patients.
Although these service scenarios may still sound like science fiction, we are already closer to lifelogging than we think. An increasing number of people in developed countries spends ever more time on the Internet using social networks, like Facebook and MySpace. Contrary to the self-centered view on lifeloggers, plenty of personal information is voluntary stored and shared via these platforms. What is missing are the data integration tools for combining your personal information from social media, with your daily or hourly private snapshots that you do not share.
Still, a number of question marks remain, whether lifelogging will become a mass trend anytime soon, apart from the technical feasibility. The obtrusiveness of devices is no longer an issue. Steve Mann, the Canadian professor who claims to be the world’s first Cyborg, nowadays only wears some glasses-like contraption to capture his surroundings, instead of his bulky gear from the 1980s. The real issue could be how private and secure your data will remain, once you have captured anything.
Lifelogging could also change the social dynamics of partnerships. Spouses might require their partners to do 24/7 lifelogging as a proof of their unequivocal fidelity. This would, of course, also create an industry for services to forge the data. Instead of getting a live video from the bedroom of his mistress, the resourceful husband would broadcast some forged video from a faked boardroom meeting.
It may be true that the privacy issue for lifelogging data are not more serious than for any other digital data. However, the sometimes extremely private nature of the data would make most people shy away from lifelogging.
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