A Tivo for Reality

By on November 26, 2004

Microsoft Research is working on a couple of interesting projects.

First, there’s the SenseCam, a little doodad that’s sort of a digital camera and sensor package. You wear it, and it records, well, everything.

SenseCam is a badge-sized wearable camera that captures up to 2000 VGA images per day into 128Mbyte FLASH memory. In addition, sensor data such as movement, light level and temperature is recorded every second. This is similar to an aircraft Black Box accident recorder but miniaturised for the human body. It could help with memory recall, e.g. where did I leave my spectacles or keys? who did I meet last week? by doing a rewind of the days events. If a person has an accident, the events and images leading up to this will be recorded, and these could be useful to medical staff. It could also be used for automatic diary generation.

Sensors trigger a new recording. For example, each time the person walks into a new room, this light change transition is detected and the room image is captured with an ultra wide angle or fish-eye lens. Other triggers include, time, sudden movement, or a person nearby. A hand gesture can also manually capture an image.

The other piece of the puzzle is MyLifeBits, which takes everything you ever do, say, or look at, dumps it into a database, and attempts to make it useful. It can archive the SenseCam data, as well as phone, IM, email, documents, web pages, and probably lots of other things.

MyLifeBits is a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks. There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort.

While I find the research fascinating, I find the result a bit creepy for some reason. It’s almost like technology reaching the point where it’s so integrated into life that the human in the middle is just an asterisk.

I’m sure my kids will enjoy the results of this research, but I imagine that they’ll have a hard time remembering people’s names and faces if you turn off their SenseCams, in much the same way that I can barely remember anyone’s phone number without my iPaq. Once the technology gets in there, the equivalent biological function tends to atrophy.