Total Recall — A Future of PIM

Posted on September 20, 2009

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The people behind MyLifeBits project, Gordon Bell and Jim Gammel, just published a book ‘Total Recall’ on their effort of creating digitized version of their memory (e-Memory as they call it). Their main point is that most people can (and will) keep almost complete record of what they see, hear and experience and this will serve as not only a perfect memory (hence the title ‘Total Recall’), but also help people improve their lives by finding and remedying bad patterns from the data collected.

In addition to providing a detailed account of their vision, they also suggest ways people can start their own MyLifeBits project using various kinds of capturing, storage and search solutions such as:

They also delve into subtle issues of maintaining e-memory, like secure backup solution and privacy concerns. About future directions, they hope to capture more data with less effort by using devices like the mirror equipped with a camera which will record daily change of one’s appearance. I have kept my eyes on the project for years and it’s certainly exciting that many people will be interested in what PIM can potentially do for them by this book.

From IR perspective, this opens up a new line of research on the personalized and context-sensitive retrieval of information, since this real-time collection of diverse personal information should enable better understanding of user. Also, existing retrieval models should evolve to deal with this heterogeneous collection where documents make up only a small fraction. Being able to infer what kind of item is requested will be another interesting challenge.

Taking more practical view, while this is certainly a compelling long-term vision, it is not clear to me whether this can have an immediate appeal to most people, who might be more keen on finding a better way of dealing with existing information rather than having many new types of information available.

Another related issue is that their focus is still on ‘keeping’ side of personal information rather than ‘finding’ and ‘organizing’ side. PIM book I mentioned earlier introduces MyLifeBits project as a ‘Save Everything’ approach in personal information, which reconfirms this point. According to the book, MyLifeBits uses SQL-database as data storage and hand-crafted hierarchical classification and labeling scheme is used to support scoped search and browsing, which is not as advanced as their keeping mechanism.

While I agree that keeping is the starting point of PIM, I think we need more efforts in the other sides. Keeping will be motivated and sustainable only when the information stored can be retrieved effectively and used for other purposes.

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Posted in: PIM