The concept of recording and then later having the ability to review certain documents was first proposed by Dr. Vannevar Bush in 1945 when he described the “Memex” (a combination of “memory” and index”) in an issue of Atlantic Monthly . As described in the article, a Memex was “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”The device would look like a desk where documents were either recorded via microfilm or photography.
|The SenseCam. From microsoft.com|
|An example of a "smart shirt". From howstuffworks.com|
Of course, these types of sensors that record physiological data such as heart rate or body temperature would be essentially meaningless alone; it would be difficult to reconstruct any memory, even a simple memory, based on physiological data since it is so ambiguous. However, if physiological data were supplemented with more data, such as a photo of the user, the location where the data was recorded, and the temperature, these clues together may help to trigger certain memories or parts of memories. One example of a system that works to combine data from a variety of sources is the AffectAura, an emotional prosthetic where data is collected from devices such as a microphone, Microsoft’s Kinect, and a webcam to predict emotional states such as engagement, valence, and arousal. Six participants were recorded over 4 days, and based on the data collected, users were able to reconstruct stories about their days . There are still multiple challenges associated with creating accurate systems that could reveal emotional aspects of a memory, especially when systems and devices are created that go beyond only capturing photos. However, sensors will only become smaller and smaller in the coming years, and as a society we have a great interest in recording events for cultural reasons, so it is not unreasonable that one point, most people will participate in the act of “lifelogging” and the creation of HDM.
It is important to note though that physiological data or even photos can only act as triggers to a memory, as there is no method to actually capture an exact “memory” or a “thought.” Additionally, not only would an HDM need to incorporate data from a variety of sensors and then correctly corroborate and translate this data into meaningful information (a significant challenge), but an entire lifetime of memories would need be recorded for an accurate reflection and then a database that is searchable would also be required.
If however we could accurately record and then disseminate data that could compose a memory, does this documentation act as crutch? Reminiscing and sharing personal stories with families and friends is a basic human experience that acts as way to connect with others. If instead of memorializing a lost relative through stories or laughing with friends over a childhood experience, we could just push “play” on a device, how would that change us? We already live in a society where any question can be answered with a quick Google search on a phone requiring no discussion between two people, but how would our interactions with others change if we could just “Google” how a past experience played out or made us feel? (MIT professor Dr. Sherry Turkle has been studying how technology impacts people for over 15 years and has written numerous articles and books on the topics, and given this recent interesting TED talk on the subject). Devices that use information from HDM are meant to help us with the reminiscence process, but what if these devices are actually making us lose that ability, or at the very least, fundamentally altering the memory process?
Additionally, just as remembering is central to our existence, so is forgetting. Just because at some point in the future we may be able to document a person’s entire lifetime with a wealth of data, including physiological data, should we? Just this year, researchers from the University of Basel discovered the musashi protein, a protein that appears to inhibit molecules that stabilize synaptic connections. These connections are important for the development of memories, and based on this discovery, it appears that forgetting is an active biological process. The biological processes behind remembering and forgetting appear to work together, and forgetting is not just a passive process ; we most likely forget for a reason, even if more research is necessary to discover why.
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Want to cite this post?
Strong, K. (2014). “Lifelogging” and neurophysiological computing: Will we forget how to forget? The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/08/lifelogging-and-neurophysiological.html