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IBM Software Technology

Software Backs Up Human Memory 172

CWmike writes "Ever try to remember who you bumped into at the store a few days back? Well, you're not alone. And IBM researchers are working on software that just may help you better recollect all the forgotten pieces of your life. This week, the company unveiled Pensieve, software that stores images, sounds, and text on everyday mobile devices, then allows the user extract them later on, to help them recall names, faces, conversations and events. IBM's project is akin to one that Gordon Bell and other scientists at Microsoft Research have been working on for the past nine years."
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Software Backs Up Human Memory

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  • Pensieve? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deft ( 253558 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:56AM (#24428951) Homepage

    Did that have a meaning before harry potter, or did they have to license that?

    I mean, great name and visual from the books/movies, but a quick search only showed harry potter realted results, and didnt know it either.

    just curious.

  • BAD IDEA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:58AM (#24428971)
    The human memory works by really, really remembering things that are deemed important by you at the time. If you know you can just save everyone's name and photo to a device, it'll get marked as don't remember. And then the device gets stolen or breaks and you didn't back it up and suddenly you're an amnesiac lol.
    • good advice (Score:5, Funny)

      by deft ( 253558 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:01AM (#24428989) Homepage

      good advice!

      ill put that in my palm pilot notes right now.

    • Hah (Score:5, Funny)

      by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:13AM (#24429051)

      If only that were the case at the bar. This happens far, far too often. I'd love some kind of memory aid.

      [talking to hot woman]
      Me: "Hey. So, you're a biology nut and read Neal Stephanson in your spare time? Hey, what's your name?"
      Her: "Alice, and you are?"
      Me: "Dan. So, can you hold on a minute? I've got to run to the bathroom."

      "Must remember name is Alice"
      "Must remember name is Alice"
      "Must remember name is Alice"
      "Must remember name is Alice" ...
      "Must remember name is Alice"

      [comes back]
      Me: "So, Emily how are you doing?"
      Her: "Uhm, I'm Alice."


    • Nah.

      I can't remember all the junk anyway, so I'm already living your worst case scenario. I basically do a paper version of this already. I'd keep my eyes out for a smooth software version. I haven't eval'ed The Feature Software.

    • The human memory works by really, really remembering things that are deemed important by you at the time.

      so this is why I can remember the license plate number of the guy who cut me off, but not an anniversary, even though they have about the same digits.

    • Re:BAD IDEA! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @04:08AM (#24429577) Homepage Journal

      It's true.

      While some people claim this is evidence that computers are making us stupid (or stupid-er), the way the brain works, if it knows something is being held somewhere else, it doesn't bother to remember it. I've looked at my fiancee's phone number thousands of times since we started dating 7 years ago, and all I remember is that it has like an 8 in it. (Uh, maybe 2 8's? And theres a 6 in there somewhere?). It kind of pissed her off, but I said, "Hey, that's what cell phones are for!" Didn't fly so well though.

      The brain actually can incorporate external objects into its sense of self. In this sense, a PDA, computer, or, (shudder) Wikipedia becomes a form of external memory. And you're precisely right - losing these things (as I did with a PDA once) does make a person feel precisely like an amnesiac.

      It's also why I think that people in olden times had less trouble memorizing stuff like the Illiad than we do. (Another part was that it rhymed, and could be set to music, which also greatly help -- have you ever thought about how many thousands of song lyrics are stuck in your head?)

      Anyhow, I don't think it necessarily makes us stupider, as long as we're able to think and reason on our feet. As long as own brains have cached the most important information, who cares if we have to reference the internet to figure out what year the Dawes Act was signed?

      (I'm most amused by the name, as it's obvious someone at IBM is a Harry Potter fan.)

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by MrNaz ( 730548 )

        Mod -1: Has fiancee.

      • by javaxjb ( 931766 )

        It kind of pissed her off, but I said, "Hey, that's what cell phones are for!" Didn't fly so well though.


        It's also why I think that people in olden times had less trouble memorizing stuff like the Illiad than we do. (Another part was that it rhymed, and could be set to music, which also greatly help -- have you ever thought about how many thousands of song lyrics are stuck in your head?)

        Interjections show excitement or emotion...

      • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:40AM (#24430647) Journal

        Look at your slashdot ID. 157947 can be written as 1 - 57 - 9 - 47. Its all downhill from there.
        47 is easy if you are a Star Trek or a Hitman fan. []
        9+1 are 10. Which is how much you need to add (as you are going downhill, or backwards) to 47 to get the SECOND PAIR of numbers.

        Or you can start at 15, the first 2 digits, divide it in half like they are integers and get the 7, add 2 and get 9, add the 2's you used so far to get 4, and either subtract that 2 you added to the 9 earlier to get the final 7 or just remember that 1337 starts with 1 and ends with 7.

        Yeah... I know... I've been confusing people with my number mnemonics for years.

        I've looked at my fiancee's phone number thousands of times since we started dating 7 years ago, and all I remember is that it has like an 8 in it.

        Or, why don't you try spelling it? []

        Or use some other mnemonic []

      • Re:BAD IDEA! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:41AM (#24430653) Homepage

        If you want clinical studies on this look up the work done by Prof. Steve Mann at the University of Toronto. He has been a "cyborg" for years now. One of the co inventors of the Wearable computer (Thad Starner was the original inventor, Steve worked with him and went a different direction with it) Steve has several system in place that will pull up info on people, bring up reminders, and gps tag memories.

        Not too long ago he unplugged himself and discovered that he had created a HUGE reliance on the technology, causing a large number of problems.

        • I have a huge reliance on my PDA, which has had a huge effect on handling my organizational issues. So should I go back to being as disorganized as I used to be, instead of being the guy who does the organization? I'm just as dependent on my PDA as Steve Mann was on his Wearcam. If you use a cellphone or an addess book or a paper organizer, well, you have the same problem. This isn't a new problem, it's not a high tech problem, I'm sure Himuralabima of Babylon would have found himself just as lost without h

      • Think of it this way: one of the great benefits of technology is the ability to take for granted something that used to be difficult. Irrigation, modern medicine, mathematics, etc. Your brain would not mind having a few less mundane things to worry about constantly.Of course you balance that against the tech failing and trying to build some sort of failsafe, like a hard copy of your memories or whatever. :-O
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by foobsr ( 693224 )
      And then the device gets stolen or breaks ...

      More likely, it will be taken [] by your DHS to fight 'global terrorism'.

  • Uh (Score:4, Funny)

    by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:05AM (#24429011) Homepage Journal

    What were we JUST talking about?

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      And if the people you were just talking to were high too they won't have any idea either... (Not verbatim I don't think but, well, there's a reference that shows my age a little bit too well.)

  • How much do you want to bet that when finished not one politician will own one of these. It would be toooooooo easy to be caught lying, conning and being a politician in general.

  • What?! By this time they should've built a direct brain interface, a la Johnny Mnemonic. I'll definitely need one of those if I want to live to be 1000 >_<

  • by Jager Dave ( 1238106 ) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `96edudregaj'> on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:11AM (#24429049)
    This was invented awhile ago... it's called a legal pad. []
    • ever noticed that legal pads are such an awkward size, and that the business world runs on 8.5x11 memos? people faxing legal pad notes sludges our printer into using 11x17 paper.

      Let's talk software.

      • by ashitaka ( 27544 )

        Actually the business World runs on A4.

        only the US and Canada along with a couple of other small countries use 8.5 x 11 (US Letter)

  • LISTER: (upon seeing a large needle that KRYTEN just removed the air from) Kryten, what's that for?
    KRYTEN: It's a mental emetic.
    LISTER: A what?
    KRYTEN: A mind enema -- so we can flush out your brain.
    LISTER: Nobody's flush'n out my brain.
    KRYTEN: We'll transfer it back afterwards.
    LISTER: You are not sticking that thing in my head.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      Thank god you didn't bring out a polymorph quote:

      Lister: Lemon juice? (holds up canister)
      Cat: What the hell is that?
      Lister: It's a syringe.
      Cat: What kind of syringe?
      Lister: It's for cows -- artificial insemination.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They call it Homeland Security.

  • by MeditationSensation ( 1121241 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:26AM (#24429113) Homepage

    I feel like with the advent of Google, Wikipedia, searching my old Gmail messages... it's been easier than ever for me to not remember things. Remember how ancient people used to memorize huge poems and religious texts? Granted, a lot of this relied on mnemonics and repetitive passages, but I can't help but feel modern human memory is poor compared to the way it used to be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yold ( 473518 )

      There is a hell of a lot more stuff to know. In ancient Africa there were people who recorded the oral traditions of their culture with songs. That was there job. People still memorize the Quran, front-to-back, in fact it is all that is taught in some schools. A few people had the job of memorizing considerable amounts of information, while others toiled in the fields.

      We are a hell of a lot more educated than any generation before us. It's common for people to spend 16-20 years in school. You'd be middle

      • "I think that any college educated person has the same amount of information in their brain as someone who recored a hundred hours of oral history and song."

        Much of the information we intake is recorded subconsciously, until we know exactly how and why memories are stored and what triggers memory storage, human memory varies vastly differently between people. They remember vastly different things, and if you don't use the information frequently it will be harder to retrieve, if at all. It's a "use it or l

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      How odd is this? Earlier today (and I promise to not cheat and only include a little) my wife and I were discussing the same topic. Only it was about, "Err... Did you remember to write down my appointment so we can enter it into the computer when we get home?" (I've been doing a lot of *good* doctor's visits lately as in getting healthy again.)

      She said she hadn't but it was written down. Good thing too because by the time it comes around we'll have forgotten if we didn't actually enter it in with in 48 hour

      • I got about halfway through your comment before I fell asleep from boredom.

    • As long as nobody comes and forcefully installs the electronic devices into my body and connects me against my will to a network, I'm cool with it.

      Computing devices and the human brain work in very different ways when it comes to storing and recalling information.

      Perhaps we are simply offloading the tasks that are better suited to electronics and freeing up more of our consciousness for things it would be better at.
    • by Illserve ( 56215 )

      It may be that you're remembering more of the structure of human knowledge and less of the details.

      This is not a bad thing given the advent of the information age. The web is effectively a memory aid for all of us, allowing us to use our limited memory resources for storing information at a larger scale.

      I think we've been augmenting our brains with external tools since the development of cave-paintings.

  • No thanks (Score:5, Funny)

    by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:38AM (#24429169) Homepage Journal

    I'll stick to my system of polaroids and tattoos

  • Just what we need (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kissaki ( 1205692 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:43AM (#24429195)
    Technology reinforcing the illusion of identity.
    • I'm gonna go ahead and call bullshit on you. Can you, or someone else, please explain what that statement means? Identity is a state of mind - it's constantly changing based on new experiences, social influences, etc. This is just trying to provide a cool way to allow you to keep track of some extra information. Did someone say computers "reinforced the illusion of identity" because you could save a document? This is just a cool bit of tech, no more part of my identity than the list of books to take ou

  • software agents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VoidEngineer ( 633446 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:56AM (#24429237)
    Reminds me of the software agents that Manfred Macx uses in the book accelerando []. Excellent read, by the way, if you haven't already.
  • And call it "A cure for marijuana".

    • And call it "A cure for marijuana".

      Yeah, as if you're going to even bother entering stuff into this thing once you're high.
      "Note- must buy more chips"

  • by Anonymous Coward turn it on?

  • by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:37AM (#24429433)

    Ok, we can now backup our memory.

    But how do we restore it ?

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:38AM (#24429441)

    ... can it also help forget, because I have seen two girls and a cup and things that have been seen can not be unseen (for now).

    • "The Memory cannot be destroyed, Houghi, son of Hoin, by any craft that we here possess. The Memory was made in the fires of Mount Luxor. Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Vegas and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence [sic] it came."
        - Fellowship of the Cup

  • by MarkByers ( 770551 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:39AM (#24429449) Homepage Journal

    I worked on a very similar project but now I can't remember what it's called.

  • RTFA (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I just got something: It's "Read The Featured Article". I thought It was somthing else... Someone should really write these things out occasionally. My opinion of slashdotters everywhere has risen slightly. Consequently, opinions of me may lower... But I don't care what the world thinks of mw. FTW!

  • Recording everything that happens to you is easy, that techs been around for ages now. What I'm interested in, and what was only given glancing mention, is how it's actually searched through and retrieved. Most people get annoyed with me if I take two minutes to search through my email for something, and that's just a plain text search. I can't even imagine the problems of trying to search for "That guy...who had a hat...and who said...stuff. What was his name?"
  • Now if BMI could only come up with a system to remember acronyms... In all seriousness, this seems to be the new paradigm. I admit that a camera phone and evernote have turned me into a compulsive forgetter. I agree with posters above that there is simply more to remember than ever before, but I also agree that we don't use memory as much... it is considered bad education to use rote memorization; we value creativity above skill. Interesting books on the subject -- 'The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci' and
  • by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @04:09AM (#24429583) Journal

    The "pensieve" is a stone bowl that the user can put their memories in for viewing later, and was used to reveal some important plot points.

  • Recall is. All of us have vast, insane amounts of memory, but we can't always recall the things that are stored there. And then there are cases when you don't remember something and then it all comes to you in vivid, minute detail.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kaeles ( 971982 )
      I'm not so sure about that, in the research I've done in psychology, most of the evidence points to forgetting at LEAST 50% of what you've seen/studied in a day unless you repeat it several times. This is why its so important to write, speak, and look at things when you are studying. It also helps to visualize putting things in "rooms" in your "brain house". That way the memories are organized and made to seem more important. The more important something seems, the more likely you will remember it.
  • Kinda of an interesting idea to have our phone, PC, wearable gadgets to constantly monitor and record every moments of our life without us knowing it.

    Sounds like the movie The Truman Show.

    Duh...that's my dad sex life I'm looking at. :D

  • hmmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @05:34AM (#24429979)
    I cannot help thinking that controlling governments and lawyers would love us all to have something like this.

    "according to you pensieve black box you were at the location of the crime at the time of the crime!"
    "oh futz!"
  • After reading TFA carefully, I realized that they didn't said anything. AT ALL. A dumb photo camera or sound recorder performs exactly as their described "genius" invention. It doesn't need to have anything to do with the brain. Harry Potter references, are you for real??
    At first, I thought its April fools, but wait ... it's not 1 April. So my question is: WTF ?

    Is it just me?
    • Had you watched the video, you would have realised that the clever thing is the storage and retrieval systems not the method of collection.

      It is very good at analysing images, video and audio and extracting the semantics and the connections between data.

      It is also very good at searching the collected data.

      The next step would be to collect the data automagically and store the data on a disk carried about your person.

  • Ever try to remember who you bumped into at the store a few days back? Well, you're not alone.

    Well, obviously, otherwhise there wouldn't have been anyone to bump into.

  • Now all i need is a life.

  • Or perhaps I read it first on some other tech site a while ago?

  • You wouldn't wan't your "memory" that you come to depend on confiscated at the border...

    all the best,


  • It's a good thing this isn't software to help dyslexics.

  • []

    Ted Nelson published a book "Computer Lib/Dream Machines" back in 1974 where he talks about this very concept if I remember correctly. There is a lot of neat ideas in that book.

    Ted also invented Hypertext as a way to store and retrieve information.

    On the recording all events around you.
    I had proposed this very idea 10 years ago to the head of a large rap music label, this is to record everything around him 24/7 to be able to provide proof to authorities every time he i

    • by ashitaka ( 27544 )

      (Get out his plastic-wrapped copy)

      Let's see where is it...

      You know. For a man who contributed a lot to the storage and management of information, CL/DM is an impossible book to find any particular citation in due to its literal cut-and-paste scrapbook layout.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.