Total Recall

Technology’s ultimate purpose is to improve people’s quality of life. One aspect of improving quality of life is to provide or enhance abilities that are missing, diminishing, or otherwise in need of improvement. Memory is one such ability.

The idea of Total Recall is to be able to remember when an event happened, where it happened, who was there, why it happened, and how we felt. Total Recall aims to amass memories, experiences, and ultimately knowledge from an individual perspective and for a multitude of individuals.

It starts with the use of personal sensors, like a microphone in a pair of glasses or a camera in a necklace; it wold include other sensors, all of which would record an individual perspective of the world. (This recording is intended to be continuous and under user control.)

But, Total Recall is not simply an individual memory enhancer. It could have many other applications, for example in health care, education, and support of elderly and people with disabilities:

  • Placing a microphone array on a hearing impaired person’s glasses can allow collection of audio that gets converted to text and displayed on a PDA in near real time.
  • Being able to recall a patient’s food intake and recent environments can help discovery of allergies.
  • Monitoring food intake of diabetics can provide automatic warning signals when appropriate.
  • Being able to review a patient’s state before and after a serious health problem, like a heart attack, can help doctors arrive at a more accurate diagnosis in an emergency situation.

Some people’s first reaction, when they hear about a system that records everything, at every moment, and everywhere you go, is fear. After all, who knows who else might get their hands on this information? But the reality is that this is already starting to happen around us. For instance, there are cameras (webcams) everywhere—on traffic lights, on highways, in buildings. We expect that a world that is constantly recording will come sooner or later.

There are many benefits to such technology, as well as drawbacks, and keeping them in balance requires both technical and legal/social solutions. From the technological point of view, we need to design and build systems that provide proper security, privacy, and integrity mechanisms. Such mechanisms should enable a wide variety of policies so that legal/social policy development is not hampered by a paucity of technical alternatives. Without technical flexibility, the inevitable development of technology may result in poor policy by default.

There are always scary uses of technology, but we believe this technology can result in much good, if done right. We have enhanced our eyesight with glasses and our timekeeping ability with watches, so why not enhance our memories as well?