and Record Your Life
Our memories of events from our past are very partial and fragmentary. Even for events that we recall, our memories consist of impressions and features, not precise recordings. As I wrote in How to Create a Mind, when we recall an event we essentially hallucinate our recollections by filling in many blanks. We do not retain videos of past experiences. Even these tenuous remembrances are lost when people suffer from dementia or die.
Danielle realizes that technology can solve this problem, and begins recording her life with a system called Life Bits. Although the technology in the novel is slightly more advanced that what’s available today, it’s already possible to record amazing details of your life. You are part of the first generation in human history with the ability to create a complete multimedia record of your life and use it to recall experiences from your past, allow future AIs to access it to provide insights into your own mind, and to pass it on to the generations that come after you.
To understand why recording your life digitally is so important, it’s important to think about the two main problems with our natural memory.
- Memory is incomplete. We often think of our minds as recording everything going on around us, but science shows that this is far from the truth.1
- Our minds naturally remember moments and information that are important or stressful, but most everything else never makes it into our long-term memory. Details that seem unimportant at the time may be unavailable to your memory if you try to recall them later.
- In addition, memories tend to decay if we don’t think about them periodically. Events that you can recall in detail now might be reduced to just a few impressions when you’re older.
- Memory is unreliable. Even the things we think we remember are often not totally accurate. They can be changed2 and influenced3 by external factors.
- One reason for this is that our senses are limited, and our brains are constantly supplying information to fill in the gaps. For example, your peripheral vision is mostly in black and white, but your brain creates the illusion that everything you see is in color. When you see a stop sign out of the corner of your eye, it will seem red to you because your brain knows that stop signs are red. Most of the time, this effect makes life easier, but if this happened to be a green stop sign, you would wind up with an inaccurate memory of a red sign.
- Another problem is that recalling memories in our brains isn’t like pulling up a photograph as a file on your computer. It’s more like sketching a drawing based on a very brief Each time you remember an experience, your brain “recreates” it in your mind’s eye, which can cause the memory to change over time.
- Our brains are also lazy. They love stereotypes because they save brainpower. If you’re walking down the street and see a fight suddenly break out between a tough-looking man with tattoos and a young woman in business clothing, your brain may tell you that you saw the man start the fight—even if it was really the other way around. This is a big problem for law enforcement, because eyewitness testimony is often influenced by stereotypes the witnesses don’t even notice.
- Memories can be influenced by things other people tell you, or things you read. If you see a car accident, and another witness says to you that she saw a lot of broken glass, you might later remember seeing broken glass yourself, even if there really was none.
- Our subjective perceptions, emotions, and wishes can influence how we remember things. It’s common for people giving speeches to remember their awkward pauses as much longer than they really are, or to remember their own role in arguments as being more innocent than in reality.
With clever use of technology, you can begin to correct all of these problems. Although your own memory is incomplete, you can get more complete information by recording lots of data about your experiences. And even though your own memory is unreliable, making objective recordings gives you an alternative not influenced by your brain’s weaknesses. This is known as “lifelogging.”
Lifelogging was pioneered by Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, as part of a project called MyLifeBits.4 You may be interested to read Bell’s fascinating book5 about his experience and vision for the future. Here’s a short interview6 with Bell about the project.
There are many different options for the kinds of information to record about your life, and how intense your lifelogging efforts can be. Some people take a single webcam video every morning, while others are constantly filming themselves. What you do is up to you. But the earlier in life you start, and the more of your life you record, the more will be available to you in the future.
In general, here are the main aspects of life that you can record, along with some tips for how to do so:
- One of the most popular forms of lifelogging is for people to constantly record video and audio of their daily lives. In the novel, Danielle and Claire have this technology embedded in contact lenses, but that’s still several years away. Later they also have tiny cameras hovering in the air recording their images from different angles. In the meantime, you have a few different choices for how to record the things you see and hear.
- Wearable cameras, such as the Perfect Memory7 device, can be worn around your neck, and constantly record whatever is in front of you. When something interesting happens, you can tap the device to highlight the past few minutes of video so you can find it easily later, as shown in this demo.8 This video9 shows a time-lapse of someone’s day from her own point of view. These wearable cameras are small and lightweight, and not very noticeable. But you should still be careful about what and who you are filming. In some states you may have to notify people that you’re filming them if you’re not in a public place.
- In some cases, you may want to get a view that more closely matches your own eyes—a camera at eye level that follows your head as you look around. For example, if you’re going skydiving, whitewater rafting, or scuba diving, the sensation of looking around is a key part of your experience. The most popular option for capturing this is mounting a small, durable camera like a GoPro10 to your helmet or goggles.
- In addition to views from your own perspective, some people like to have views of themselves from the outside. Some lifeloggers set up webcams, like the Google Nest11 system, around their homes and upload the footage to the Cloud.
- Sometimes, you can record footage of yourself in public from a drone. Companies like Cape12 have developed software that allows drones to follow you around outdoors and capture high-quality video footage. This could be useful to record your athletic activities, a speech you’re giving, or a musical performance. It could also provide proof of your actions during a tense situation like a protest.
- One of the most important parts of life is the conversations we have with other people. Some conversations are major milestones, like asking someone to marry you. There are others that we only realize are important later, like valuable advice from a mentor, an insightful discussion with a friend, or a last talk with a relative who dies soon after. Recording your conversations through lifelogging lets you preserve them perfectly and recall them whenever you want.
- If you lifelog with a wearable camera, conversations you have in person will be preserved. As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced in the future, this footage will become even more useful. For example, you can already generate automated transcripts from video and search them for keywords, but in the near future you’ll be able to tell the AI to do more abstract searches. You might ask it to pull up every conversation of serious life advice, and the software will be able to find them for you. Please note, though, that when you record personal conversations with others, you should make sure they’re aware and agree to be recorded. Sometimes, you might decide that it’s better to turn off your video recording so someone can speak to you about something private.
- Chats and text messages. Regularly back up your chats and text messages to the Cloud. You can use this information to see how your relationships change and develop, and better understand what subjects you like to talk about. If you preserve this data now, you’ll be able to learn even more from it in the future, when AI can analyze it more deeply. You can even create an AI chat-bot that talks like you!
- Social media posts. Even though sites like Facebook and Twitter do a good job protecting your data, it’s always possible that you could unexpectedly lose something you post on social media. There might be a technical malfunction or an attack by hackers. Or maybe you’ll accidentally delete something yourself. By copying old posts and archiving them yourself—ideally both in the Cloud and in offline storage—you’ll always have this dimension of your life recorded. The most reliable form of backup is full incremental Cloud storage—this means archiving every version of every file. There are software attacks that can encrypt or otherwise destroy your files, even those you save in the Cloud. Incremental storage means that the Cloud system prevents any change to a file that might destroy it and you can always go back to versions of your files that are intact.
- Cameras and message archives are good for recording your experiences and conversations, but that doesn’t preserve the ideas in your mind. If you get in the habit of writing down thoughts and ideas that come to you, you can avoid losing them. This can include big things like goals and aspirations, all the way down to how you were feeling on a given day. Some lifeloggers like to keep a physical notebook or journal with them and then scan those notes onto their computers. Many of history’s most famous thinkers have been faithful about writing in a daily diary, from US President John Adams, to philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and author Lewis Carroll. By preserving your ideas in this way, you can go back later and analyze how your writing and personality evolved.
- Health data. It’s now possible to collect lots of data about your body and habits that it wasn’t practical to measure in the past. This is sometimes known as “quantified self.” Companies like Fitbit13 make wearable devices that constantly collect information about your health. You can see how much time you’re sleeping, how many steps you take in a day, how your heart rate changes throughout the day, and more. Apps like Exist14 and Instant15 connect your health and fitness data with data from your other apps and devices to help you discover patterns between them. For example, you might find that a particular music playlist inspires you to hit higher exercise goals. Or that you’re more productive with your work and ideas when you take a short nap before starting. Like with other areas of lifelogging, you’ll be able to get even deeper insights as AI gets more powerful.
- Physical objects. Many of our most precious possessions are physical objects. From old family photos to handwritten letters by our ancestors, these items are vulnerable to decay, loss, or destruction. If you scan or photograph (or record) all the objects that are meaningful to you, you can make them safe against these risks. For written documents, digitizing them also lets you convert the text to a searchable form, which makes them more useful. For example, if you upload military service records about your grandfather to Ancestry.com,16 you might get to meet an elderly man who served with him in war and has stories about him to share with you.
Recording your life has many benefits:
- Memory preservation. As explained above, lifelogging lets you use technology to make up for the weaknesses in our own memory. You can document your life in an objective and permanent way, and review it whenever you like.
- Documenting facts. Many arguments happen because people remember things differently. If you can pull a video right up and confirm what actually happened, those arguments can be settled. Similarly, if you’re ever accused of doing something you didn’t do, your lifelogging can prove your innocence—and if someone commits a crime against you, you can prove their responsibility.
- Self-improvement. Recording lots of data about yourself lets you get a better understanding of your own habits, strengths, and weaknesses, as explained in this interview17 with psychology professor Seth Roberts. With this knowledge you can plan how to improve your life. You can then set specific goals and track your progress. This applies to diet, exercise, study performance, and many other areas. You can even use lifelogging to keep track of your friendships so you can stay in touch with people and be a better friend. In this video,18 Blaine Price gives a talk on the insights he’s gained from quantified self. And in this video,19 Gary Wolf explains how extremely detailed data can unlock new understanding.
- Making discoveries. Lifelogging creates data more accurate than scientists can duplicate in a laboratory. You can use this data to make breakthrough discoveries that advance human knowledge. For example, in this TED talk,20 MIT scientist Deb Roy explains how he set up a video recording system around his home to study how his baby son learned language. Over three years, he collected about 250,000 hours of footage of his son growing up, transcribed over seven million words, and then analyzed that data to figure out the process of how babies learn language from their caregivers. In a similar way, you may be able to make new discoveries based on the data you collect and analyze.
- Forming connections. As Danielle discovers, lifelogging can be a powerful way to connect with other people around the world. In the past few years, social media has expanded opportunities for broadcasting live video of yourself over the internet, and connecting with other people in real time. If you’re on a vacation or trip, you can stream video of yourself to friends back home so they can better understand what the experience is like for you. When people see the world (almost) through each other’s eyes, there’s more room for empathy and compassion.
- Creating a legacy. To learn about your parents’ lives, you can watch old home movies, and they can tell you stories based on the small percentage of their experiences that they actually remember. To learn about your grandparents’ lives, you might just have still photos and their memories from long ago. To learn about your great-grandparents’ lives, you might only have a few letters and black-and-white photographs. For even earlier generations, many people know almost nothing of their ancestors except their names and when they lived. But recording your life in digital format means that your own children will have access to most of the same memories that you do. And because digital files can be preserved and copied, even your great-great-great grandchildren will be able to learn about you in all that detail (and given the accelerating advances in life extension, you are likely to still be around to share it with them). All the most meaningful parts of your life—your successes and failures, and the lessons you learned—can be shared with future generations.