Solutions for Senior Moments

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A technology currently being tested among IBM employees dynamically links images, sounds and text recorded in a memory database. Dubbed “Pensieve,” the tool facilitates the recall of key data points people experience on a daily basis.

A photo of a contact made at a trade show, for instance, will be associated with a picture of that person’s business card if the photos were taken at the same time and location. The data record includes the person’s image, the conference and the date and time.

“The software was developed to solve ‘tip of the tongue’ situations, sometimes called ‘senior moments,’” said Yaakov Navon, lead researcher and image processing expert for IBM’s Haifa Research Lab in Israel. “We know something but cannot recall [it].”

Memories can be queried by time, location, contact name or phone number. The search engine preceded the technology, but processing engines and user interface were developed for it.

The database was created with both businesspeople and everyday consumers in mind.

“Each target has somewhat different needs,” Navon said. “Businesspeople meet with other people whom they would like to recall later and are exposed to a lot of information that otherwise might get lost. Everyday consumers might want a life-log of their whereabouts and experiences, which they might want to later share with friends and family.”
Images and other data are downloaded from mobile devices and broken out by their relationships to meetings on the user’s calendar. For example, digital pictures taken during an event on the user’s calendar, such as a conference or trade show, are grouped together and named by the calendar item.

Then the information is reviewed at a deeper level so as to derive higher-level constructs, Navon said. “For example, if a name, e-mail address and phone number were identified in an image, this is probably a person's contact information. If a date or a range of dates, a name of a city and words like ‘conference’ or ‘meeting’ were found, this is probably a calendar event.”

IBM employees are testing the database and studying user behavior and needs. IBM envisions rollout of the software running on mobile phones, but in the test, all data processing and recall occur on a server accessible through a Web interface.

When it comes to the consumer market, Gordon Bell, principal researcher at Microsoft, is working to develop a similar application. Bell has built is own personal virtual memory called MyLifeBits on a Dell laptop “as a clutter eliminator, as a surrogate memory, as a permanent record and store of all my communication and financial-legal-professional transactions, as ambience, as ultimately digital immortality,” he said.

An elaborate tagging mechanism allows for a personal interpretation of how data should be collected and stored. It lets a user build a custom “filing” or organizational structure, add voice or text comments regarding the grouping and make classifications. Bell said he’s working to make these features automatic.

“Our belief is that people, including ourselves, are unwilling to spend any time at all organizing and worrying about their ‘life bits’ because they are too busy living,” Bell said.

Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Chicago, who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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