Windows: Your life’s operating system?

22 Feb 2004|Darrel Rhea

When one lives in Palo Alto, one is expected to celebrate unabashed nerdism. Here, brilliant nerds bask in the attention of an elite technology community who slathers attention upon them. The more esoteric the research inquiry, the higher the status.

Dropping by PARC research center after dinner, my wife and I listened to a talk by Gordon Bell (a “Father of Computing” figure and a driver behind the VAX computer), and researcher Jim Gemmell of Microsoft. Their project is called “MyLifeBits.” Here is my sketch of Gordon:

Gordon croped jpeg.jpg

They are attempting to log into their computers as much of their human experience as they can, and prototype a system for searching it. Everything goes in, and I mean everything. Every website they visit, every CD, piece of video, audio recording, phone call, photograph they own, ad infinitum. Very ambitious.

This is interesting in terms of its implications on operating systems (this research will impact Longhorn (the next version of Windows) and therefore will be something that impacts most of our lives). But much more interesting to me are the thorny questions this inquiry raises about the future…..

Imagine if you had this cyber-person’s repository. Sitting on the couch, you can now review your entire life. Thoughts, musings, music, video of events and meetings, everything you have heard and read. A scrapbook of your experience, with teraflops of data on just you.

Question #1: How will your view of yourself change?

If you bothered to review any of it, your self awareness would have increase dramatically. Would you start changing your habits? Could it motivate you to be a better, more moral, more productive person? How soon until there are programs to filter, analyze and interpret your life for you? (“I’m registering a class five rating in cyber morality, but I’m only a class one on intellectual growth.” I keep making the same mistakes over again.)

Question #2: How will you feel about others getting access?

“Your honor, I move to enter the complete experiential data base of the defendant into evidence. It will show a clear pattern of deceit and evil intentions. Here is a video of the defendant stealing a candy bar at age 7.” (Doah!) “And she has neglected to wash her hands before leaving the bathroom 63% of the time!” (Objection!)

Question #3: Who owns your data base?

“Your honor, my client believes that these memories of these shared experiences belong to her, and as part of these divorce proceedings she demands a full access, and further, the right to edit out any moments or data that is personal in nature that might cause her embarrassment in the future.” (Wait, those were moments with my MY kids!)

“Your honor, this data base captures the basis for intellectual property owned by our company. It was accumulated during a period when the defendant was employed by us over that twelve year period. To prevent these experiences from benefiting our competition, we demand that we be given full rights to all of these memories and that we be able to sell them, and that they be expunged in their entirety from the data base of our former employee.” (Wait, those are MY thoughts!)

Question #4: How will it change the nature of experience?

“I’ll think about that later.” “I’ll feel that later.” “I’ll just be in data collection mode for a while.”

Question #5: Are there memories you don’t want?

Do you really want to relive those bad, intense experiences again? How much pain do you want to recycle? How healthy is it?

Other questions abound, but that should get you thinking. Windows: your life’s operating system? (Unrecoverable Error, message #4329: see your network administrator. Access denied.)

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