A look at the so-called cloud memory trend, where automated tools are allowing people to instantly transcribe the events and experiences that make up their daily lives and store them in the cloud for later access.
In The Future of Wearable Tech, iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs explore the evolving form and function of our Internet-connected devices. This series, based on a recent report, looks at the rise of wearable technologies and their impact on consumer lifestyles.
In a courtroom, few forms of evidence can be as damning or as freeing for the accused as an eyewitness account. As more people regularly carry devices, including smartphones, tablets and forthcoming wearable technologies, that are capable of recording real-time data, images and video, many are realizing they have tools that can help serve justice. In many cases, these tools may provide more reliable accounts of events than any ordinary human can recite from memory.
“People embrace eyewitness testimony so uncritically because they believe that memory can accurately and pristinely store events and replay them for you later on,” said Elizabeth Loftus, Stanford University professor of Psychology and Law.
The truth is that our brains are not the video recorders we think they are, and individual memories are subject to all kinds of stretching and manipulation thanks to the inherent flexibility of our own brains. So how do we ensure that the stories we tell ourselves and others are based on fact? How do we create an accurate account of our experiences when the simplest and most intuitive tool for recording is so deeply fallible?
Similar to the numerous devices that seamlessly track our calories, sleep, steps and laps, there are new automated tools that can transcribe events and experiences that make up our daily lives then storing them in the cloud for later access via our various Internet connected devices. Wearable technology, in particular the kind of devices that pair sensor, tiny cameras and microphones, is bringing forward instantaneous and searchable histories that some believe could someday replace the brain’s often flawed recording capabilities by relying on seemingly endless memory space provided by so-called Internet cloud technologies.
Some are calling this continuous recording trend Cloud Memory, and while it could be another example of offloading tasks to technology it actually might lead to clearer understanding of current events that with age become more accurate histories than literary accounts.
Certainly the phenomenon of capturing and sharing video and photographs online is nothing new, but the self-driven aspect of these new technologies distinguishes Cloud Memory from some of the social media trends of the last decade.
Devices like Autographer use a complex array of sensors to determine for itself when events and conditions warrant documentation and snap a photo. Without having to take something out of your pocket or open an app, you have a signpost planted at each moment of transition in your day.
Similarly, Neurocam takes photos automatically using your smartphone. It decides to trigger the shutter based on analysis of the device owner’s brainwaves. When Neurocam detects that its owner’s level of interest in what’s going on in the world rises to a predetermined threshold, it knows to snap a photo. By taking these photos on their own, these technologies don’t just simplify the picture-taking process, they tap into the deepest curiosity by reacting instantaneously to our emotional reaction. Whatever causes ample stimulus, or higher awareness, is what Neurcam captures, possibly even quicker than a person can think to push the shutter button on a camera.
In addition to putting someone else in charge of the shutter, devices emerging as part of the Cloud Memory trend are changing the way we collect memories by documenting histories instead of just moments. Capturing sound or images in a continuous stream wipes away the artificial divisions between our experiences, exposing the patterns woven into a whole life. Work, play, weekday, weekend – we divide our lives and, in the process, lose sight of how friendship or confusion or good food or inspiration may actually be present in all aspects.
“Even more complicated than archiving a file is the preserving a process, whose data may extend across a variety of applications and systems.” says Sean Koehl, Intel Labs technology evangelist on Wired Magazine’s Innovation Insights blog.
Koehl was talking about hardware and software which, once obsolete, becomes an island on which your data is marooned, but he could just as easily be describing our photos, relegated to categories and divided out from the seamless torrent of experience.
Devices like Autographer or Narrative Clip (formerly Memoto) log our lives as a process that spans multiple platforms – a break from the files-and-folders approach that divides our experience into stand-alone moments. Stream of consciousness as memory archive.
As we follow this trend outward, the development of new and more complex sensors may allow for the archiving of more than images or sound. What about emotional logs that span entire days or weeks? Or better, a library that maps emotional and physical states alongside a visual or auditory record so that users can truly step back and observe both the events of their lives and the impact they have on them.
The success of Kickstarter campaigns for devices like Narrative Clip and the audio recorder Kapture says something for their appeal, but the all-seeing, always-on approach employed by many of these new wearable devices raises some difficult questions.
In a New York Times blog piece, Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, was quoted saying “Whenever something mysterious happens we ask: ‘Why can’t we hit rewind? Why can’t we go to the database?’ We want to follow the data trail and know everything that we need to know. The big question is: Who is going to be in control of that recording and data?”
Designed to be unobtrusive, these devices work because they catch even our most spontaneous and prereflective behaviors. But this is why some are put off by Google Glass, whose functionality dovetails with Cloud Memory. The prospect of being captured on film with our guard down raises concerns about etiquette, privacy and how entitled someone is take and even distribute our image.
Jeff Jarvis, Professor at City University of New York and author of Public Parts dismissed such questions in another New York TImes blog. “When you’re in public, you’re in public. What happens in public, is the very definition of it,” he wrote. “I don’t want you telling me that I can’t take pictures in public without your permission.”
But not everyone agrees with Jarvis’ expansive definition of “public.”
Many places of business ban recording devices outright and we all probably know a person or two who would do the same when they’re out with friends, if they could. And what about public restrooms or hospitals? With their tiny, automatic camera snapping away on its own, users may inadvertently cross the line between public and private and wind up with a life-log that even Jarvis would cringe at.
Not surprisingly, designers of wearable technology have set out to address questions of “What happened yesterday? Last week? Last year?” In the process, they are driving us into new and deeper ones.
As the stream of images, sound and memory spool out from these devices like so much film uncoiling from a canister, we’ll undoubtedly find the answers and possible the truth…coming to us from the cloud.
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