IBM Unveils Hogwarts-Inspired Personal Memory Vault

Forget about forgetfulness: IBM scientists have come up with a high-tech way to help you remember every name, face and phone number you encounter. The technology — named “Pensieve,” in a nod to the magical memory machine from the Harry Potter series — uses data from your mobile devices to build and store connections from your day-to-day experiences.

Pensieve, its creators claim, can actually recognize not just information but also the context in which it occurred — conceptually mimicking the human mind’s association-based memory system. The tool isn’t yet publicly available but is nearing completion in IBM’s Israel-based lab.

A Personal Assistant

Pensieve requires a bit more human interaction than its Hogwarts counterpart. The technology works by piecing together bits of data collected on devices you’re already carrying. For example, after meeting someone new, you might take a photo of him on your cell phone. You could then take a photo of his business card, and Pensieve would link the two images together with time and location information — from either your phone or another mobile device, such as a GPS (global positioning system) — to help you remember all the details.

“This is like having a personal assistant for your memory,” IBM Haifa Research Lab Lead Researcher Dr. Yaakov Navon explained. “Our daily routines are overflowing with situations where we gain new information through meetings, advertisements, conferences, events, surfing the Web, or even window shopping. Instead of going home and using a general Web search to find that information, Pensieve helps the brain recall those everyday things you might normally forget.”

Interaction Abilities

The software also interacts with your existing technology, such as phone- or computer-based calendar systems. If you were to plan a future meeting with your newly acquainted associate, for example, Pensieve could refresh your memory of the circumstances surrounding the original meeting — including what else happened immediately before and after the event.

“This is where the real power of collaboration kicks in,” researcher Eran Belinsky commented. “You can recall the name of the person you met right before you entered a meeting by traversing a timeline of your experiences, or share a business trip with colleagues by creating a mashup that shows a map with an animation of your trail and the pictures you took in every location.”

Broader Benefits

Technology aside, the actual act of taking photos and later reviewing the data could prove to be just as beneficial as the system itself.

“The extra effort to do all this and sync it with your computer later would definitely help one’s memory for the information improve,” Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, told TechNewsWorld. “The difficulty is partly in making this extra effort in the first place.”

Pensieve’s limiting factor, no doubt, is its need for the user to take frequent proactive steps such as regular photo-taking — particularly considering that the typical user, by definition, already has a hard time remembering things. Incorporating something such as camera glasses, Paller suggests, could remove that difficulty — and could work just as well with or without Pensieve in place.

“[The glasses] could be set up to snap a photo of whatever you’re looking at when you signal, say, by blinking your eyes,” Paller noted. “Later, you could rehearse your whole day and store all the most important bits of information.”

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