Microsoft Research project “MyLifeBits” at PARC 2/2004

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Gordon Bell was once one of the main engineers at DEC working on the PDP-11 and VAX mainframes. Now, he’s at Microsoft Research in a project aiming to capture much of his life digitally — scans of all books and papers he’s written, photos from his life, and recently, copies of all emails, IMs, phone calls sent/received since the project started. And even some TV shows he watches. (The scope here isn’t as wide as for some “ubiquitous computing” pioneers, who wear AV recording equipment virtually 24/7.)

This is an extreme version of a trend that’s been happening for all of us, and the aim is to identify ways of managing the storage and retrieval.

A program on Gordon’s laptop captures all of this flow and stores it in a db on the laptop. It’s accessible via iPhoto-like thumbnails and SQL queries. They’re working on creating auto-classification mechanisms…there seems to be little meta-data for these resources, either. (Just “Dublin Core” for papers and books.)

Surprisingly, Gordon talked of the difficulty of copying lots of photos to his daughter’s hd, but they haven’t thought much about automating sharing with the people experiencing the events recorded this way. (This is typical Microsoft/Apple mindset: solve it on a PC rather than a server (or peer network).) The sharing challenge seems just as difficult as the indexing/retrieval challenge.

A good point from the audience:You’d want to enable diff authorization for diff pieces. For example, you wouldn’t want everyone to see footage of you in the bathroom, but you might want to allow your doctor.

Creating the interface for such massive storage, to allow casual users to easily find things, regardless of whether it’s an email, photo, music track, etc seems like the next great “killer app” challenge.

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