My Life in a Terabyte

The Memex lives

In the course of our lives, we accumulate a vast amount of documents, photographs, pictures, videos and even e-mail messages that are too important to throw away, writes Martin Langham of Bloor Research.

This collection becomes a vast store of information that can often become overwhelming - filling our bookcases and studies with hard-to-find information that gathers dust. The aim of the MyLifeBits Project, run by Gordon Bell, a senior researcher for Microsoft, is to capture and store all this information in a personal repository modelled on Vannevar Bush's Memex.

Two technology trends are coming together to make this possible.

First, we increasingly live in an electronic goldfish bowl. More and more of our activities are captured automatically and electronically - from the video cameras that record our shopping trips to the e-mails we send in our business and personal lives. A high and growing proportion of our activities are now recorded electronically somewhere.

Second, storage technology will soon make it possible to store all our documents, CDs, books, photographs and other digital paraphernalia, within a personal computer.

The MyLifeBits Project is based on the concept of a Memex, developed in the seminal paper "As We May Think", by Vannevar Bush in 1945. MyLifeBits aims to put all personal documents and media online. For the last few years it has been capturing and storing Gordon Bell's articles, books, correspondence (letters and email), CDs, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings. So far, Gordon's lifetime collection amounts to less than 30 GB of storage and 12 GB of this are CDs.

But is this practical and affordable? Today, a hard drive with the capacity of 500 GB costs less than £800 or £1.60 a Gigabyte. If the price performance of storage doubles every 18 months, as it has in the past, then by 2006 a Terabyte or 1,000 Gigabytes will cost just £400 and we could afford to buy one very year.

But why do it - is it just because we can?

There are several benefits. Physical storage requirements can be reduced and we can say goodbye to all those CD racks and video cabinets that were never a good look. The super diary will enrich our lives by allowing us to go back to any period of our working and personal lives to use existing information and develop new knowledge. The history of our lives will be instantly available rather than needing to be dug out of dusty storage. The MyLifeBits project also plans to adhere to Vannevar Bush's principles for the Memex and provide advanced visual metaphors to navigate the "super diary" being created.

The security implications for such a device are interesting - it will never forget anything and people will want to protect it carefully. Its loss would be a complete disaster. Maybe the best place to keep it would be in a secure server farm rather than on the desktop or laptop, as Microsoft intend.

Given that a super diary is likely to be practical in the near future, the MyLifeBits project will make us all think about how we store and reuse the personal media that represents that sum total of our knowledge and achievements.

Sponsored: Minds Mastering Machines - Call for papers now open

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018