16 May 2007

Letter in response to "A Digital Life" -- Sci. Am.

Here's the final text of letter I wrote in response to the article below (which was never published). Felt the letter and the article give one compelling vision of an information-rich future where data mining will be all important.

I read with great interest Gordon Bell's and Jim Gemmell's recent article in
Scientific American about the MyLifeBits project. The concept of recording
all the events in a person's life into a digital lifestream is fascinating.  The
logical complement of a such lifestream would be the personal genome.  Coupling
a person's genome, molecular blueprint, with the lifecourse he has taken would
potentially enable us to address one of the major questions in genetics: how
genes and the environment interrelate, or put more simply, the relationship
between nature and nurture. As the article points out, privacy is an essential
aspect of this discussion. However, one nuance that wasn't raised is the idea
that revealing personal information -- be it from your genome or your
"lifestream" -- potentially compromises not only your privacy but also that of
your friends and relatives. For example, an individual could consent to posting
his genome on the web, but what about his parents and children? Or what about a
day's worth of your videostream: did all the people that crossed your
path consent? Surely, the law needs to be revised to address these
important concerns.

March 2007 issue
A Digital Life
New systems may allow people to record everything they see and hear--and even
things they cannot sense--and to store all these data in a personal digital archive
By Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell

Human memory can be maddeningly elusive. We stumble upon its limitations every
day, when we forget a friend's telephone number, the name of a business contact
or the title of a favorite book. People have developed a variety of strategies
for combating forgetfulness--messages scribbled on Post-it notes, for example,
or electronic address books carried in handheld devices--but important
information continues to slip through the cracks. Recently, however, our team at
Microsoft Research has begun a quest to digitally chronicle every aspect of a
person's life, starting with one of our own lives (Bell's). For the past six
years, we have attempted to record all of Bell's communications with other
people and machines, as well as the images he sees, the sounds he hears and the
Web sites he visits--storing everything in a personal digital archive that is
both searchable and secure....