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Perfect memory: a little closer. :)

I was leaving the office last Friday, and had already put my coat on. I glanced at an address in an email on my laptop screen that I needed to mail some documents to. I was going to have to stop at the post office on my way out.

The problem was pretty obvious, and so was the solution. I picked up my trusty Nexus S smartphone and snapped a picture of my laptop screen. I didn't actually even read the address. I'd look it up when I was writing it in the post office.

If I had the same choice two years ago there'd be a quick mental debate instead: do I memorize the address or try to find some paper and a pen? Knowing me, I wouldn't have found the pen and the paper would be out of reach anyway.

So I'd memorize the address trusting that it'd stick until I got to the post office. I've gotten away with this ill-advised reliance on memory for quite a while. An eon ago, I was also that annoying kid who never wrote down phone numbers, because I tried to memorize them instead ... of course I forgot most of them if I didn't use them soon after. :)

But now, I actually had perfect memory! I could confidently recall the address just when I needed it. In fact, since I've set up my phone to upload photos to an online account - in theory I could remember the address forever and even without my phone.

If you're like me, your smartphone memory isn't just filled with moments you'd like to capture (that concert, that landscape, those friends), but data (that diagram from a work discussion, that address, that movie ticket confirmation number.)

It made me realize that in the reasonably-near-future, perfect memory will be an option for everyone; some people will choose to exercise this advantage earlier than others and some will use it more for business (i.e. to do more faster) than pleasure (i.e. to remember more at leisure.)

Its already _kinda_ there:
Tools have always been created so that we don't need to remember things or so that we can review them later. From address books to notepads, users of these tools have always had an advantage over those who didn't use them.

Now, as these three classes of technologies improve:
  • tools of capture: i.e. the ability to quickly capture places, pictures, notes and video - specifically the access, price and design of tools for this purpose (from digital cameras in phones to journalling software like Evernote)
  • ease of storage: i.e. as both the price of digital storage falls to near-zero, and becomes even more convenient to carry about (first shrinking physical storage like pen drives and now a direct sync to the cloud)
  • recall: the ability to quickly access and find the exact piece of memory that we need to (i.e. everything that we stored above needs to be indexed/labelled and as easy to find as it was to store.)
we get closer to perfect memory. I'm towing the Google party line here, but the profusion of mobile devices, improving broadband connectivity, and processing/storage in the cloud makes this experience pretty real for many of us today.

And this doesn't just extend to things you've seen, but of course also to sites and entire books you've read.

The trends will help:

Both technology and market trends make the availability of perfect memory inevitable.

As hardware prices fall and quality improves, connectivity gets better, and as the interest in the software to help us capture and catalog this information continues to develop - just check out the number of journalling, sketching and photography apps available now at the comparatively low App Store price points - people will be better equipped to create and access perfect memory.

Similarly, people are getting a lot better at using these tools, and changing their habits. For example, taking notes in the margins of their ebooks vs. notes on a piece of paper, or tagging things in a way that's easy for them and others to find later, or looking to their phones when they wonder about something rather than shrugging their shoulders.

But all these tools need to get much better:

But to get to true perfect memory there's a lot that still needs to happen.
  • Everything needs to get much faster or more intuitive or both: the tools to produce and consume this information, the hardware, the connectivity...
  • Significant advances will be required in how to process and understand this volume of information
  • And of course, there are tons of privacy and social implications.
I'm pretty certain its a matter of time before absolutely everything we see in the real world is cataloged away somewhere for us to access (yes, I mean we'll all be our own and a little after that we'll have the tools to actually make sense of this data.

We won't need to worry about having missed taking a photograph a toddler's first steps and will no longer have to fear questions like "Do you remember what I was wearing when we met?"

And what's the end game?

What would you do if perfect memory was a an option? I'd love to catalog everything I've read and recall it as needed when I'm constructing an argument. I'd love to remember not just books, but relevant conversations and movies and visuals.

Think about the number of times you could've closed arguments/discussions or improved their quality if data was accessible (I know for many people right now this involves typing a search term into Google or in specific verticals using an app e.g. Shazam) - but imagine that very power applied to all your personal experiences - imagine how much better it would make each of us. Its like this movie (Limitless), but with less intrigue and fewer car chases. :)

And imagine if we were allowed to tap into the personal experiences of others...

Also.. imagine the "You don't want to share your email password??!!" conversation you may have with your significant other extended to "You don't want to share the password to your entire memory??!!"

Is there a downside?

Of course! Read above.

Add to that the fact that some people will get it before others - a digital divide of a different sort. It has privacy implications that we aren't equipped for yet, but that we'll figure out.

I think it has greater implications for how we use our minds and abilities. Already, I believe we're conditioning ourselves to think about more, but less deeply (another blog post!), but most of our education and learning systems today are based on both memorizing and understanding. If we start separating the two, or treating the importance of memory very differently I think it could have far-reaching implications on our development itself.


Gautam said…
Hey -- dont forget Murphy's laws.

Knowing you -- at the post office, you would have forgotten your phone in the car 2 blocks away OR your phone would discharge 'just at the wrong time'.

Sometimes, real (brain) memory serves us well -- for everything else, there's Google (yawn)
Isaac said…
You may have already watched this but if you haven't, it's a must-see. Ties in very well with your universal/comprehensive digital memory:
Satyajeet said…
@Isaac, Thanks for the link!
Jean said…
I take a photo of our kitchen whiteboard shopping list...much easier than writing it all down! Just make sure your phone is charger =)
Sarah Hall said…
How to keep your memory perfect? How to boost it continuously? Find the answers to these and other questions by following! Good luck!

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