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Child Neuropsychology A blog by Dr Jonathan Reed
  • Achieving total memory recall

    Imagine being able to remember everything you have ever learnt or experienced.   Well I have just read a fascinating book Total Recall by Graham Bell of Microsoft labs which suggests that we may soon be able to do this using digital technology.  He set up a project to see whether he could digitally record everything that happened to him, in essence to create a virtual memory.

    In order to learn and remember there is the need to encode information, store and retrieve it.  We now have the technology to do all three of these cheaply and efficiently.  We presently have lots of digital recording devices including, cameras, voice recorders, word processors, emails, answering machines, scanners, PDA’s etc, that can encode information into a virtual memory.   We have very large storage capacity in the case of hard drives (you can now store vast amounts of information even on mobile devices quite cheaply) that can act as a memory store.  In terms of memory retrieval we have sophisticated search engines either on the web or built into computers to find what we need to remember.  This is the first time in history that all three components of digital memory- encoding, storage and retrieval are available in such a cheap and easy to use way.

    The implications for this are potentially huge.  In terms of personal enhancement it should be possible to have digital devices that store and retrieve everything that happens to you. No more forgetting what you have done, where you have been, facts about the world etc.   Your whole life experience could be stored on a device for future reference.  Maybe in the future when you are no longer around people will be able to review your life through such a device.  Bell documents how he records every telephone call, uses Sensecam to record all he sees, stores all his photos, scans every document and bill he receives, stores every email, stores all his medical records  and every web page he has ever seen.  Using a program he has devised he can search for any specific piece of information (memory) and retrieve it easily.  In the future it will be possible to record personal health data such as blood pressure, diet and alcohol intake and even how many steps you take on the same device and integrate it into your memory, which will make healthcare appointments much more efficient.  The book is a fascinating read and Bell believes that this is one of the key trends for the future and that we will all be able to access such technology within the next 10 years.

    As well as personal enhancement this technology has huge implications for neuropsychological rehabilitation.  One of the most devastating consequences of child brain injury is impairment of memory.  There are some techniques that we can use to help with memory retrieval (see previous post ) but these are slow and take a lot of effort to work.  It would be far easier and more efficient to use technology to compensate. It should be possible to equip children (and adults) with memory impairment with a handheld device that will enable them to recall what they have experienced and compensate for their learning and memory problems.  This would revolutionise care for individuals with amnesia and dementia.

    I would love to use this type of technology myself.  I am one of those people who wants to learn and experience everything.  I read avidly, try to keep up with the rapidly expanding neuropsychology literature and try to experience as much as possible while I can.   However the ratio of knowledge that I retain and can retrieve I think is pretty small relative to the amount of input.   At present looking at Bell’s book and the technology available, the issue is about integrating existing technology in order to create a device or program that automatically records, stores and retrieves information.  It can’t be that hard to do as much of the technology is already available.  The challenge will be creating a user friendly program or device that works seamlessly.  Ideally there would be psychology input to match the technology with human experience.   I am not aware of any company undertaking this work at present but please let me know if anyone knows whether anything like this is being created.  Maybe one day we will all be able to achieve total memory recall of everything we have ever experienced.  It could change the world as we know it.

    Published on June 20, 2011 · Filed under: Uncategorized;
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