What Would Happen If We Replaced Memory With Recordings?

Rob May of Backupify thinks technology could enable us to record every
moment of our lives, and find information from those recordings effortlessly.
Imagine being able to look up, rather effortlessly, what you were doing on January 4, 1993. Imagine in an instant seeing photos from that day and playing audio and video clips of conversations you had. Imagine being able to find quickly those words, names, and stories that are always on the tips of your tongue.

That's what could happen if we backed up our lifestream in the same way we back up our computers and smartphones.

Late last year, I interviewed Rob May of Backupify (excerpt below) in which he said he envisions a future in which all the bits and pieces and snippets of our lives will become saved, backed up, and searchable.

We (the general public, businesses, and of course those working in the technology sector specifically) believe now in the power of data, perhaps more so than the power of "knowledge," and definitely more so than the power of "information." I'm not saying data is more valuable. I'm saying we believe it has more power. You can't have information without data, after all.

The problem as I see it is that data is not memory or history. Hard data, hard evidence, is rarely what we use to piece together who we are and where we came from. We tell stories, which change and morph to better encapsulate the feeling of what happened—not "what happened" as in the evidence that was recorded. How we feel about something that happened in the past can often be more important than what happened. Our memory of an event influences that feeling. And memories are never reliable, especially the more often we remember them. Memories seem to rewrite themselves, according to research.

So what happens if we get to a technological point where it's possible to easily record and retrieve footage of every day, every meeting, every conversation, every lover's quarrel, every glance, every moment, but not through memory?
Rob May: I think we're going to see artificial intelligence advanced to the point where we're going to be able to augment our brains so that we don't have to remember so much.

Say you're talking to somebody and you think, "Oh, let me tell you about..." and it might be a restaurant or an idea or a book—whatever it is. Or, "my friend told me about... what was the name of it? Crap. I can't even remember who told me." But you'll remember some context, like, "We were sitting at that coffee shop," or "it was somebody from work." You'll have a partial recollection. The ability to go find that information—you can't search for that—but to have a service that would let you ask, "What was that book that Fred told me about over lunch a few weeks ago?"

Imagine if we have tools that can record your whole life, and you could go back and recall a conversation or recall the tweet, or the note, or the email, or whatever, and find it. Right now, if you don't know the name of something, it's hard to find.

So I think one thing you'll see is automated agents that access our data and do things to it that make it relevant to you at certain points in your life in time when you need it.

The second thing I think we'll see is a closer augmentation directly with humans. I'm a big fan of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity. I think it's going to happen. If you look out a decade or maybe two decades, the brain-machine interfaces will bring new advancements. I think we're going to be automated with chips that are going to be able to call on our own big data libraries. Everything that's ever happened to us we won't keep in conscious memory, but we'll easily be able to access via these interfaces if we want to.

It will change a lot of social relationships. I'm a believer that many of our social relationships are built on little white lies, or that we don't remember things clearly, or stories that grow bigger over time, or legendary stories. And all of that will stop, because everybody will remember how something happened.

Jill Duffy: Or they'll have all the notes from their perspective, at least.

Rob May: It could lead to the entire breakdown of society [laughs]!