The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

TECHNOLOGY AS A SUBSTITUTE BRAIN
With gigantic hard drives available for reasonable prices, and terabyte- gigabyte-sized email accounts available for free, what further use do we have for our old-style squishy brains? That's the consensus of discussions and presentations at this year's World Wide Web Conference:
"There is very little reason for anyone to throw anything away," Rick Rashid, head of research for Microsoft Corp., said of how the latest Internet software, cheap data storage and networked communication, can help preserve personal memory.

Forget, for the moment, your mother's advice about the wisdom of spring cleaning. And suspend those nagging Big Brother doubts you
may have about what can happen when mountains of personal data slips out into public view.
The "why bother deleting?" concept is a key part of Google's pitch for Gmail and its gigabyte of storage. It's a meme that's occurred naturally enough, with the tremendous drop in price for hard drive storage devices; that economic factor is the key to so much of modern computing technology innovations, from multimedia PCs to Tivos to iPods.

The privacy concerns that arise from an all-digital, all-archived existence, and how they can be perceived in a positive light, is something I just referenced concerning the upcoming June 2004 issue of Reason magazine.

I've touched on this theme before, particularly in the blend of blogging, storage and search technology to make a reality of Vannevar Bush's proposed Memex machine. The more recent SenseCam project from Microsoft is another move in this direction, as noted in the WWW2004 writeup.

While this is all very hopeful, forward-looking stuff, I can't help but be reminded of one fundamental impediment: The nomadic nature of data in the digital age. Do you really want to entrust your precious memories to an mp3 file that won't be readable by the media player du jour 50 years from now (or whatever file/app combination you currently use; the problem will be persistent regardless of format)? As I noted back then, computer technology is very weak in paying attention to backward compatibiity, especially long-term. Until this basic approach is addressed, the substitute brain is going to be a shaky proposition.