One day I’m sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves. But because I’ve been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data.
In some ways similar to Stephen Wolfram, Gordon Bell at Microsoft has engaged in an attempt to record his “LifeBits” using a ‘wearable’ computer to record video and capture what goes on in his life. In my opinion, Stephen Wolfram has done Gordon Bell one better by collecting data over a much longer period and of a much wider range than Gordon Bell accomplished within the scope of LifeBits. Reading Wolfram’s summary of all his data plots is as interesting as seeing the plots themselves. There can be no doubt that Stephen Wolfram has always and will continue to think differently than most folks, and dare I say most scientists. Bravo!
The biggest difference between MyLifeBits versus Wolfram’s personal data collection is the Wolram’s emphasis on non-image based data. The goal it seems for the Microsoft Research group is to fulfill the promise of Vannevar Bush’s old article titled “As we may think” printed in the Atlantic, July 1945. In this article Bush proposes a prototype of a more ‘visual computer’ that would act as a memory recall and analytic thinking aid. He named it the Memex.
Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell of Microsoft Research, seemed to be focused on the novelty of a camera carried and taking pictures automatically of the area immediately in front of it. This log of ‘what was seen’ was meant to help cement visual memory and recall. Gordon Bell had spent a long period of time digitizing, “articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally.” This over emphasis on visual data I think if used properly might be useful to some but is more a product of Gordon Bell’s own personal interest in seeing how much he could capture then catalog after the fact.
Stephen Wolfram’s data wasn’t even necessarily based on a ‘wearable computer‘ the way MyLifeBits seems to be. Wolfram built in a logging/capture system into things he did daily on a computer. This even included data collected by a digital pedometer to measure the steps he would take in a day. The plots of the data are most interesting in comparison to one another especially given the length of time over which they were collected (a much bigger set than Gordon Bell’s Life Bits I dare say). So maybe this points to another step forward in the evolution of Lifebits perhaps? Wolfram’s data seems to be more useful in a lot of ways, he’s not as focused on memory and recall of any given day. But maybe a synthesis of Wolfram’s data collection methods and analysis and Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits capture of image data might be useful to a broader range of people if someone wanted to embrace and extend these two scientists’ personal data projects.
- Stephen Wolfram – The Personal Analytics of My Life (adafruit.com)
- 5 Things I Learned About the Future from Stephen Wolfram (readwriteweb.com)