Jaded tech press and armchair pundits sniffed this year that International CES is a waste of time, no longer needed. But if you knew where and how to look, you could see the future of human memory and communication staring you right in the face.
Lifelogging and lifestreaming have been around for years, but as a niche realm of computing.
Lifelogging is when you use technology to capture events, documents and experiences and keep them in a chronological timeline.
Lifestreaming is similar in that you capture everything, but for the purpose of sharing the details of your life with other people.
Lifelogging is keeping everything; lifestreaming is sharing everything.
Both lifelogging and lifestreaming have lived on the fringes because the payoff never seemed worth the effort.
If this year's International CES is any indication, it looks like lifelogging and lifestreaming is about to get a lot easier thanks to two other buzzwordy trends: wearable computing and the quantified self.
The Core is a sensor that fits in a wristband. When you wear it, the Core tracks the steps you take and the sleep you get. (It also provides benefits unrelated to sensing, such as blinking-light and vibration smartphone notifications.)
Because the Core is a tiny, removable sensor, it's easy to speculate that Sony and other companies could make all kinds of devices to use with it -- fitness bands, smartphone cases, necklaces, shoe clips -- even as Sony adds more features to the Core over time.
But the real magic is in a smartphone lifelogging app that comes with the Core. That's where you can see the data gathered by the device. But the app also monitors other things, such as the music you listen to, the social networking you do and the calls you make.
The app is tracking both your physical state and smartphone interaction over time, and telling you at the end of the day what you did all day. You can also press a button to record a "life bookmark" and your entire situation will be captured and can be recalled later in the app.
If you kept a diary or journal, you might write: "Dear diary: I woke up late today and went for a bike ride (It's Sunday, after all!). Then I listened to some podcasts while cleaning up around the house. I had lunch with Janet, and came home and took a nap. I spent some time catching up on email and Facebook, then watched a movie. I felt kind of under the weather today."
The Sony Core should be able to write this journal entry for you (it doesn't write journal entries, but it records the same information and for the same reason).
The Core probably won't be a great product for the masses right away, but it represents the future of something incredible. It combines lifelogging (capturing everything) with wearable computing (fits into a notifications bracelet) and performs quantified self functions (monitors your biological status).
Now imagine a few years of improvements in sensor technology, miniaturization, increased compute power and more powerful phones and apps and it will be easy to keep a detailed record of everything you do and everything that's happening with your mind and body. And you'll be able to annotate it with voice or text.
That memoir will practically write itself.
Rochester Optical Manufacturing was the first company to publicly offer prescription glasses designed to work with Google Glass.
More than a dozen competitors to Google Glass are expected to ship in 2014, and many of these have cameras.
CES featured companies displaying ski goggles, scuba masks and helmets outfitted with cameras, some of them able to stream live to a website over the data connection of a smartphone.
A clear theme emerged at CES that very good cameras are becoming available on just about any object you might put on your face or head.
Other lifelogging and lifestreaming cameras I've told you about in this space before, such as the Autographer and Narrative Clip (formerly called the Memoto), are now shipping.
Over the next couple of years, it will become socially acceptable to wear such cameras and film random experiences in your life. Uploaded to social media or to a private server, they will respectively create a very detailed photographic memory of your life organized chronologically.
I've noticed that with Google Glass, it's hard to not lifelog or lifestream. It's super easy to take photos and video, and when you upload them they appear on your Google+ stream (either publicly or privately). By simply searching for your name and the auto-generated hashtag #throughglass that accompanies all Google Glass images, you see your experiences in reverse-chronological order.
And then there's Wolfram Alpha
Scientist and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram, of Wolfram-Alpha fame,launched this week an incredibly ambitious project to connect every device that's connected to the Internet -- from smart toothbrushes to smart watches to smart refrigerators -- and extract their data and apply algorithms to make sense of that data.
Wolfram's Connected Devices Project sounds impossible, but so do other projects Wolfram has taken on and succeeded with.
The bottom line is that if every dumb device in our possession turns smart (becomes connected to the Internet), Wolfram's project and other future initiatives and projects should enable us to harvest all kinds of data about our lives, our health and our experiences.
Now, if you're asking yourself why would anyone want this, the answer is: Because we're human.
Why did ancient people make cave paintings and stone statues? Why did we embrace paintings? Why did we embrace photos? Why did we embrace video?
Human beings like to make things to remember and share experiences. Throughout the history of mankind, we've always embraced the better, higher-resolution, more-details way to do this.
Lifelogging and lifestreaming are just super high-tech cave paintings. Combined with wearable computing and the quantified self, lifelogging and lifestreaming are going to be super easy to do, and the results will be even more compelling and addictive than selfies, Snapchat and social networking.
So remember International CES 2014. Because next year, you won't have to.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.
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