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RECALL: Enhanced Human Memory

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Developing tools to enhance human memory

The EU-funded RECALL project has been exploring ways of using technology to augment human memory, for instance by feeding data from purpose-built personal memory banks onto screens and other interfaces to replay and remind people of key information from events in the recent or distant past.

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Four European universities came together in the three-year RECALL project to research the possibilities of using technology to augment human memory. The project has provided the academic groundwork for producing tools that will benefit society across a wide range of applications. The researchers, led by Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications (SCC) in the UK, conducted trials involving almost 1 000 people in campus, workplace and domestic environments, taking care to put ethical considerations first. Our lives are increasingly recorded Recent developments in capture technology and information retrieval allow for continuous and automated recordings of many aspects of our everyday lives. Wearable cameras mean many people undertake the regular logging of their activities (sometimes known as ‘life logging’). Such material could join other data in building memory banks to draw on for later activities and in older age. ‘Technology will soon be able to capture just about everything we do. It’s a question of how you can use all that data,’ explained SCC’s Professor Nigel Davies, RECALL project coordinator. ‘We are not so much interested in trying to create a big searchable database, but more allowing you to take the info you’ve been exposed to, decide what you want to remember, and providing you with cues to help you with subsequent recall.’ Students and elderly people alike can benefit RECALL focused on giving healthy individuals memory recall beyond their natural capabilities. The project was mainly software-based and assumed a range of data feeds, including life-logging cameras that take photos up to every 30 seconds. The aim was to create software prototypes that extracted the most important data and fed it back to the user later. In total, four trials were conducted, one by each partner. SCC made available, on displays around the University of Lancaster, highlights of previous lectures to students awaiting their next classes. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart worked with people in their homes, using alarm clock-type devices to send on-line reminders of checks and activities they had to be complete during the day. Those at the University of Lugano in Switzerland recorded business meetings and delivered key information from them as memory cues to help executives in their next meetings. Meanwhile, psychologists at the University of Essex in the UK studied a theory called retrieval induced forgetting, where one event or item is remembered at the expense of another, opening up the potential for manipulation of human memory. Ethical considerations The latter example perhaps illustrates why privacy and control of data was such an important part of the RECALL project. ‘A lot of the data will be very personal. One of the challenges is how you manage to process it in a way that protects people’s privacy. You want to provide the user with full control of all the data captured, who it is shared with and how such digital assets can be disposed of in the future,’ Prof Davies pointed out. The researchers concluded that sophisticated devices could be developed to help millions of people across Europe whether these consist of memory aids for elderly people suffering from some degree of dementia or learning aids for students and professionals in key sectors such as healthcare and engineering.


RECALL, memory, dementia, retrieval induced forgetting, data, life logging, cameras, ethics, privacy, control