Less Biased Memories

Similar to the way posterity review could help academic incentives, a simple way to reduce bias about how we see our own lives is to collect more data on our lives.   From Marginal Revolution:

MyLifeBits has also provided Bell with a new suite of tools for capturing his interactions with other people and machines.  The system records his telephone calls and the programs playing on radio and television.  … stores a copy of every Web page he visits and a transcript of every instant message he sends or receives.  It also records the files he opens, the songs he plays and the searches he performs.  … MyLifeBits continually uploads his location from a portable Global Positioning System device, wirelessly transmitting the information to his archive.  … SenseCam, … automatically takes pictures when its sensors indicate that the user might want a photograph. 

How many of you would want this?  I wouldn’t.  I prefer the memories I choose to keep, and the ones I make up, over the ones I really had. 

Those who prefer unbiased memories should want this.  With a full record of your life, you could settle disputes about who said what when, and how often you do what.   

You don’t have to wait to record your full life in sound.  A $200 pocket voice recorder saves 150MB of high quality audio on a twelve hour battery charge, and a $200 hard disk will store three years of audio at that rate.   Of course it will be a few years until we can organize such data well.

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  • eric

    But there are cases of people with great memories, and these are crippling to them, not benefits. If you recorded your life on a hard drive and tried to organize it, I think it would merely be disruptive, depressing, backward-oriented.

    see http://www.dreamhawk.com/memory.htm

  • Eric, how much time you spent reviewing your memories would be a choice you would have later – no need to spend any more time than you got value from.

  • It seems logical that if you seek to avoid bias in recalling your own memories, you will probably be more mindful of what you’re doing. Even without such a recording device as noted in this article, an interesting exercise (one that I try to apply on a daily basis) is to imagine that you will be able to remember everything you do for as long as you live. If you don’t think you’d like to look back on yourself doing A, then you are probably less likely to actually do A. And if you’d like to look back on yourself having done B, then you might be more motivated to do B.

  • Anne, your comment raises the issue of whether we are overconfident regarding what sort of memories we would later approve or dissaprove. Such overconfidence might discourage us from trying enough different things.

  • Robin: good point. There’s also the fact that you might, in the future, change your mind several times regarding whether or not a given action was a reasonable or wise one. And in addition, note that even if a person does have the raw data describing a particular memory (whether recorded externally or remembered in wetware), this does not necessarily mean that the interpretation of that data will remain constant throughout time.

  • Yan Li

    Aren’t we supposed to enjoy the present while looking forward to the future with whatever memories we’ve got of the past? Let’s say I spent my last year reviewing recordings of myself in the pervious year, what should I do this year?

  • Yan, I’m not at all proposing that people spend their last years reliving old memories, any more than corporate auditors spend years reliving old sales or purchases. It makes more sense to collect statistics and to have data to settle any particular dispute.