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Microsoft wants to back up your brain, and the blog as OS

The Times of India has an article under the intriguing title "Microsoft plans `back-up' brains for humans". Oh, yeah, I thought, Uncle Bill is exactly the person I want in charge of digitizing my soul. (Via Reenhead.)

It turns out upon reading the article that the Microsoft proposal is less sexy than the headline implies. There's no spectacular high-bandwidth meat-to-silicon interface in the works. Rather, Microsoft seems to be rewarming some of the ideas of Yale CS prof David Gelernter. His Lifestreams project proposes that your computer's operating system be organized chronologically (rather than hierarchically) as a big archive of everything you do -- in other words, blog as OS.

Gelernter hasn't exactly sold me on the Lifestreams concept. Sure, chronology is a useful way to access information -- "ls -lat" is my favorite Unix command. But it's only one of many, and one of the main strengths of computers is that they facilitate multiple methods of access. I suppose I should try it before I knock it, though; there seems to be a beta version of Lifestreams available under the name Scopeware.

Gelernter is an intriguing character for other reasons, one of which is that he was one of the Unabomber's targets. And his 1992 book Mirror Worlds anticipates the day when all interesting systems -- infrastructural, economic, environmental, social -- are captured and modeled digitally, something I think of every time I check the Houston traffic online. In a sense, Lifestreams is an individualization of the Mirror Worlds idea.

toys 2002.11.23 link

Comments

I've long thought that the natural shape of thought is the narrative. People have an endless hunger for stories, and a chronological operating system sounds like it cuts with, rather than against, the grain of human thinking.

In 'Mirror Worlds' does Gelertner tackle the obvious point Borges deals with in his map-in-the-desert tale - that any sufficiently detailed simulation must contain a copy of itself as part of what is simulates.... and so the perils of infinite regress?

Also sounds to me a little like sorting all that data in real time will require genuinely intelligent software, which I am starting to think there are good reasons we'll never have.

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2002.11.23
There was an episode of that (sometimes) interesting show "Big Thinkers" about Gelertner. Whenever somebody starts going on about how the OS should, I tend to go "riiiiiight, show me the code." Now, if there were a Google on my harddrive, that would be something.

Is sort -lat the same as
ls -al --sort=time? I love that command. Actually, I made a script called recent that goes
ls -al --sort=time |sed 20q|tac

Heheh. Gotta love Unix.

pat [pat ARROBA fieldmethods PUNTO net] • 2002.11.24
Oh crrrrap! I didn't close my italic tag... Maybe if I do it now? ... I hope?

pat [pat ARROBA fieldmethods PUNTO net] • 2002.11.24
I've got Mirror Worlds sitting on my shelf but have only browsed it, not read it, so I don't know whether it addresses recursion. However, recursion is computer scientists' bread and butter; at times they find it elegant or whimsical, but I don't think they would find it mystically perilous as did Borges.

As for "sorting all that data in real time requir[ing] genuinely intelligent software," I suppose it depends on what you mean by "sorting" and "all that data". If you want, say, a Department of Homeland Security mirror world that monitors all electronic communications and pops up red flags for terrorist plots, then you're right. If you mean plotting where every vehicle is in a city grid, then I think a straightforward increase in storage and speed would do the job (along with EZ-tagging every vehicle). Many problems would fall somewhere in between, with the feasible ones nearing the lower end of the complexity scale.

Another role for intelligence is in good modeling and metadata from the outset. What I mean is that something like the W3C's Semantic Web, which would tag information in web pages with semantic metadata to aid in automatic processing, would go a long way toward making mirror worlds possible. The classic example from Tim Berners-Lee's Scientific American paper is a doctor's office website which publishes its insurance providers and hours in a format which your PDA can interpret and correlate with your insurance coverage and your schedule in order to make you an appointment. If such a scheme were in widespread use, it would enable mirror worlds applications as well -- say a real-time map of doctor's offices currently open for business throughout a city, to name a simple one.

If, that is, the Semantic Web is feasible in the first place. I suspect that the world has an infinite number of ways to split semantic hairs, and expecting the W3C or some other implementer of the Semantic Web to anticipate all the possibilities and unambigously define the semantic labels to be attached to things is a pretty hefty prerequisite.

Pat, it looks like you use a different dialect of Unix from me; my "ls" command doesn't grok a "--sort" parameter, nor do I have a "tac" command. In Solaris and the other Unices I've used in recent years, "ls -lat" just lists the contents of a directory in reverse chronological order. I think we're driving at the same thing.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.24
Hey, Mark, just WHEN did you start thinking narrative was the natural way to think? And why? And with whom? I don't know: I'd prefer to have my computer organized according to what I should be doing and what I'd rather be doing, neither of which really lend themselves to the style indirecte livre or the enframed pseudohistoriography of Cervantes. Heh heh. I like this from that story on Lifstream:
"Computer science departments have always considered user interface research to be sissy work," MIT's Nicholas Negroponte replies when I ask him why UI has historically been ignored by academics.
Okay, okay, I have nothing useful to contribute except thanks and cumprimentos a todos.

iggy [iggy ARROBA hairyeyeball PUNTO net] • 2002.12.03
Mark had that thought in the conservatory while hitting Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.12.03
...or Professor Plum, in the conservatory, with the candlestick.

Shrewd point, Prentiss. Oddly enough, board games [which don't get the attention they deserve as precursors of interactive software] often combine two great early thinking models:
a] the story, and
b] the map.

Jacques Attali [yes the out-of-control French enarquiste mandarin who actually has a twin who is another out-of-control enarquiste mandarin] wrote a book I enjoyed in the 90s claiming that the
c] maze / labyrinth
is the primal model for thought and language [what does that tell us about the French civil service?], so I agree, Iggy, there is some competition for the role of fundamental thinking metaphor.

I don't mean there are not other models than narrative - and they all have flaws - just that some seem more deeply-wired than others.

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2002.12.03
Update: Uncle Jazzbeaux passes on a Wired piece discussing a DARPA-funded effort along these lines under the name "LifeLog".

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2003.05.27
Don't we need to split off the story [fabula] from the narrative discourse [sjuzhet]? Very few folks tell tales where these two coincide. And, in 's terms, the real story is in the difference between the script [the default sequence of events that make up a story] and the story.

jim [giacomo cxe bisso punkto com] • 2003.05.28
Blimey!

I'll have to think about that. Fabula versus discourse/sjuzhet??

Sounds interesting. Give me a mo.

mark [contact cxe otherlanguages punkto org] • 2003.05.30
For a loosely related discussion spinning off in another direction, see Caterina Fake's thread about Slavoj Zizek looking forward to a high school education in a pill. In the case Zizek discusses it's not a matter of wetware going to an external system but rather an external system programming wetware.

To which I say again: I don't relish the idea of Bill Gates or George Bush or anybody else being in charge of my mental implants. I don't trust them to control my computers, so I certainly don't want them to have a direct feed to my central nervous system.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2003.05.30
Noticed after I'd posted that my attempted markup obscured part of my comment. That should read "In Schank's terms, the real story ..." with a link to http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/schank/schank_index.html ...

jim [giacomo cxe bisso punkto com] • 2003.05.30
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luciano martin [lucianobutt cxe yahoo punkto com punkto ar] • 2005.11.29
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