Total recall is coming

Recording personal health

Personal health will be what starts some people recording and recalling. "People are going to say 'I want my health to be better' and they're going to start recording that dimension," says Gemmell.

For others it will be making memories "and we don't want to stop living life to capture these memories," he adds.

Testers at Microsoft have found recall improves their productivity and if a total recall system can divide personal and professional information, you could pass information on to colleagues – although we're not sure how many people will want to hand over recall information when they change jobs.

What makes this recall rather than just an unmanageable amount of data is the software. Gemmell wrote a browser to retrieve information, and to show you the different ways you can explore it – like date, location, name, job title, temperature (warm days or cold days), light level (morning or evening) and so on.

But "the killer app" turned out to be a screensaver that shows you memories and lets you add comments and rate information, because unless you need to look up something specific ('where did I buy this five years ago?'), the danger is "you have so much stuff you forget to look for it."

Privacy implications

Although Gemmell emphasises that total recall is for personal use rather than for putting every detail of your life online, there have to be privacy implications.

What's the legal status of your digital memories? Oystercard travel records have already been used as an alibi in court, so could you be forced to disclose your GPS tracks or pictures of who you've met? And what about bad times you'd rather forget?

Although he freely admits there are issues, he says they're not going to stop the trend; "Nothing is going to stop this." Early cars were, noisy, dirty and scared horses, but the car still changed the world, he points out. "There is going to be a total recall revolution and it is coming because the technology is there."

"The consumer desperately wants this. The only thing slowing this down is I can't trust you to store it all and back it up and make it safe, so I just do a little bit manually. As long as we make it safe, they're going to do it. It's not a matter of will this happen, but how much of it will you use personally."


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Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.