University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Robert Clowes discusses memory and the future

The Badger

ByThe Badger

Nov 27, 2012

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Sam Duthie



Making my way to the latest lecture in the Cognitive Science (COGS) series, an unplanned change in scenery this week meant that we viewed the lecture in The Terraces, a cosy Brightonian bar with panoramic views of the seafront. We heard a lecture, entitled ‘Electronic and Organic Memory and Being Human in the 21st Century’ by Robert Clowes.
Clowes is a visiting research fellow for Sussex, coming from the University of Lisbon, and he is part of the Sackler Centre: a Sussex based interdisciplinary research team working on the problem of consciousness.
Clowes’ background is rooted in philosophy, which he utilizes to argue for a unique approach towards integrating memory and technology (or mem-tech as he affectionately terms it).
In Clowes’ work, memory is not just an internal process but also anything you might use to encode your own personal data on: a photo on your Facebook profile, a string of text messages on your blackberry, or your hastily scribbled course notes in your binder.  Though these are situated outside of yourself, Clowes argues that all of these representations are your own personal memories.
Clowes talks excitedly of new technologies that might further integrate or replace our memory altogether. The notion of Total Recall style mem-tech that would permeate our lives to a great extent is something that a small band of scientists and philosophers are working on.
In his talk, Clowes draws inspiration from a Microsoft computer scientist, Gordon Bell who is engaged in the process of “life-logging”. Bell accumulates digital memories, a prodigious amount of them. Every phone call, every conversation, every received email, the faces of everyone he meets are methodically gathered together.
To complete his digital memories Bell wears a camera around his neck which takes a digital photo every 3-seconds. The memory data Bell collects is sorted and collated by a team at Microsoft, the project they work on is known as the ‘MyLife’ project.
Some would call researchers like Robert Clowes and Gordon Bell futurologists, modern day mystics who are attempting to guess what the future will look like.
However, once you get past the science fiction vibe that seems to radiate from the researchers, the work they’re doing seems very exciting. Will consumers be able to buy mem-tech that will enhance our memory in the future? Perhaps it’s not long before science fiction becomes reality…

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