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Lifebrowser Makes a Greatest Hits of Your Miserable Existence

I welcome any and all consumer technologies that allow me to see the extent of my own online/digital presence. Besting that might be the ability to see how that presence is actually interpreted by the various artificial intelligence and machine...
March 20, 2012, 2:00pm

I welcome any and all consumer technologies that allow me to see the extent of my own online/digital presence. Besting that might be the ability to see how that presence is actually interpreted by the various artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms out there in the data mining world. That is, based on my digital life, what do I value? How can I be processed into meaning? I can’t imagine the burly software that does this for the data-mining industry, but a research project being done right now at Microsoft has birthed Lifebrowser, a piece of software designed for consumers — you at home — to be able to parse your own digital output for importance. By way of an example to illustrate the depth of Lifebrowser’s perspective, one of the factors used by the tool to parse photos is whether or not a flash was used, and how many people are in the photo. The list of criteria goes on.

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From Technology Review:

“The motivation behind Lifebrowser is that we have too much stuff going on in our personal digital spheres,” says Eric Horvitz, the distinguished scientist at Microsoft who created Lifebrowser. “We were interested in making local machines private data-mining centers [that are] very smart about you and your memory so that you can better navigate through that great amount of content.” Lifebrowser’s interactive timeline looks like a less polished version of Facebook’s recently introduced Timeline feature. However, Horvitz’s design predates Facebook’s and doesn’t rely on a user to manually curate it. Photos, e-mails, and other documents and data points appear in chronological order, but Lifebrowser’s timeline only shows those judged to be associated with “landmark” events by artificial intelligence algorithms. A user can slide a “volume control” to change how significant data has to be if it is to appear on the timeline. A search feature can pull up landmark events on a certain topic.

I’m facinated by the possibility of being told by software what is important to me. Because, well, human cognition is such a mess of perception/misperception and crude interpretation that I have not too terribly much faith that I know with more than 70-percent or so certainty what is actually important in my life. I’d say it’s almost entirely governed by emotions. It might be nice to have a machine parse it all out for me, really dig deep and clear out the corners. And based on this information, how wrong am I living my life right now? Oh god, the cruel, bright rays of objective truth.

It’s not actually available to the public currently; there’s just a handful of copies out in the world. I kind of wish this was being done by some hacker open-sorcerer type, but oh well. In the TR post, Horvitz assures that Lifebrowser will someday make it to the public. In the meantime there’s Muse, out of Stanford University, that allows you to do all kinds of mining and visualizations with your e-mail. Try it out.

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Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.