Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything - C. Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell (2009)
Chapter 4. WORK
I like working. About six thousand people worked for me when I was head of research and development at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) from 1972 to 1983, before it became a part of Hewlett-Packard. I’ve been involved in more than a hundred start-up companies—that’s an average of about four a year since I started. I’ve served on government panels, offered my thoughts in think tanks, given talks to all kinds of audiences, and met with countless young entrepreneurs to hear pitches for my involvement in their great new ventures.
As an angel investor, my interests are both literally and figuratively all over the map, so it is a juggling act keeping up on all the different technologies, business plans, and people whizzing in and out of my orbit. I’ve been vowing for a couple of decades to reduce my travel, but still end up with more than fifty thousand air miles every year (at five hundred miles per hour that is two hours per week in the air—far from extreme in our frequent-flyer age). And then there’s my day job, working to advance Microsoft’s technology for e-memories, Total Recall, and data-intensive science. So my calendar is usually full, and it’s a challenge to get everything done.
At DEC, I used to get out of the office and go home when I wanted to actually accomplish anything because I was so inun dated with interaction at headquarters. My schedule was kept in calendar notebooks, in pencil. My home and work offices used to be crammed with filing cabinets, bookshelves, and great teetering heaps of paper covering most of the available horizontal space. It wasn’t actually as chaotic as it probably looked to others. I had a system in place—I am an engineer, after all—but still, the thought of ever going back to that way of organizing things sends a different kind of shiver down my spine.
In those days I was a “piler”—I created a pile of paper for each problem or topic that came my way. I wish I had a photo of the pile wall of my home office in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where I lived. The wall was roughly twenty-five feet long. It had six rows of shelves, providing room for around two hundred problem piles. When a memo, report, article, or something relevant to the issue came in, I merely stacked it on the right pile. Items were filed archaeologically, that is, deposited in layers over time. They were retrieved by lifting stacks of paper to reveal the archaeological era of the paper I wanted. I’ve met a lot of fellow pilers over the years, and seen some impressively high piles, especially in universities.
Total Recall will make it possible to deal with a prolific and even hectic work pace, far above our current expectations—and still remain sane. It will help make you more productive, whether you are a busy traveling salesperson or a parent frantically chauf feuring your kids between school and activities.
Being essentially paperless will be a big factor in this improvement. Instead of archaeological digging, a few keystrokes and mouse clicks will get what you need. Paperless offices are far more pleasant, and somehow calming.
Total Recall will also give everyone an incredible sense of freedom. Travel anywhere, anytime, and maintain complete access to every detail concerning your enterprise. I’ve experienced a taste of these benefits already, but work lives in the coming generation will become amazingly more powerful generators of prosperity and satisfaction.
THE NEW JOB
When you start at a new job, it can take a while to get up to speed and learn the ropes. How intensive and how crucial this process is varies widely. It might not be too big a deal in the case of, say, a new waitress at a theme café, who may take a few weeks to figure out what the style of the place calls for and the predictable orders of various regular patrons. At the other extreme it may have enormous importance, such as when a new president takes the helm of the world’s mightiest nation.
I don’t recommend this movie for students of political science, but in National Treasure 2 there is a presidential “book of secrets.” The book supposedly contains secrets for a president’s eyes only, and is passed on to each new occupant of the White House. While no such book actually exists, at least as far as I know, there is clearly a vast body of knowledge that must pass from one POTUS to the next. The news media loves to run stories on the recently elected politician who doesn’t know X concerning his or her new duties. Just think of the enormous body of knowledge that an aspiring president is expected to have on the tip of the tongue.
In between the president and the waitress are a million other jobs that have memories to pass on. Total Recall will break new ground in the effectiveness of transferring memories from one occupant of a position to the next.
In order to tolerate staff turnover, many large organizations are structured around clearly defined functions and operating procedures for each member of the team. There is no better example than the military, whose constant movement of personnel demands an extremely modular approach at all levels of its command structure. Soldiers and officers routinely rotate in and out of positions on their tours of duty, and even homeland bases and training facilities regularly shuffle their staff. Whether you are a new base commander, quartermaster, or front-line soldier, you are expected to drop into a position and be effective the moment your boots hit the ground. National defense, with such well-defined roles, is a fertile area for the application of Total Recall.
In early 2003, program director Doug Gage and some of his colleagues from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) came out to San Francisco to meet with Jim Gemmell and me. They were interested in MyLifeBits as a model for a research program they were hatching called LifeLog. They had already held a LifeLog workshop and decided they were interested in a system that “captures, stores, and makes accessible the flow of one person’s experience in and interactions with the world” and that “can be applied to a wide spectrum of associate/assistant systems to allow the system to ‘understand’ the user’s state based on knowledge of the user’s history (timeline, routines, habits, etc.), in order to make the user more effective in a wide variety of tasks.” They envisioned that LifeLog technology “could result in far more effective computer assistants for war fighters and commanders because the computer assistant can access the user’s past experiences . . . and result in much more efficient computerized training systems.”
We were excited after the stimulating brainstorming session around our conference table, and the project seemed to be building momentum. Was the U.S. Department of Defense, one of the world’s largest organizations, going to be leading the way to the age of Total Recall? We didn’t realize that LifeLog was headed into the middle of a political minefield.
In June 2003, William Safire wrote a column for The New York Times about LifeLog that put the fear of Big Brother into the reader’s heart:
And in the basement of the Pentagon, LifeLog’s Dr. Gage and his PAL, the totally aware Admiral Poindexter, would be dumping all this “voluntary” data into a national memory bank, which would have undeniable recall of everything you would just as soon forget.
Although Safire seemed to finish the piece with tongue in cheek, invoking “Ned Ludd, who in 1799 famously destroyed two nefarious machines knitting hosiery,” the powerful image of Admiral Poindexter (a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal) in the basement spying on the population was enough to send the political class into hysterics.
Poindexter had also been the face man for another DARPA initiative called TIA, for Total Information Awareness, which was unveiled in the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The aim of TIA was to create a centralized überdatabase incorporating every electronic record, transaction, communication, file, and footprint the government could lay its hands on about every person and organization in the nation. They would then sift through this megadossier with data-mining software in search of patterns that could identify terrorist plottings.
Safire had blown the whistle on TIA as well, in an earlier column from November 2002. There was enough public outcry over the possible abuses of TIA for it be officially scrapped a few months later.
The stink over LifeLog seemed to rest on the fear-driven belief that it amounted to the same thing as TIA. But there was nothing about LifeLog that would have required people to entrust all their personal data to a central server farm in the bowels of the National Security Agency. There was nothing about LifeLog that even implied people would be required to do lifelogging at all. This effort was aimed at helping the individual soldier or officer in a state of information overload.
I keep my nose out of partisan politics. I guess that made me naïve enough to imagine someone would just explain the truth of the situation (Safire hadn’t even spoken to anyone at DARPA) and sort things out. Instead, LifeLog was canceled. If I had cared more about politics, I might have been outraged and suspicious that a lot of political decisions were made based on juicy headlines rather than common sense. In any event, I knew not to waste my outrage on this, because I understood a little trick of technopolitics: Ideas that run into trouble, especially good ones, are often officially dropped only to be resurrected, recycled, and rebranded until they gain acceptance. Technology does not give up or give in.
So LifeLog is dead; long live ASSIST! DARPA created the Advanced Soldier Sensor Information Systems Technology (ASSIST), carefully explaining how it would help just soldiers. No one brought up Admiral Poindexter this time, and the program went ahead.
A great example of the fine work done under the ASSIST umbrella comes from the contextual computing group at Georgia Tech, led by Thad Storter. They have shown the kind of ASSIST daily impact could have for a soldier on patrol:
A platoon goes on a presence patrol in Iraq. Their goal is to be visible to provide a sense of security for Iraqi civilians, encourage goodwill, and look for signs of insurgents. Upon returning from their five-hour patrol, the platoon leader is debriefed by his intelligence officer.
“Anything unusual today?” inquires the intelligence officer.
“Pretty calm except that the children were acting strangely,” he replies.
“How do you mean?”
“It’s kinda hard to describe. . . .”
In Iraq, today’s soldiers are fighting an insurgency that uses civilians for cover. According to the soldiers we interviewed, the most common point of contact with the enemy is the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used against vehicles and troops. Soldiers are forced to uncover the enemy through everyday patrols and intelligence gathering. However, the soldiers are facing an information shortage; they are not equipped to gather this type of everyday intelligence. Soldiers also need a means to share information with intelligence officers and between patrols. Currently, this information is mostly conveyed orally or through images taken with the soldiers’ personal digital cameras. Georgia Tech’s Soldier Assist System (SAS) attempts to augment this process by automatically capturing a “blog” of a soldier’s patrol and allowing him to rapidly select media from that patrol to share with his intelligence officer.
To understand the goal of SAS, let’s revisit the above scenario. While on patrol, the patrol leader and each of his two squad leaders wear SAS capture hardware. Each system records high-resolution images from a head-mounted camera, two streams of audio (one from a close-talking microphone and one from a chest-mounted microphone to record ambient sound), location using the Global Positioning System, and the soldier’s movement using accelerometers on the wrists, hip, thigh, chest, and weapon. During the patrol, the soldiers can also use their high-resolution manual camera to capture images they feel may be important later. Upon returning from patrol the platoon leader now has the information to answer the intelligence officer’s questions:
“Pretty calm except that the children were acting strangely.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s kinda hard to describe, but let me show you.”
The platoon leader now looks at a map with his GPS path overlain. He selects the area around a local mosque where he met the children and scans for an appropriate image. Looking for images where the system indicates he was speaking, he quickly finds an image with the children’s faces to the intelligence officer.
“You see, generally the children will come up to us along the road because they know we carry candy for them. But today they are here along the wall of the mosque,” states the platoon leader.
As the debriefing continues, the intelligence officer sees a suspicious white pickup truck in the background of one of the platoon leader’s images. While the platoon leader’s blog does not have a good image of the truck and its environment, he uses SAS’s automatic annotation system to select images from his squad leaders’ blog where they “took a knee” to provide security while he was talking with the children. (Often, when monitoring the environment to provide security, the soldiers support themselves on one knee while maintaining a good field of view.) The platoon leader quickly finds a good image of the truck and shows it to the intelligence officer.
“I bet you the owner of that pickup truck was there just before you and was scouting the area for the insurgency. Let’s record this license plate and give it to the next patrol to look for,” says the intelligence officer, ending the debriefing.
The Georgia Tech team found that, for the soldiers, “there was no such thing as ‘too much information’ for presence patrols.” However, with all the data their system could collect, they didn’t want the soldiers spending many extra hours wading through it all to find relevant parts to report. So, they did some postprocessing to automatically detect and tag activities like raising a weapon, walking, running, crawling, standing, shaking hands, driving, opening a door, and so on. These are not intended to replace the intelligence, intuition, memory, and common sense of soldiers, but to complement and enhance them. By combining these automatic tags with time and location, a soldier can quickly find the desired parts to report on.
When a new soldier rotates into an assignment, these improved, data- and media-rich reports will help him get up to speed, and will provide a new kind of resource to draw on. They will allow him to take over the memories of the assignment as well as the assignment itself. For example, if the new soldier sees a suspicious pickup truck, he can look at images from his predecessors’ reports to see if it is the same one. Intelligence officers can go back to extra footage not included in the report to check out other elements that may not have been considered important at the time—was that old man near the truck spotted in the vicinity the last time the truck was seen?
In addition to DARPA, I’ve also met with CIA contractors to discuss applications for Total Recall. After all, the station chief in Budapest needs to hand on his memories to his successor too. It’s another kind of tour of duty, where memories of faces, locations, vehicles, and so on can make life-or-death differences.
Total Recall is also important for the intelligence analysts at their desks back in the States. An interesting project called Glass Box records everything an analyst does at his PC workstation, literally recording a video of what is on his screen at all times, as well as tracking e-mail, opening documents, keyboard and mouse activity, Web surfing, instant messaging, and copy/paste events. The analyst can also make notes by talking or typing. Glass Box can be used to evaluate what research tools are most valuable to analysts, and possibly to detect traits of star analysts that could be taught to others.
Total Recall isn’t limited to helping soldiers and secret agents do their jobs and fill their assignments; Every line of work will benefit from Total Recall.
Jon Gilmore worked as a Sprint engineer for nine years, designing new cell sites in regions where coverage needed improvement. He drove all over northern California measuring signal strength. He also visited individual cell sites to improve their performance, adjusting their power levels or tweaking the direction of an antenna. On his last day at work, Jon handed over the key to his filing cabinet and a hard drive holding about fifty gigabytes of information.
“I used to travel with a compass, a GPS, and a digital camera,” says Jon. “I would verify the exact location of the site—often they were situated a little differently than what was in the records—and check the direction each beam was pointed in. I’d take digital pictures of the site, and the views from it to show the surrounding terrain.”
“I also made notes and took pictures about access to each site. For instance, we used to call one ‘ankle-biter lane.’ If you read my notes, you knew not to get out of your car between the first two gates, unless you wanted to be bitten by the little dog there.”
The engineer who took over for Jon also took over his e-memories.
The Total Recall revolution will enable you to be the kind of employee or entrepreneur or small businessperson who gets more things accomplished, is more trustworthy, and more creative. The better you use Total Recall technology, the better your professional reputation will be.
Productivity gains will come from understanding one’s work habits better. With a detailed e-memory of what I do, my computer is my personal time-management consultant. I can look back over my activity logs and notice where I’ve spent too much time on low-priority projects, or took too little time at a key place, or burned up a surprising number of hours reading Internet news. Mary Czerwinski’s lab at Microsoft Research has come up with some brilliant visualizations of time spent at the computer based on keyboard and mouse activity associated with each running application. Most people are horrified at how often they are interrupted and at the time expended on overhead in their typical day. In the future, not only will we glean insight from such post hoc visualizations, we will program our cyber consultants to send us alerts and real-time reports to keep our time management on track.
Where there is repetition, Total Recall can spot it and take some of the drudgery away. How many times do we fill in the same form with nearly the same information, or very similar forms? Already most Web browsers have some sort of autofill feature to help us fill in online forms, but this can go much further. I get a lot of e-mails from students applying for internships, and I respond to most of them with one of a handful of stock replies running the gamut from “Unfortunately we have no openings now” to “We would be delighted to consider you.” Software will soon arrive that will detect an e-mail as an application, dig into my e-mail history, and present me with a list of boilerplate options. Then replying to the current applicant is a breeze; it can be as quick as simply typing her name over the original name after the opening “Dear,” or it might involve typing in a de novo paragraph that’s specifically pertinent to her application.
Of course, boilerplate can easily go too far. Lawyers are already well down this road, where cut-and-paste is leading to a bloat in legal writing. I have hundreds of e-mails from attorney friends consisting of six words that were actually typed followed by a page of dire warnings and disclaimers. There will be misuse as with any technology, and that won’t help your reputation, but this branch of workplace technology has only begun to fulfill its enormous timesaving destiny. And to make certain employees look extremely productive.
In general, Total Recall in the workplace means we stop doing so much work for the computer and the computer does more work for us. The software is inexorably moving from simple searches of huge e-memory databases to tools that manage the information coming out of e-memory so that it is especially relevant to the task at hand. Not a filing cabinet, but a sort of personal assistant. For example, Bradley Rhodes of MIT and his colleagues developed the “Remembrance Agent,” an experimental piece of software that monitors your typing and reminds you of relevant e-mails or documents. If you are composing an e-mail and type “Project Anvil,” the agent will bring up e-mails and documents matching those words on the side of your screen, ready for you to click open. In the same vein, Xobni has software to assist you with your e-mail. When you select an e-mail, it shows you contact information about the person the e-mail is from, a list of your recent e-mails, and a list of files you have shared with each other. Software assistants put information at your fingertips before you even ask for it.
Beyond being more efficient at the workplace or worksite—wherever that may be—when you are asked professional questions, you will be able to give an answer based on fact, not blurry bio-memories. You will be more reliable.
I often receive “remember me?” e-mails followed by some set of “action items”—to which I draw a complete blank. There are scores of former colleagues and potential business partners from decades back who try to contact me every month. It’s not unreasonable, from their point of view, to expect me to remember them—many of them I worked with closely. Fortunately, about twenty years after leaving DEC, I was allowed to get my old files. They included eleven years’ worth of correspondence, including hundreds of e-mails (which we had used throughout the 1980s, more than a decade before e-mail went mainstream). Those old communications have proved invaluable for cuing recollection of people from my past. I’m sure these contacts now think of me as someone they can better rely on; first to remember them, and then to actually recall details of connections in our work history.
Sometimes I want to dig up peripheral people rather than someone already designated as a contact in my address book, and having everything saved usually makes this easy. I can search through old e-mails from a friend to find one that includes the name of his son. Or I may just search through everything I have for a “who the hell is that?” name and end up glad I scanned the program of the workshop that includes her name.
You never know what will be helpful. Before I really got religion on the “more is better” gospel, I tried to talk Vicki out of scanning all my old high school yearbooks. “How could that be of any use?” I asked. Fortunately she ignored my protests, and lo and behold a few years later I received an e-mail from a Dr. Tom Hill, a successful entrepreneur turned corporate team-building consultant, asking me for some biographical information so that he could describe my work in Tom Hill’s Friday Eaglezine. He identified himself as being a 1953 graduate from the same high school that I had graduated from in 1952, but his name didn’t ring any bells for me. A search for “Tom Hill” in the yearbooks pulled back photos and descriptions of various activities that brought the high school memories flooding back. When we spoke, I was able to recall half-forgotten events and people we’d clearly known in common, which made for a pleasant conversation. I’m now part of his Eagle network.
The “who the hell” problem only gets worse with a person’s age. With the advent of social networking sites such as LinkedIn, “remember me?” messages and invitations to join yet another group are constantly pouring in. By hanging on to three decades’ worth of e-mails, business cards, meeting appointments, photos, and audio recordings and using MyLifeBits to group and interlink them, my contact management has reached a whole new level.
What you may scorn today may one day turn out to be practically useful. A key reason people leave established companies to form start-ups is to get away from the numerous and stultifying rules and procedures. Ironically, one of the first things they miss is some of that important red tape. In 1988 I was head of engineering at a start-up, and we realized we needed a product release process. Thankfully, we saved a lot of time when an employee turned up a copy of the release process document from Sun Microsystems. It was equivalent to a process we had used at DEC, so it didn’t take much work to turn it into something I was happy with. I continue to receive requests from others in the same boat for items like DEC’s engineering handbooks.
As work experience becomes more of a scientific record and less of a befuddled bio-memory, your work time will become more creative. First, you simply won’t have to argue about what happened anymore, and second, the interconnectivity of e-memory records will free you to make new associations.
THE E-MEMORY ENTERPRISE
At the same time Total Recall is changing your work experience, it will be changing it for everyone else. Certain organizations will make better use of it than others. Many of them will make office e-memories available to everyone who has a similar job within the company or institution. It’s safe to predict that the same trends in technology that will lead individuals to use e-memories will also lead organizations to make the most of the new technology. Many will soon be keeping everything from internal meetings, e-mails, and memos to external-facing activities like sales, customer support, and purchasing. And making it searchable, usable information.
Time management, knowledge mining, trend discovery, context-sensitive reminding, and other computer assistance will also be applied to the institution’s broader memory. SRI, the institute where Doug Engelbart invented the computer mouse in 1964, is managing an extensive DARPA-funded research program called the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes (CALO). CALO presumes a corporate digital memory, and rather than requiring users to learn all of its ins and outs, it learns from its users and from the material their organization produces. It learns about people’s needs, routines, and expectations to become a real assistant that can be proactive. Software companies such as DEVON are already pursuing directions like this with products like DEVONthink, which aims to detect complex and subtle connections between documents that can stimulate new ideas.
Another example of progress in this area is a collaboration between MIT and Hewlett-Packard known as DSpace. Launched in 2002, DSpace is an open-source software package designed to accommodate an institution’s entire body of records, resources, and output, including books, aging microfilm, administrative records, audio recordings of classroom lectures, video recordings of speeches and events, scientific research data, published papers, student theses, 3-D models and scans of objects, and any other kind of digital information. The software includes a search engine and the ability for users to tag information in order to create useful trails and associations not present in the original data sets. DSpace has been adopted by hundreds of universities and research centers worldwide.
I expect Sprint will make Jon Gilmore’s memories about a cell tower available to any engineer who works on the tower, not just his successor. Likewise, repair divisions, like that of Xerox, use a common knowledge base to share diagnosis and repair information; all technicians inherit the memory of the one who first solves a particular problem, and get notes and tips for each model and type of breakdown. So when a technician first encounters error message #104 on model C900, the stories of a couple of previous repairs are instantly available, along with a tip to check for foreign material in the paper feeder before assuming the module needs replacement.
Customer service would sure be a lot better with a divisional memory. I can’t wait for my mobile phone provider to get onboard with this, because I’m sick of endlessly recounting the same story during a series of calls to different representatives, not to mention battling their skepticism toward my claims of what previous representatives have advised me. The next step is to make the memories accessible across the whole company. I want the wireless Internet troubleshooter I speak with to have access to, say, the billing memory to connect the dots when billing is really the issue. I’ve spent enough hours of my life on hold being passed around between specialists from that company, because the right hand doesn’t know what the left has been doing.
The march toward institutional e-memory has begun because the adoption of digital storage and communications makes recording and retrieval just too cheap and advantageous to pass up—especially in a competitive corporate environment. Keeping e-mails, instant-message chat sessions, and transaction records is obvious. With all bits of communication becoming virtually interchangeable you can generate voice from an instant message, or use voice-to-text to search for e-mail. Whenever I call my bank or insurance company, the first words from the corporate mouth are either “This call is being recorded for training purposes” or “This call is being recorded for your protection.” In a call involving stock purchase or sale, it is not uncommon for two agents to be involved and to verify the correctness of a verbal transaction. In companies such as Hartford Insurance, all sales calls are recorded along with all the interactions to the various databases that make up a call, making it possible to virtually recreate the full interaction and its associated data. In the next few years, we will see calls like these being converted to text so that when the customer calls again, the company representative will have the transcripts up on-screen during the call.
In addition to all communications, inventory is going to be tracked in greater and greater detail. Just as you have come to expect Federal Express to know the history of the packages you ship, construction companies will know the history of every sheet of drywall they use, and sporting-good manufacturers will know about every baseball glove they make from the time it is “born” to the point of sale.
The same trend will apply to individual tools and pieces of equipment. Each item will carry its own unique network identity so its usage can be logged and tracked, including who used it, where, and when. For instance, I presume that banks already know which ATMs are being used, along with when and by whom, as well as who is servicing them and when. This kind of fine-grained logging and tracking will expand to virtually everything: a dentist’s drill, a gasoline pump, an inventory scanner in a warehouse, an espresso machine at Starbucks. It will even include meeting rooms, which may have audio recording in addition to just the log. The traffic of people through public spaces will be studied and learned from.
I like to think about how Total Recall might have impacted my father’s business, Bell Electric. Dad started the company in 1933, and ran it until he had a heart attack in 1985. Bell Electric sold, installed, and repaired electrical appliances and equipment. A large NCR cash register printed a record of all the transactions that went through it. The main ledger tracked purchases, sales, electrical installations, and repairs. Bills were sent out monthly. Every year, he would close the shop for a day to take inventory.
An e-memory for Bell Electric would subsume Dad’s ledgers and various record books. All of his personal knowledge of his customers would be in customer-relations management tools. Instead of flipping through the W. W. Grainger catalog of electrical equipment, and dealing with paper orders, invoices, and receipts, Dad would order from their Web site and save all the transactions electronically. Having to order a weird replacement part for a pump would be much easier the second time around because he would instantly recall the first order. Inventory would be known continuously, and the complete history of a certain customer could be recalled in a moment. The flow of customers to the store would be analyzed to recommend the best hours to keep and when to take holidays with a minimum impact on the bottom line. Dad would know his profit by employee, by customer, and by type of job. When one employee followed up on the work of another, he’d have the former’s e-memories, and know there was a second circuit panel in the family room, that the wires had nonstandard colors in the kitchen, and not to call the customer after nine P.M. Dad would learn to manage his own time better, based on his lifelog.
The center of every organization, large or small, will be its institutional e-memory. E-memory will be the heart of customer service, human resource management, strategic planning, inventory, shipping, finance, payroll—everything. And with data mining, every aspect of operations can be analyzed and improvements formulated.
The only thing in the way of an institution’s e-memory is their legal department, who often mandate the deletion of records such as e-mail to limit liability. It remains to be seen whether lawsuit settlements can continue their mind-boggling rise to stay ahead of the value of corporate e-memory in the Total Recall era. After all, these records will also include things like alibis against some charges, and proof of an idea formed prior to a competitor’s patent. Furthermore, there is usually someone, somewhere, who has kept a copy and thwarted the lawyers’ intentions. It never pays to take lawsuits lightly, but I don’t see how corporate e-memory destruction policies can continue.
THE FAMILY ENTERPRISE
Everything I’ve said about increased productivity at work could also be applied to your personal life. You might get a lot out of understanding how you spend your leisure time, and of course wonder, “Who the hell is that?” at home just as much in the office. I know I need a cyber assistant for my personal life because I already need Vicki’s help as a personal assistant with things like travel plans for my family vacation.
And while the impact of Total Recall on your professional life will be far-reaching, the home office is where you will feel the personal payoff. The family is an enterprise, much like any business, with financial and legal matters, schedules and plans, and records to maintain. You need to keep track of family members and property such as cars, homes, and investments.
I have more than a hundred unique kinds of items in my e-memory that are part of my virtual home office. There are legal documents like wills, deeds, licenses, and birth certificates. There are all kinds of financial and tax records. A home loan can consist of several hundred pages and dozens of documents with signatures. Your home itself may have wiring diagrams and blueprints. Cars have loans and maintenance records. And every appliance has its warrantee and manual.
Having all this personal information at your fingertips really helps. Recently, I had to fill out a form for the Australian government enumerating all the countries I have visited over my lifetime, including the time and duration of the visit. That would have been daunting in the old days, but with e-memories it was no problem. Jim Gemmell has saved time and made arrangements more quickly on numerous occasions simply by having scans of his children’s birth certificates handy for sports teams that are constantly demanding them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a trip and can’t remember how to use some feature of my camera. I refuse to carry an instruction manual that is bigger than the camera, but now that my camera’s instruction manual is in my e-memory, it’s never a problem anymore.
E-memory will be of great value to all kinds of organizations. It will be at the heart of businesses like law firms, software companies, hospitals, banks, retail stores, electricians, winemakers, and airports. It will be employed by nonprofit organizations of all kinds, including homeowners’ associations, school boards, lodges, churches, and hobby clubs. From the boardrooms of gigantic corporations down to the kitchen table of a small family, Total Recall will help get things done.