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Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

3.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0525951346
ISBN-10: 0525951342
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At Microsoft, computer science pioneer Bell has worked with senior researcher Gemmell for years on a project called True Recall, which will allow people to create a "digital diary or e-memory continuously," something they predict will "change what it means to be human" as fundamentally as language development and the invention of writing. Based upon further development and integration of three already-extant technology streams (digital recording devices, memory storage and search engines), the authors have worked toward this "third step" in the development of human memory for a decade and a half. A number of issues will need to be addressed, including privacy; the authors distinguish between being a "life logger," with privately stored digital records, and a "life blogger," whose web posts are accessible to others (like friends or coworkers). Bell and Gemmell outline the tests they've run since 2001, scanning and then cataloguing for retrieval a mass of personal data (documents, photographs, books and articles, web pages visited, instant messages, telephone calls) and wearing miniature cameras that sense light shifts and take automatic photographs. Readers will be wondering about the consequences of "recalling everything you once knew" long after they put down this fascinating text, of particular interest to techies, but clearly written for general readers.


"I am not sure whether recording everything we see, hear and do is the landfill or landscape of our lives, because thoughts and memories are their own reality. But I am sure that Total Recall is a must read due to its inevitability, seminal nature and clairvoyant authors." -Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital

"Gordon Bell is one of the great visionaries in the computer industry. In Total Recall he paints a picture of a world where computing is far more personal than anything we have seen so far, where digital memory appliances supplement the human mind and store all the details of your life. Like much of Gordon's work it is a characteristically bold and exciting vision of computing. He takes us to a future which is just around the corner, but which would be hard to glimpse without him."
-Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures

"For decades, the tech world has been going gaga for "Moore's Law", which describes how much faster and more powerful personal electronics becomes over time, but in the last decade, most of the really big freakouts have been as a result of the explosion in our ability to capture and store data... What happens when being alive means being in record mode, for everybody? It's a change that is at once astonishing and imminent. Gordon and Jim are at the center of this kind of work, and just the guys to write the book."
-Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody

"Total Recall does a marvelous job of exploring first- hand the implications of storing our entire lives digitally. And just in time! -- the technology is already here and will be ubiquitous before we know it."
-Guy L. Tribble, MD, PhD, Vice President of Software Technology, Apple Inc.

"Economists, along with everyone else, will be astounded by the wide ranging social and personal benefits of Total Recall digital technology."
-Tyler Cowen, author of Create Your Own Economy

"As you warm to the ideas expressed in Total Recall, you find yourself reaching for your digital camera to record the moment just gone by."
-Donna Dubinsky, CEO of Numenta, co-founder of Palm and Handspring

"Wow! Thanks for this book. I've been fascinated by MyLifeBits for years; it's certainly inspired our thinking at Evernote."
-Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote

"Extraordinarily prescient but also entertaining...Total Recall is of paramount importance in the new, increasingly paperless world."
-Leslie Berlowitz, Executive Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

"Total Recall offers a prescient view of the powerful use of today's information tomorrow. Gordon provides provocative insights, entertaining stories, and fundamental advancements in recall enabled by tools readily available today that immediately enhance the capture, access and sharing of numerous forms of information."
-Jim Marggraff, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Livescribe, Inc.

"Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell paint a vivid and personal picture of a revolution that is already in progress, a revolution that will transform our future by making our past transparent. Clear, detailed, and permanent knowledge of ourselves and others will change the fiber of our lives and societies, pervasively, from meal planning to constitutional law. If we are blind to the implications, we'll be trying to solve the wrong problems with obsolete tools. Total Recall will open eyes, and the more, the better."
-Dr. K. Eric Drexler, author of Engines of Creation

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (September 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525951342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951346
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
On his website, The Technium, Kevin Kelly (of Wired and Whole Earth fame)
writes about "What Technology Wants."
Here's what IT wants - "Everything, Everywhere, All the Time."

In IT's strive toward omniscience, it's clear that the next key piece is
Total Recall of all personal, individual memories.
Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell lay out precisely how and why that will happen.

I've been in the memory business for over 40 years:
first as a student of neurobiology at MIT, then as an AI researcher at Stanford,
and finally as a physician. (Search "Bob Blum" for my essays on
machine consciousness and other Big Questions.)

I had heard of Gordon Bell for decades, but had never met him
until recently when I heard Gordon and Jim present this work
at the (Xerox) PARC Forum. (That video is now on the PARC Forum archive).
That prompted me to buy the book.

Despite being age 75, Gordon is a lively, energetic spirit
who readily deflected my public query/position ,
"don't neuroscientists consider forgetting to be crucial
as a means of increasing memory relevance?"
(My concern then and still is on maintaining high signal to noise ratio -
quieting the mind to achieve the zen of pure signal.)

Young Jim Gemmell is also bright and engaging.
Although I'm guessing that Jim contributed half of the leg work,
the book is presented as a first person account of Gordon's 75 year life.
The work is a delightful combination of the future of personal data capture
as well as a recounting of their experiences with MyLifeBits, a system implementation.
That work was presented in Scientific American in March 2007 online - qv.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
There are many branches of the tree of accelerating technology. Bell and Gemmell's book focuses on the current and future effects of information retention and, more importantly, information retrieval. They range from practical advice -- make scanned bills PDF searchable -- to future scenarios where so much information has been retained that we can "talk" with our long dead great grandparents (via artificial bots made smart by massive knowledge of the subject). The book is somewhat happhazardly organized but I gave it a five star anyway because of the insights and the fact that Bell went through the process of recording his life, using prototype software. Someone who has "done it" speaks with more authority than an armchair quarterback. After reading the book, I thought ... of course -- explained in the context of massive increases in storage, networking and computing power, it all makes sense. Bell and Gemmell are relatively conservative in their predictions. They touch on some of the security issues but do not dwell on them. It is probably just as well, since the trend to increasing storage of events is inevitable and security will just have to be worked out. How many business meetings have I attended where ten people have been introduced in about ten seconds? A universal recall device would come in pretty handy.

Bill Yarberry, Houston, Texas
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book after seeing it advertised in Evernote (an app I use for tracking random bits of info). It basically describes current trends in personal data storage and management, and then how that could change how you personally store and retrieve info in the future. The main premise is that data storage is cheap and getting cheaper every day, and retrieval technologies (indexing, etc) are getting good enough that with a bit of advanced prep you could store everything you ever see, and have it at your fingertips forever.

This is a light read and is not a technical book. It is aimed at the masses, not the technorati. I'm a retired Microsoftie so probably not the target audience but I still found it interesting. And I have started scanning and then throwing away a lot more stuff after reading this book.
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Remember when everyone at concerts held up their lighters? Now it's cell phones -- taking pictures. This is the basic problem with "Total Recall": We are far better at capturing moments than we are at preserving them. Heck, we're better at preserving them than we are at organizing them so that later we can find what we want. This is truer now that it's all-digital than it was when it was all-shoebox. Clearly, our intentions are better than our methods.

Like you, I'm being continually supplied with free software to help me find all the photos on my machine. But when the pile is big enough (and mine, like yours, certainly is), no amount of brute force searching is more useful than simple organizing. When will software be able to do that for me?

Therefore, the real proposition of "Total Recall" is brute force combined with AI. Gordon Bell says we have the technology now to save everything, so the real challenge is developing truly helpful AI. His ideas are completely dependent on this happening in the near term. Others, myself included, are far more skeptical. And without useful AI, "Total Recall" is just another impractical utopian ideal.

I'm sure Gordon Bell is a better engineer than I am, and I know he's a better entrepreneur. But as to his ability to see the future, I have my doubts. It's great to imagine an ideal, however impractical -- unless it gets in the way of practical, incremental improvements. By diverting effort and resources to his fantasy, "Total Recall" may be more roadblock than highway to tomorrow.
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