Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Are Mindfiles?

A mindfile is the sum of saved digital reflections about you. All of the stored emails, chats, texts, IMs and blogs that you write are part of your mindfile. All of the uploaded photos, slide shows and movies that involve you are part of your mindfile. Your search histories, clicked selections and online purchases, if saved, are part of your mindfile. Your digital life is your mindfile.

Gordon Bell, a computer pioneer, has been digitally documenting every aspect of his life for years. He wears a device around his neck that photographs his surroundings every time there is a change, logs his GPS coordinates and records his voice and certain medical parameters. His entire mindfile is accreting at the rate of about one gigabyte per month. In 2010 a gigabyte of memory costs less than a dollar, so an entire lifetime mindfile costs less than a month’s rent in most apartments.

Most people do not want all of their life going into a mindfile. But virtually everyone wants some of their life mindfiled. Common sense says to safely store your precious photos in a server elsewhere rather than risk their loss in a plastic photo album. Lists of friends and dates are so much more convenient stored digitally than on scraps of paper. So long as the digital reflections of our lives cannot be used against us or to annoy us – such as by the government or advertisers -- we are happy to let an ever-larger mindfile of us accumulate.



Your mindfile is accumulating regardless of your awareness of it. A reasonable estimate is that people send or answer a few hundred emails a month, excluding spam. In addition, we all regularly make at least a dozen or so online searches, purchases, and banking transactions. Some of us share a photo a day; others of us perhaps five a month. Over the course of a decade, these thousands of emails and other digital samples of your behavior create a mindfile more detailed than the most researched biography. An expert team would know you almost as well as you know yourself if they had this mindfile to peruse. They could predict what you would probably do, how you would likely react and whom you might be thinking about. From your mindfile, they would have your profile.

Your mindfile leads to your profile in large part because we all live in a cultural context. We all share a large body of common knowledge with those who live in our same place, or have our same job, or are part of one of our social networks. If you live in LA, you know what freeways are, and you hate getting stuck on them. This is true for you even if you never mentioned it in your blog. But if you liked freeways, there would be evidence of that oddity in your uploads into your mindfile, such as a text or twitter message. Hence, piggy-backed onto our mindfiles are vast assemblages of common cultural information.

Now it is certainly the case that much of the information that would be in our mindfile is continually erased. Text messages are rarely stored, search engine companies have been pressured to erase identifiable information, and some people declare email bankruptcy by simply deleting all their messages in exchange for a fresh start. On the other hand, much more information is accreting to our mindfile than is being erased. We store lifetimes of information on flashdrives, memory sticks, laptops, external hard drives and distant “cloud” computer server farms. Our mindfiles may be as scattered as our brains, but they are there just the same. Were we motivated, we could merge into a master mindfile the digital reflections of our lives scattered across dozens of devices and websites.

Organizations are now forming to hoover-up our dispersed digitalia. Numerous photo-sharing and video-sharing sites provide us the opportunity to upload, organize and comment upon our imagery. Social networking sites enable more photo and video uploading, as well as running conversations with friends and connections to different sub-networks of interests that define our life. Blogging companies have digitally immortalized the ‘dear diary’ journal that is so essential to biographers’ efforts to determine the personality and motivations of their subjects. Companies such as Apple and Google offer us the option to co-locate or back-up all of the above mindfiles in their safe ‘computing cloud’ – a mindfile on a magic carpet ride.

Finally, there are organizations specifically devoted to helping people create a single coherent digital back-up of their mind. These purposeful mindfiles, at websites such as glogger.net, lifenaut.com and cyberev.org, handle not only photos, video, friends, and journals, but also psychological tests, lists of favorites and other personality profile tools. Why would anyone want to back-up their entire mind, as opposed to simply saving their favorite pictures, movies and conversations? There are at least five different kinds of motivations.

For some the reason is to create a kind of living memorial of themselves, for the benefit of children, grandchildren, and friends. These purposeful mindfile websites offer a customizable avatar (animated image), combined with a “chatbot” (conversational software program), that uses all of the information uploaded about a person to chat online the way the creator would chat if he or she were online. The customizable avatars even give the same kind of facial expressions and mannerisms as would their human creator. These mindfile websites allow someone to say “I was here” with the best tools that consumer technology has to offer.

A second reason people use mindfile websites is that they simply enjoy the creative process of making a digital replica of themselves. Rather like scrapbooking on steroids, mindfile creation is an artistic hobby centered on your own life. The goal of the endeavor is for your mindfile-based avatar or chatbot to be the most realistic one about, the one able to win praise from other mindfile aficionados and perhaps even contest awards. The mindfile websites offer an array of personality tests, conversational learning tools and memory repositories so that the mindfile hobbyist can create an ever-more realistic cybernetic portrait.

Third, mindfile websites are being marketed to busy people as email screening, web crawling and online shopping tools. Once you create your mindfile on these sites, and set its parameters, it can begin screening and even answering your email, very much as you would personally. In a similar fashion your mindfile can handle other virtual tasks for you without anyone being aware (or caring) that they are dealing with your cyberspace agent rather than your self. The more time you spend building up your mindfile agent, the more useful it will be to you.

Fourth, there are the gloggers. These are committed believers in sousveillance, the practice of streaming the video of one’s every waking moment to a massive social networking site for gloggers everywhere. Sousveillance entails everyone watching everything, a horizontal and thus democratic form of digital monitoring. It is quite unlike surveillance, which involves “Big Brother” watching everyone else, as is the case with most CCTV and security monitoring systems. Gloggers generally wear souped-up glasses (or goggles) with built-in audio-video recording capability that sends whatever it is you see and hear to your mobile phone or a hard drive, from which it is transmitted onward to the glogger.mobi website.

It is argued that everyone will be safer, and freer, in a sousveillance society. Unfortunately, one of its pioneers, Prof. Steven Mann of the University of Toronto, has faced numerous legal challenges to his insistence on keeping his goggle-based video running in public lavatories, police stations and other camera-unfriendly spaces. In his view this amounts to discrimination against the differently abled, which in his case is being wedded to a cybernetic appendage. Clearly, though, gloggers have the most extensive mindfiles.

Finally, geek futurists are motivated to use mindfile websites. These (mostly) guys realize that intelligent avatars are the next wave. They are early-adopters who want to be among the first people to sport a software agent that looks, acts and even thinks just like they do. They realize that software which actually thinks like a human – known as mindware – is not yet available. However, geeks can tell by the trends in software capability that mindware will be here soon. Mindfile development and testing is as close as we can get to the real thing today. It is like toying with personal computer building kits in the 1970s before Apple and other companies sold consumer desktops in the 1980s.

It should be noted that it takes no more effort than a daily hour in the gym to create a purposeful mindfile more reflective of you than the best biography. For example, in one hour a day, over a period of five years, you would have 2000 hours of your life on video or 100,000 uploaded and described photos. A leading social scientist, William Sims Bainbridge, has created over 100,000 online questions, and associated psychometric analytical software, that he believes represents a person’s entire general set of feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values. Each question asks how positively or negatively you feel about a topic, and how important that topic is to you. Completing just 50 of these a day – about an hour’s effort at most – would complete them all in five years. A daily mindfile workout might consist of a short video, a few uploaded photos and a few Bainbridge questions. After a decade or so, your mindfile would be quite complete. Alternatively, you will get to pretty much the same place if you are a regular online social networker. Its just like the difference between people who stay fit with a machine-driven routine and others who do so with regular pick-up games.

So, we are all creating voluminous mindfiles, albeit haphazardly, unintentionally and dispersed among IT companies. Some of us are centralizing our mindfiles, such as with a single provider of cloud computing services. A few of us are focusing on making our mindfiles as true to our minds as possible. This can be done with online personality profile and avatar training tools. It is a revolutionary development that much of the content of most people’s minds is being saved outside of their bodies. Even more fundamental is the prospect that these mindfiles can, with mindware under development, be used as the basis for recreating the mind from which they came.

10 comments:

  1. As always, an inspiring and inspired mind to follow. Thanks Martine for taking the time to share your mind(files).

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  2. Count me among the fifth dimension - geek futurists. I not only believe that intelligent avatars are coming soon ... I'm working to create them. An excellent introduction to Mindfiles, Martine ... thanks! The only area I would quibble about is that such information is being erased; my background leads me to believe otherwise.

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  3. Excellent point, Mike -- I will edit to qualify that point -- we don't even know what we don't know in that arena.... (or at least I don't -- you undoubtedly have more insights....)

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  4. It is a revolutionary development that much of the content of most people’s minds is being saved outside of their bodies. Even more fundamental is the prospect that these mindfiles can, with mindware under development, be used as the basis for recreating the mind from which they came.

    This is fundamental indeed. However I think current technology is too low bandwidth to produce mindfiles that can be used be used as the basis for recreating the mind from which they came. I feat the bandwidth of one gigabyte per month that you quote would not produce enough data to recreate more than a very pale shadow of the original mind.

    Also, many people are "defined" by memories and thoughts that are never told to others, let alone included in a mindfile that could be read by others.

    I believe both problems, bandwidth and privacy, will be solved by high bandwidth, high resolution brain to computer interface technologies. Consumer devices like the NIA and the EPOC represent the first baby steps toward the ability to transfer massive amounts of data from a brain to a computer (and back). I think if the first consumer applications --playing videogames with thought-- are successful, the technology will advance very fast and, in say 10 to 20 years, permit easily capturing and storing terabytes of deep mind data data per day. This could permit recreating real minds, and could be achieved within our lifetimes.

    This does not mean that current efforts are not valuable, quite the contrary. I think systems like CybeRev may ultimately be the key to mind uploading and indefinite lifespans -- if we find a way to capture and store much more data much faster.

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  5. Thanks Giulio. You raise some interesting questions that i will edit into the blog. At least from my personal experience, I am quite skeptical that we are "defined" by memories and thoughts we never share. Like anyone, I have my private memories and thoughts. Would I really be any different if I didn't have them? I don't think so, not materially so. It is not a question of replicating ourselves down to every thought and memory -- that is way unnecessary, as we don't even remain constant in that regard from day to day and surely not year to year. All that is necessary is to achieve what Max More calls a "continuity of personhood." Since I feel "me" from moment to moment without the intrusion of all my personal thoughts and memories, I believe I will still feel "me" even were those totally zapped from my mind.

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  6. While we may, without being aware of it, be building a chronicle of our mental activities via email, blogs, and essays, even if only in draft form on our hard drives, engaging the mindfiles idea in a highly organized way is an entirely new level of adventure.

    Here, one asks not just "who am I?" but "who do I want to become?" Systems like CyBeRev Bainbridge modules provide a way of noting both how you see yourself and how you think you would like to be. Lifenaut is more elementary, but still can affirm “who you want to be” vs. “who you are”, if you elect to use it that way.

    There's a joke that goes, "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?" and the answer is, "One, but the light bulb has to want to change!" With most of those working on Bainbridge and Lifenaut modules, it would be reasonable to expect that they *do* want to change, and are effectively redesigning their personalities as they go. They are *both* the “light bulb” *and* the “psychologist”.

    Putting it more broadly, your Bainbridge or Lifenaut data, together with all your other memory mindfile contents, are literally “who you are” and the “seeds of everything you may become”. The only limits are your imagination and your eagerness to become all that you might. Is it that simple? Not completely! it is possible for misinterpretations to occur.

    In an attempt to reduce conceptual noise, to clarify possible ambiguities and avoid misunderstandings, interpretive comments can be helpful. In the Bainbridge modules for example, after an initial run through each of them, my partner and I have found it helpful to go back a second time, seeing if we have scored the items to our satisfaction and making any changes we think appropriate, noting this along with interpretive comments using a digital voice recorder.

    One hundred items can be reviewed and updated with vocal perspectives added, in as little as a half hour this way. One's tones of voice and emotional inflections are added to the total content. Converting the audio files to .mp3 and uploading them to CyBeRev or Lifenaut enriches the data and reduces chances of misinterpretation at the same time.

    It can be particularly important to comment on items that are easy to see from wrong perspectives, which an emulation program might misinterpret. One example, and it touches many of the items encountered in the Bainbridge modules, has to do with "rules". Including it here not only helps to illustrate the principle. It helps (me) to clarify items already entered that might otherwise seem self-contradictory or confused. (This blog comment *is*, in the deepest way, part of *my* mindfile.)

    [Since comments on blogs are limited to 4096 characters, the example about “rules” will have to be part of an additional comment, below.]

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  7. Module items concerning “rules” (continued from the previous comment).

    The wordings in items about “rules” vary widely. A particularly enigmatic one is, "I know how to get around the rules." A similar item, "I always follow the rules" might seem puzzling. There are no distinctions as to who made the rules, or what the consequences might be if they were disregarded. We can only guess where such questions came from, and how they might be interpreted.

    Questions about rules probably fit the purpose of many psychological tests. Could they be there to detect conformity or criminal tendencies? Might they have one of these purposes in one test and the other in another? Could this item have to do with a puritan-like attitude toward moral laxity vs. rigidity of adherence, in the context of a religion? How are we to clarify items such as these?

    Even if we decide to "clarify by comment" in the broadest way, we are at a disadvantage. How can we cover all the bases without a very lengthy discussion touching all the possible interpretations? Perhaps we have to "take it to a higher level". Here’s a comment that might serve the purpose of getting out of this trap, by focus on a narrowed interpretation:

    1. Let’s assume that rules exist to define ethics and practices within a particular group, whether political, governmental, religious, or sports-related. By affiliation with the group, we understand the intent is for each to understand and agree that continued participation requires "playing by the rules".

    2. "Not playing by the rules" in this context amounts to either willful misconduct or gross negligence. On that basis, then, one can answer the "rules" questions consistently and ignore ideas such as "(bad) rules are made to be broken" or more generally, "might makes right".

    3. Even if the rules items are all addressed within this framework of reference, there are still items that raise questions. One such item is, "I know how to get around the rules". What are we to do about that? It's about "knowing", the simple possession of knowledge. Still, some rules are harder to break than others. Being competent in rule-breaking suggests at least an intent to break them.

    4. The solution might be to comment, "We still live in a world where, with no unfairness to anyone, survival could depend on breaking rules designed to exploit or enslave. I know a little about such rules, and how to break them. On the other hand, in a well structured society such as Terasem envisions, any great degree of energy devoted to knowledge of how to break rules would be a waste of time."

    We cannot know how an emulation program will use numerical scores on a “rules” item, but if we have clarified them to our satisfaction by commenting, hopefully this will not only reduce confusion in our mindfile, but alert future emulation teams as to conflicting ways others may have marked “rules” items without thoroughly thinking them through in the process (and commenting upon them).

    Now, I’ll load a pdf file of this webpage up into CyBeRev. One more step toward becoming a consistently orchestrated cyberbeing!

    Perhaps it is worth looking at the deepest ramifications of clarifying items that are to be used in shaping one’s “personality characteristics”. It might be put this way: “Only by examining each item as if it were a multifaceted jewel, searching for unexpected reflections and flaws, may one hope to assign it a score and fit it into the setting of one’s mindfile so that no matter what kind of light falls on it, from any angle, it will work well and consistently with all the other facets of one’s “personality mindfile matrix”.

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