How cool would it be to solve your personal problems like you search on Google? “Where’s my keys?” or “What meds did the vet say I should give my cat?”. Well, be careful what you wish for, because there’s a reason a personal search engine doesn’t exist yet: it can only work if you’re under surveillance 24/7. Or … at least when you’re awake.


Image: Flickr

A patent filed by IBM describes such a system, and engineers there claim that it’s quite possible for your personal assistant to help you remember anything you let it see, and even goes a step further: it will suggest things you might have forgotten based on your routine before you even realize you forgot anything. Calling your aunt? The system — which employs machine learning so it constantly understands what’s important to you — will tell you via a display or spell it out for you through a speaker that “Hey, it’s her birthday! Might want to say something nice.” It’s auto-correct … for your life.

“Human memory is not the same as computer memory,” said James Kozloski, an inventor at IBM who focuses on computational and applied neuroscience. “We don’t have pointers. We don’t have addresses where we can just look up the data we need.”

“The idea is quite simple,” Kozloski told The Atlantic. “You monitor an individual’s context, whether it’s what they’re saying or what they’re doing … and you predict what comes next.”

It’s a patent, and if you’ve ever read one you know details are sketchy. But the hardware can be anything really. A processor and memory connected to the web, with various hardware that can record audio, video and maybe even bodily functions like temperature, heart rate, blood pressure. In fact, IBM says that the elderly and people with memory problems would benefit the most.

‘A first example involves an elderly Alzheimer’s patient speaking with a friend at a nursing home. The patient says, “My daughter’s husband’s father just had an accident. Thank goodness his son was there to help . . . you know who I mean . . . ,” and then pauses. The CDA 102 analyzes the patient’s words and attempts to complete the open-ended sentence with the name of the person to whom she is referring. However, in this example, the system has not yet learned that a daughter’s husband’s father’s son is the same as a daughter’s brother-in-law. Although the system knows that the patient’s daughter’s brother-in-law is named Harry, the system is not confident enough to prompt the patient (user) with that information. The system may know such information, for example, because it has encountered this relationship described in a user’s email or because this relationship is learned from an analysis of twitter conversations, voice conversations, medical records, profiles, and/or other user recordings or documents. Such analysis may be done in an opt-in fashion (with permission granted by the user, caregiver, or guardian) to address privacy concerns.’

‘Accordingly, continuing with the example above, the CDA 102 can send a follow-up question to the patient’s caregiver: “Is a daughter’s husband’s father’s son the same as a daughter’s brother-in-law?” As detailed herein, messages can be transmitted via email or cell phone, and choosing which question to ask can be implemented using active learning methodology for selecting the next most informative variable for a query. The caregiver replies “yes,” and from now on, the prompt is available from the CDA 102. Note also that such a prompt can be applied in a variety of other settings, such as composing a memoir, asking a physician a question about experienced symptoms, conducting a business transaction, interacting with a caregiver, etc.’

‘In a second example, a patient’s spouse has suggested that the patient is forgetting things more frequently. Fortunately, the patient has been using the memory enhancement CDA 102 for several years. The doctor reviews the records of prompts and confidence levels over that time and finds that, in fact, a marked drop-off in cognitive ability (or speech motor ability) in the patient began 8 months ago. The doctor can now tailor treatment to a patient who has been experiencing mild cognitive impairment for that time duration.’

‘As also detailed herein, embodiments of the invention can include extensions of use in other areas or contexts. By way of example, aside from helping people with mild to severe cognitive impairment, the CDA 102 may be also useful for people with normal cognitive skills if they wish to enhance their communication abilities or emulate people they admire. As an example, a user may be giving a speech on computing technology. The user may pause, searching for an appropriate word. The CDA 102 can scan a database, the Internet, technical articles, and/or encyclopedias, and communicate a likely useful word or phrase to the user (for example, an audio communication via an ear-piece or visually via a text prompt on a teleprompter or on special eyeglasses).’

So, what do you think? Good idea? Hmm…

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