31. August – 05. September 2014, Dagstuhl-Seminar 14362

Augmenting Human Memory - Capture and Recall in the Era of Lifelogging


Mark Billinghurst (University of Canterbury – Christchurch, NZ)
Nigel Davies (Lancaster University, GB)
Marc Langheinrich (University of Lugano, CH)
Albrecht Schmidt (Universität Stuttgart, DE)

Auskunft zu diesem Dagstuhl-Seminar erteilt

Dagstuhl Service Team


Dagstuhl Report, Volume 4, Issue 8 Dagstuhl Report
Gemeinsame Dokumente


Technology has always had a direct impact on how and what humans remember. This impact is both inevitable and fundamental - technology radically changes the nature and scale of the cues that we can preserve outside our own memory in order to trigger recall. Such change is not new - we have seen the transition from story-telling to written books, from paintings to photographs to digital images and from individual diaries to collective social networks. However, in recent years three separate strands of technology have developed to the extent that collectively they open up entirely new ways of augmenting human memory:

  1. near-continuous collection of memory cues has become possible through the use of technologies such as Microsoft's SenseCam, social networks and interaction logs.
  2. advances in data storage and processing now enables widespread mining of stored cues for proactive presentation, both in terms of cues collected by an individual and in terms of complex networks of related cues contributed by others.
  3. the presence of ubiquitous displays (both in the environment and via personal devices such as Google Glasses) provides many new opportunities for displaying memory cues to trigger recall.

It is self-evident that we do not effectively encode all of the information that we encounter, nor are we able to retrieve at will, all of that content that we do encode. When trying to recall known facts, many of our day-to-day memory failures result from a temporary failure to retrieve memories rather than from their permanent erasure. Our ability to recall target information is particularly vulnerable to transient changes in accessibility that arise through changes in the contents of our short-term memories and the cues in our environment. That memory can be improved with effective cues is beyond doubt: whilst a typical participant might be able to recall only 38 out of a set of 100 words that had been continually studied and sorted over many minutes, this accuracy increases to 96% when the most effective cues are presented at test. One experiences these temporary failures to retrieve memories everyday when we might remark "I cannot recall X (e.g., his name, the company, the town, etc.), but if I saw it, I would recognise it". Tellingly, we are unlikely to experience or say the converse.

One of the most frustrating features of human memory is that we are particularly vulnerable at remembering to do something in the future (the area of memory research known as prospective memory). Prospective memory failures readily occur for remembering time-based future events (hence the value of setting computer alarms reminding us of meetings), and for remembering event-based future events (remember to post a letter on the way to work, remember to pick up a takeaway for the family tonight). Research suggests that whereas there is a general decline in memory with increasing old age, it is prospective memory and retrieval in the absence of cues that are particularly impaired, whereas cued recall and recognition are more preserved.

The Dagstuhl Seminar 14362 "Augmenting Human Memory - Capture and Recall in the Era of Lifelogging" focused on a vision of the world in which augmented memory systems make everyday use of peripheral, ambient multi-media content - delivered via large wall-mounted displays, smartphone wallpapers, or wearable in-eye projectors - to intelligently integrate, display, and enable the review of life-relevant personal data. Such memory augmentation technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way we use memory in a wide range of application domains.

Behaviour Change: Effecting behaviour change is an important objective in many important areas such as health (e.g. lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise or stopping smoking) and sustainable transport (e.g. encouraging people to make more environmentally-friendly transport choices). Unfortunately, despite good intentions, many people experience difficulty in implementing planned behaviour: for example, it is well known that many people are reluctant to make a trip to the gym despite paying large gym membership fees. Psychological theory stresses that intentional behaviours are more likely to be implemented when individuals are reminded of their own attitude towards such behaviours (e.g., the positive gains that will result), and the attitudes of significant others to the behaviour (what loved ones, family, friends, peers, and society in general think of the behaviour and its outcomes). In addition, realistic scheduling is important: planned behaviour is more likely to be performed if it is timetabled with the transition from immediately preceding activities in mind. Finally, behaviour is more likely if it is perceived to be more achievable and more enjoyable. Memory augmentation can help with the realistic scheduling and reminding of the planned activities, and can remind people at the point at which decision making is necessary (e.g., at the planned time to visit the gym) of the positive benefits from the behaviour, the previous good experience of the behaviour and the progress that is being made.

Learning: Such technologies can be used as part of a learning environment. In particular, through the use of ambient displays it might be possible to cue recall, and hence reinforce learning of a wide range of skills. For example, the acquisition of a new language could be supported by providing appropriate cues to facilitate recall of vocabulary. Similarly, a class teacher could be encouraged to remember the names of their pupils, and a study abroad student could learn culturally-significant facts as they explore a new city.

Supporting Failing Memories: Research has shown that as we age, our ability to perform uncued recall is particularly vulnerable to age-related decline. Memory augmentation technologies could be used to help remedy this memory loss by providing older users with time-relevant and context-appropriate cues. In this way, older individuals could enjoy greater self-confidence and greater independence by being reminded of moment-by-moment situated details of where they were, what they were intending to do, and how they could get home. They may also enjoy better relationships if they could be reminded of the autobiographical details of their loved ones (such as the names and ages of their loved ones' children), or if they could review and then be reminded of the details of a recent conversation or event (e.g., a recent day out or family gathering).

Selective Recall: Through appropriate selection of memory cues that are presented to the user, memory augmentation technologies might also be used to facilitate selective recall. According to the psychological theory of retrieval-induced forgetting, the act of reviewing memories not only enhances the probability of spontaneously retrieving these reviewed memories in the future, but it can also attenuate the spontaneous retrieval of related but unreviewed memories. The study of retrieval-induced forgetting has largely been confined to the laboratory using lists of categorised words. It is of both pure and applied interest (e.g., the desired attenuation of unwanted, outdated, or traumatic memories; and the undesired attenuation of wanted but unreviewed memories) to see if this phenomenon can be observed when reviewing a subset of "real world" memories, and if so, we will be able to measure the extent to which unreviewed memories could be attenuated through selective reviewing.

Memory Based Advertising: While many of the application domains for memory augmentation technologies are for the public good, the same technologies can also be employed in the commercial context. For example, such technologies could be used to support a new form of advertising in which users have memories triggered explicitly to drive purchasing decisions. For example, when passing a shop selling luggage a cue could be presented that causes a passer-by to remember a specific experience from their past in which their own luggage didn't work satisfactorily. This may then cause the user to enter the shop and purchase some new luggage.

Collectively, the seminar participants explored the scientific foundations for a new technology eco-system that can transform the way humans remember in order to measurably and significantly improve functional capabilities while maintaining individual control. At its heart lies the creation of memory augmentation technology that provides the user with the experience of an extended and enhanced memory. Such technology is based on recent improvements in the collection, mining, and presentation of appropriate information to facilitate cued memory recall. This research is inherently multidisciplinary and combines elements of pervasive computing, information retrieval and data privacy with psychology and sociology.

Summary text license
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 Unported license
  Mark Billinghurst, Nigel Davies, Marc Langheinrich, and Albrecht Schmidt


  • Data Bases / Information Retrieval
  • Mobile Computing
  • Society / Human-computer Interaction


  • Augmented Human
  • Memory
  • Pervasive Computing
  • HCI
  • Privacy


In der Reihe Dagstuhl Reports werden alle Dagstuhl-Seminare und Dagstuhl-Perspektiven-Workshops dokumentiert. Die Organisatoren stellen zusammen mit dem Collector des Seminars einen Bericht zusammen, der die Beiträge der Autoren zusammenfasst und um eine Zusammenfassung ergänzt.


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