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IBM mobile software helps 'senior moments'

IBM researchers develop technology to help people recall events, names of new acquaintances, and details of a conversation in their context with the use of cell phone and PC.

You don't have to be older than 60 to have a "senior moment" in today's information-overloaded culture. So technologists are working on software that could one day help jog the memory despite your age.

For the past two years, IBM researchers have been developing technology to help people recall events, names of new acquaintances, and details of a conversation in their context with the use of cell phone and computer. On Tuesday, IBM Research Labs plans to publicize an early version of its personal-assistant software, called "Pensieve," after the fictional memory bank described in Harry Potter books. IBM posted a video on YouTube.

Not available publicly yet, the software could feasibly be used with any mobile smart phone. The technology relies on people keeping track of what's important to them by using the phone to snap photos, create text documents, or record audio. When the phone is synced to a computer via a Pensieve-enabled dock, the software takes over. It collates files by their tagged GPS location and time, among other rules, and creates associations between them.

"As it processes the information, it's building an associative network of people and places and events," said Laura Haas, director of computer science at the IBM Research Center in San Jose, Calif.

For example, if a person takes a photo of an event poster, the software's optical character recognition technology would take down the details of the event and make a calendar entry. Or if a person takes a photo of someone new at a business workshop, followed by a picture of his or her business card, Pensieve might create an address book entry that's linked to the photo and notes taken at the workshop. Later, when the person tries to remember the name of new acquaintance, he or she could use Pensieve's search engine to recall data from the workshop.

"If I'm trying to remember the name of this interesting person, maybe all I remember is that I met them at Google, I would search for 'person at Google' and it would show my contacts from there and start jogging my memory," Haas said.

The project began as part of an annual competition within IBM's Research Labs, which calls on engineers to submit creative ideas for tech projects. The project received so-called "blue money," or development funding.

For now, the technology relies heavily on photos or text that are captured on a cell phone, thanks to IBM's work in optical character recognition and information retrieval. But IBM researchers eventually plan to add sound capture on the same device, when more mobile gadgets provide audio recording tools.

IBM is also now starting to look for technology partners, such as cell phone manufacturers or mobile software companies, to develop it into a working product, Haas said.

"It's an evolution of smarter and smarter PDAs," she said. "What makes this special, and why I think it will be successful, is that it's purposeful. If you're capturing everything, then you're like our poor brains, and you can't process everything."

New IBM Research technology (a mockup shown here) is designed to be a virtual memory aide, organizing the who, what, when and where of all the information captured by your mobile device so you can search for it later. IBM Research Labs