Prototypes: Microsoft Builds a Browser for Your Past
From Technology Review:
Mining personal data to discover what people care about has become big business for companies such as Facebook and Google. Now a project from Microsoft Research is trying to bring that kind of data mining back home to help people explore their own piles of personal digital data.
Software called Lifebrowser processes photos, e-mails, Web browsing history, calendar events, and other documents stored on a person’s computer and identifies landmark events. Its timeline interface can explore, search, and discover those landmarks as a kind of memory aid.
“The motivation behind Lifebrowser is that we have too much stuff going on in our personal digital spheres,” says Eric Horvitz, the distinguished scientist at Microsoft who created Lifebrowser. “We were interested in making local machines private data-mining centers [that are] very smart about you and your memory so that you can better navigate through that great amount of content.”
Behind the scenes, Lifebrowser uses several machine-learning techniques to sift through personal data and determine what is important to its owner. When judging photos, Lifebrowser looks at properties of an image file for clues, including whether the file name was modified or the flash had fired. It even examines the contents of a photo using machine-vision algorithms to learn how many people were captured in the image and whether it was taken inside or outdoors. The “session” of photos taken at one time is also considered as a group, for cues such as how long an event was and how frequently photos were taken.
Lifebrowser looks for clues about whether a file is especially significant, and asks for extra hints if it’s unsure. A screen saver prompts a user to inform Lifebrowser if certain photos are of “landmark” events or not, and a simple dialogue does the same for calendar invitations. Over time, the system learns what’s important to you, and adapts. “You always think that machine learning is kind of cold,” says Horvitz. “This is showing that a model is not only learning about how I think, it’s also very warmly understanding what it means to capture humanity.”
Filed under: Data Files
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.