augmented memory

Augmented memory is the practice of artificially increasing a person's ability to produce long term memories and retain information. Augmentation can be defined as the process of making or becoming greater in size or amount. Augmented memory technology refers specifically to technologies used to record life events and systems designed to collect cues for recollection. Most augmented memory technologies utilize artificial intelligence (AI) for encoding and recollection processes.

The goal of augmented memory technology is to create a digital nostalgia based on real-world objects and experiences to enhance human memory in daily life. Digital nostalgia creates a history specific to an individual by connecting their human experience with something tangible, like an object, which is found within the experience.

Systems neuroscience studies algorithms and neural circuits that produce representations of the brain to understand how patterns of neural connections create patterns of neural activity and, consequently, apparent behavior or internal neural states. These studies are fundamental in creating augmented memory technology because they provide detailed data that can be used to create cognitive models.

Recent advances in systems neuroscience have prompted various new approaches to memory augmentation. However, a lack of total understanding in exactly how the brain works -- especially in regards to abstract concepts like thoughts, emotions and the human consciousness -- creates an obstacle for scientists who are trying to develop AI-powered devices that can interact with the brain and body without being detrimental.

Approaches and strategies for memory augmentation

Some approaches used to augment long term human memory include:

  • Nootropic agents
  • Brain stimulation
  • Internal aides
  • External aides

Nootropic agents are pharmacological substances prescribed to and consumed by a person with the sole purpose of cognitive enhancement through the augmentation of memory encoding and influencing of retrieval processes. While most nootropics are prescription drugs that have been developed to treat a specific disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease, psychoactive compounds like caffeinated drinks and energy drinks can also be considered part of this category.

Brain stimulation uses non-invasive stimulation to excite neurons in targeted areas and augment memory encoding and retrieval; invasive techniques are not widely accepted or utilized. Non-invasive stimulation techniques cannot target the main memory-related regions of the brain, but they can stimulate areas of the brain more strongly associated with attention and working memory, or short term memory concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. Stimulation of these areas could still enhance memory because paying attention and attending to information is necessary before a memory can be encoded. Furthermore, working memory acts as an intermediary between the attending to and encoding of information and memories.

Internal aides are a much more widely used approach for augmenting human memory. They include strategies implemented by a person internally, or within their brain. Some internal aide approaches include creating a mnemonic, making a sentence or a story, visualizing the words or instances that must be remembered and repetition of the desired memories. Another common strategy is the creation of a memory palace using the loci method. With this internal aide, a person visualizes a familiar environment, such as their house, and imagines walking through it, placing the desired memories in various locations. In order to recall the memories, the person once again imagines visualizes walking through their environment and sees the memories where they placed them.

External aides enhance memory with the use of reminders found outside the body, such as written lists or videos. External aides are the most reliable memory augmentation techniques because they are the least susceptible to memory biases or errors. Modern technologies like Smartphones and tablets have greatly increased the convenience and use of external aides since they enable a person to almost instantly access an externally recorded memory. Furthermore, ready access to the Internet allows people to instantly look up information. Therefore, instead of memorizing facts or stories themselves, a person only has to remember where to go to find the information online.

Augmented memory technology can be considered an external aide. Currently, the most common technology used is human-centered technology, or wearable computers. Ultimately, the wearable computer should able to discern and record the user's internal state -- such as emotions, health, desires and actions -- at any point in time while being worn. Wearable computers also include cameras that record a person's surroundings to increase memory storage and later recollection.

Ubiquitous memory systems have been tested for assistance in memory augmentation. A ubiquitous memory system is a device based on the concept of ubiquitous computing that enables a user to directly associate data from their experience with physical objects through a touching operation. In this system, physical objects are attached to radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and trigger memory retrieval when they are touched, reminding the user of the specific event as if they were virtually there. Ubiquitous memory systems are effective for supporting memory augmentation and recollection of contextual events.

Artificial intelligence software and machines could eventually be used to form technical perceptions of a person's surroundings. These systems would apply long-term memory learning to adjust behavior based on external stimuli such as weather, local air humidity or facial expressions.

The future could eventually see cognitive chips and neuromorphic chips implanted into the brain that can augment memory as well as provide other benefits, such as recognizing and mediating unhealthy behaviors.

Advantages of augmented memory

The human brain is prone to mistakes in the memory encoding, storing and retrieval processes. Augmented memory and, especially, augmented memory technologies are therefore critical to the augmentation of daily life and simple memories.

External aides can also reduce a user's memory overload by taking the encoding, storing and retrieval processes out of the brain through the use of lists, videos or technological devices.

Furthermore, memory augmentation can provide medical benefits to people suffering from memory loss or other memory-related illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer's.


This was last updated in July 2019

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