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A Little Black Box to Jog Failing Memory

By The New York Times

March 9, 2010

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On a cold, wet afternoon not long ago, Aron Reznick sat in the lounge of a home for the elderly here, his silver hair neatly combed, his memory a fog. He could not remember Thanksgiving dinner with his family, though when he was given a hint—“turkey”—it came back to him, vaguely, like a shadow in the moonlight.

Two years ago, Mr. Reznick, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is now 82, signed up for an experiment intended to help people with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders.

The concept was simple: using digital pictures and audio to archive an experience like a weekend visit from the grandchildren, creating a summary of the resulting content by picking crucial images, and reviewing them periodically to awaken and strengthen the memory of the event.

The hardware is a little black box called the Sensecam, which contains a digital camera and an accelerometer to measure movement. Worn like a pendant around the neck, it was developed at Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge, England.

Vicon, a British company that has licensed the technology, wants to market it to young people interested in logging their lives and posting the results to Web sites like Facebook and YouTube. For the elderly, though, it could herald a new kind of relationship between mind and machine: even as plaque gets deposited on the brain, everyday experience is deposited on silicon, then retrieved.

From The New York Times
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