Gordon Bell, 79, doesn't expect to die anytime soon. But when the time inevitably comes, his grandchildren—and, when they're born, his great-grandchildren and their children—will have an insight into his life that few descendants ever get.
For nearly 15 years, Bell, researcher emeritus at the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Laboratory, has been painstakingly digitizing and categorizing his life, storing personal and professional moments as part of a "lifelogging" project done in conjunction with a Microsoft research program called MyLifeBits.
He has amassed a collection of more than 150,000 photos, 750,000 digitized pages of text and 20,000 emails. And though he's not pursuing the project as actively as he once was, he's still looking for new ways to use personal data to help people improve their lives and legacies.
"My real belief is that we will be able to provide an afterlife conversational avatar [at some future point]," Bell said. "There's no reason you can't have that, like one would see in Wikipedia, but have that more conversational and in more detail. … You could ask it about parts of your life and hear [stories]."
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That's down the road, though. For now, the digital detritus of a life is something Bell plans to give his grandchildren. First, though, he has to sort out the personal data he has collected so far.
"I'd say probably my greatest fear is I'm not spending enough time on the organization and legacy aspects of it," he said.
These days, he's focusing on health issues, rather than the moments of his life.
"My main focus now is personal health tracking," he said. "I'm on my second heart attack, second bypass and second pacemaker. I have to be careful to make sure I exercise. So I monitor myself."