Microsoft finds new use for screensavers

When screensavers were first introduced in the 1980s they were designed to prevent burn-in on CRT monitors. In the LCD era they’ve largely been used as a distraction and minor security feature but Microsoft now has a new potential use in mind: reminding you of stuff that you’ve forgotten you ever did.

An ongoing Microsoft research project to discover how to digitally archive every aspect of an individual life — capturing photos videos PC history and even TV viewing habits and archiving them automatically — had found that using a screensaver was one of the most effective ways to browse the massive volume of content that results.

“There’s so much stuff you can’t remember to look for a lot of it and the screensaver brings it up” Microsoft Research senior researcher James Gemmell told the Storage Visions 2010 conference in Las Vegas. “This could be the killer app of the lot.”

Gemmell predicted that such “life logging” would rapidly become a mainstream activity especially once the process was automated. “We’re entering a world where increasingly if something can be instrumented it will be instrumented. If you want you can have total recall of your life — as much or as little as you want but certainly way more than ever before.”

While most people probably won’t make such data publicly available having it available will become increasingly useful he said. “It’s not a matter of will this happen or not — it’s gonna happen — it’s a question of how much you will use it personally.”

Gemmell and fellow researcher Gordon Bell have written a book Total Recall based on the MyLifeBits project.