Posted by John Bates
The quest for eternal life has fascinated people through the ages. Theorizing on the topic has usually considered the physical body and how either it can be continuously repaired, the brain transplanted into another body or the body preserved cryogenically until medical science can repair it. Of course this discounts the many religious theories about “eternal life” after death – but I don’t intend to get into that one here!
However, consider a scenario in that rather than preserving the actual physical person, you could preserve a multi-dimensional digitized record of that person. So detailed a record, in fact, that it could be used to “reconstruct” the person. What do I mean?
Well the closest we have come to this in recent history is a combination of physical evidence, still and moving images and historical writings. Consider Lenin; His body was preserved in Red Square in Moscow, there are numerous writings about his behavior at certain points in his life and even some early video. Probably not enough to reconstruct Lenin – but enough to understand something about his behavior and motivations.
So how do events fit into this scenario? Well, start by considering an event as the “digitization of a real-world occurrence”. For example, a portable sensor combining GPS and wireless communication can digitally capture the changing location of an object and communicate it as events describing the X,Y and Z coordinates of a particular object. Other finer-grained technologies could track movements inside buildings. Overlaid on the coordinate system can be geospatial databases that interpret where the coordinate actually are – such as “Mark’s living room”. Applying this to a person on a continuing basis and you have captured one dimension of their life – where they are. All you have to do is record the events in time-order to have a historic view of their movements. Other forms of digitized recordings can include digitally capturing what the person is typing on a computer, whatever a person says, whatever a person hears, where a person’s eyes are looking, what the weather conditions are etc. Each sequence can be captured as events and recorded in time-order, for example, at a particular point in time, Mark heard John say “event processing”.
Where things really get fun, though, is using the power of event processing on top of this. All sorts of interesting information can be discerned by correlating simple events recorded about a person. For example, event rules can determine that “at 9am, on a sunny Thursday April 19th 2007, Mark and John discussed event processing in Mark’s office” -- because it knew that both Mark and John were together in a room, the room was Mark’s office, that they were meeting between 9am and 10am and the topic of the conversation was “event processing”.
Some early projects (such as one that I ran with Mark Spiteri at Cambridge and another that my friends Mick Laming and William Newman ran at Xerox Research) tried to capitalize on this fact -- that by recording activities, complex things could be automatically “remembered”. Imagine, for example, that John couldn’t remember a key piece of information he wanted to use in a paper; All he could remember is “that he discussed it with Mark in an early morning meeting on a sunny day within the last 3 months”. Using complex event capture and query techniques, it is possible to retrieve event sequences for every early-morning meeting in the last 3 months between John and Mark when the weather was sunny (that narrows it down a bit in New England J) . John could then observe the event sequences for those meetings – or narrow the search down further. In the end he was able to find the relevant information, by correlating the relationships between a set of multi-dimensional events.
So, I know this isn’t quite eternal life! But it’s a start. Recording events from every possible angle and then being able to correlate them is a much richer way of recording a person than 2 dimensional video. It enables all sorts of previously unanticipated scenarios and thought processes to be reconstructed about a person. But more importantly, that person’s interactions with the rest of the world – in particular other people, can be determined. Unlike in early experiments, sensor technologies are becoming ubiquitous and non-intrusive (no more wearing a range of Robo-cop-style equipment J). Of course this kind of capture opens up all sorts of privacy issues – but let’s park those for now.
And of course we haven’t even considered the real-time aspects of this technology. We used to have great fun with event-based rules, such as “When it’s coffee time and Mark and Scott are together, then play this video message on the nearest terminal to them”.
But back to eternal life for a moment…. If you capture events about an individual from a rich enough number of dimensions, have you captured that individual’s soul? Could you recreate that individual by modeling their response to events? This is very much the “black box” approach. In other words, rather than actually understanding how a system works, we model it from its inputs and outputs. I typed the title of this article very much “tongue in cheek” – and I’m skeptical about whether we could ever model anything as complex as a human. However, at a very minimum, we can use event capture, replay and correlation to reconstruct a historical view of an individual from any “angle”. Your legacy could be preserved, even if your body couldn’t. However, history often lends a dusting of romanticism to the imperfect individual – this is something that event processing can’t do. It just gives you the facts ma’am.