Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Augmented Memory Championship

So, I was in Lancaster University, giving a keynote speech on "A Mnemonist's Perspective on Memory" at a memory-themed workshop last week. I mumbled my way through a five-minute talk directed at an audience of science people (all of them with PhDs and probably loads of the extra special secret kind of qualifications you get after a PhD if you're really clever) and then resigned myself to two days of being bewildered by clever science-people ideas about memory that would mean nothing to me at all. But as it turned out, we spent the second afternoon making things with pipe-cleaners, coloured paper and other primary-school craft supplies, so they'd obviously geared the whole thing to my own level of intellectual development.

But while there, I found out that the Creative Arts building has two 'pods' outside it in the scenic woodland across the footpath from the main building (which is itself very scenic, with a wooden bridge over a moat to get to the front door, and lots of ducks). The pods (used as meeting rooms) are circular domes, little things just able to accommodate a central round table with seating around it for maybe six people at a squeeze. There's two round windows in each one and a circular skylight on top. Oh, wow, I said, this is just such the perfect location for the next UK Memory League Championship! Imagine the video footage we could put on YouTube of the two pairs of competitors walking through the woods to their Isolation Pods, with squirrels, ducks and who knows what else happily wishing them good luck on their way!

(When I mentioned this to Nelson, he said "Sounds great, did you take pictures?" and I said "Oh yes, I could have done that, couldn't I? I mean, I did have a smart-phone in my pocket and everything. But I'm still unused to the idea of mobile phones, so it never occurred to me." I might have to go back there and take pictures I can show to you all. Or maybe find them on the internet.)

So I mentioned this to the university people, and they said it would be great to have the competition there - especially if we could do it in conjunction with the other event we spent that afternoon discussing!

See, the main theme of this workshop was how technology could assist human memory. And a great way to promote and develop this idea for the future would be to have an Augmented Memory Championship! It would work like this - teams, consisting of a memoriser and their 'pit crew' of scientists and technologians, would compete against each other in disciplines that would combine human memory skills with the best assistance technology could provide.

In some disciplines, the technology would be used in the memorisation process, followed by an unassisted human memoriser recalling by themself. So for example, we could do speed cards in which (we're projecting into the future now, rather than anything available today) the memoriser picks up the cards, drops them into a hopper which the computer immediately reads and converts into an image (with sounds and any other sensations the memoriser might want) according to the memoriser's specifications, and plays it on the memoriser's VR headset. The whole process takes five seconds, and the memoriser has seen/heard/felt everything they need in order to know exactly what the sequence of cards was.

Then there's the disciplines where the memorisation is technology-free, but then the memoriser is able to use technology to prompt their recall - displaying the appropriate images to fill in the gaps in recall, pointing out pre-programmed instances of possible confusion, things like that.

And then there's the forgetting competition (because technology to help people forget is a goal as well as to help people remember), in which one team tries to memorise and the other tries to use as many technological means as they can to make the memoriser forget. All sorts of possible strategies there, and it might just hit on something that has a universal application...

And a team memorising competition, where people and technology (for example) watch a video and prepare to answer questions about what they've seen. Technology can be programmed to pick up certain details, the humans can co-ordinate with it to make sure everything's been covered by someone or some thing.

This is something that needs to happen - who would be interested in taking part? Memorisers seeking scientists and scientists seeking memorisers would be matched together by some sort of academic dating agency, and all the academics at the workshop were very confident that the whole event could get: 1) Funding, that all-important thing in the academic world; 2) The possibility of a really good academic paper about it; and 3) Genuine possibility that a spin-off from this competition could turn into a genuine new development that could really improve human life in general. I love it!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Amazing Alex Mullen

He did indeed blow away the rest of the world's greatest memorisers, finishing with a new world record 15.612 seconds (because these new-fangled devices record it to the thousandth of a second instead of the hundredth) in speed cards! It was a sensational kind of competition, and the live-streaming was a million times cooler than any memory competition ever before! Multiple cameras, zooms in to the competitors as they fleetingly glanced at the cards before stopping the clock, it was really fun to watch! Maybe there's hope for a televised World Memory Championship yet!

And people are even praising the prize ceremony for pronouncing people's names right, giving the right medals to the right people, knowing what the scores were, not going on until the small hours of the morning, and so on! What am I going to make fun of on my glorious return next year, if this keeps up? Great work from Yudi, Andy and everybody else involved!