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An interview with noted memory hacker Julia Shaw, appearing at CEBIT

Can artificial intelligence (AI) help us to better recall our lives? At the upcoming CEBIT (11 to 15 June), memory researcher and legal psychologist Dr. Julia Shaw will report on her pioneering research at the interface of memory and AI, revealing how, in the future, it will be possible for us to remember lifetime events as long as we live.

18 May. 2018

Julia Shaw will speak on Wednesday, 13 June , at the CEBIT Artificial Intelligence Summit on the Grand Central Stage in Hall 27.

In the following advance interview, she explains how human memory can be manipulated and how artificial intelligence can be used to expand human memory.

1. What do you need to hack into someone’s memory? And how easily can this happen?

It is amazingly easy to manipulate memories and persuade someone that he or she has seen or done something that never actually happened. All you need is the trust of the person in question, false information (e.g. suggesting a fictitious course of past events) and the imaginative power of the person involved. Because our brains are so flexible and creative, they can knit together plausible stories from just a few bits of information and convince themselves that it is actually a case of genuine experience.

2. What are the major advantages and hazards of this type of memory intervention?

We need to be vigilant and careful that outside parties – be they news sources, authority figures or trusted individuals such as family members or friends – do not manipulate our memory, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Other people can dramatically change our perceptions of reality. This can affect our own self-image, our consumer habits and even our voting behavior. The idea that people could base important decisions on a past that never happened is frightening.

False memories – that sounds like a flaw at first, a faulty design of the brain. But that is not the case. False memories are a wonderful byproduct of the same systems that are responsible for creativity, intelligence and problem solving. Our brain is not made to remember the past with complete attention to detail. Our brain is designed for something much greater, i.e. the capacity to think abstractly and with suppleness. False memories are just the result of this amazing flexibility of our brain.

3. Can artificial intelligence expand human memory capacity in the relatively near future or even replace it entirely?

Yes, I believe that AI can expand and replace certain aspects of human memory capabilities. For experiences that could later become significant – for instance, witnessing a crime or undergoing other extremely stressful life experiences – it is important to keep a record of them. This is the best defense against memory hacking. People tend to overestimate their memory capacity. Here it can be helpful to record your impressions while they are still fresh in mind. That’s why my latest research is using AI to create scalable practical memory tools that can record important life events. My first application, SPOT (, is designed to help people remember details involving harassment and discrimination in the workplace. My goal is a future in which we combine memory theory and AI to create a better working environment. In my opinion, this is where the next cognitive revolution will take place. If we are aware of the limits of our brains and can replace the corresponding processes with technology, we will have taken a decisive step forward.

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