Written in Orlando, Florida and dispatched to silicon.com the same day via a free LAN connection in my hotel
I have just had one of those 'blue murder' weeks that occur now and again where I seem to be travelling every day and have one meeting after another non-stop.
And as usual my memory is suffering. I can remember everything about a meeting a few days ago - the conversation, conclusions and action points - but for some reason I just cannot put a face to the name.
I'd be worried about this recurring phenomenon if it were not for the fact that people 20 years my junior report the same problem. As far as I can tell it seems to result from mental overload and accumulating tiredness brought on by the increasingly chaotic world of work.
Given that I have good internet access and some time to spare, I decide to do an image search to help recover my memory loss. I type the name of the individual whose face I cannot remember in an image search engine and hit search. Bingo! In less than half a second I have a picture of my missing guest and my memory is restored.
I don't know why I should feel surprised by this outcome but I do. And so I decide to start searching, at random, for people I know. Running down my professional address book I score a positive outcome more than 80 per cent of the time, with the majority showing up on the first search page in less than a second. A proportion (say around 30 per cent) takes a little more effort and around 10 per cent are hard work. After that I give up!
The biggest surprise during this short experiment was the number of non-professional people I know who appear on the net. Also the pictures reveal a really interesting trail of connectivity. By back-tracking to the website where the image appears, it is possible to discover much about the individual concerned - where they work, where they travel, what they do, who their colleagues are, a selection of family pictures. It seems endless!
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It strikes me that anyone with efficient search technology could assemble a complete(ish) portfolio on most of us in minutes. But here's the kicker: the validity of the picture acquired isn't a problem if you know the person but if you do not know the individual you sometimes have to work really hard to verify that fact.
I'm not going to discuss the obvious implications of all this here but suggest you give it a try, search for people you know and see what happens. Let me know how it goes by posting a Reader Comment!
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.