Homework 1: MEMEX Project


CPSC610/Spring 1998/Leggett/Memex Project/25 points

Due date: February 19 at class time

For this project, you are to update Vannevar Bush's vision for a future Memex device. You must explicitly pick the approximate time in the future as discussed in class (say 2020). Your design should be realistic and you should substantiate your design with any and all supporting documentation you feel is necessary.

At a minimum, your design should include:

Turning in your project:

You should simply send the URL of your project to me. I will browse your project from the WWW and print out anything I would like to read on paper. I will send your grade via email.


This is an important project which carries 1/4 of the Labs & Pop Test points.
I am expecting approximately 10 "pages" of writing/drawing.

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Time: 2020


Just as Bush predicted, the amount of information being created, stored and modified by humans is increasing at rates impossible to handle by a person alone. This is true not only for the scientists but also for "normal" people. In "Memex Revisited", Bush proposed to use a machine or computer for personal use that would "...serve a man's daily thoughts directly, fitting with his normal thought processes rather than just do chores for him" (pg. 76). The need for such a personal system is more notorious today than ever. People need to remember a great amount of information in order to realize their every day activities. Bush pointed out at the problem of storing information and retrieving the relevant information. He mentioned that selection by indexing was insufficient and a selection by association method may prove much useful. Also, Bush defined as the essential feature of the Memex the process to tying (or linking) items together to form trails. Today we can say that, associative methods have proved very useful and a redesigned Memex should provide associative methods to access the information. In the same way, a redesigned Memex should continue to work as a MEMory EXpander, facilitating the storage and retrieval of information. Multiple ways to access the information are required adapting to the user particular necessities.

In "As We May Think", Bush conception of the Memex was "...a sort of mechanized private file and library." While the idea behind the Memex is still a personal machine, the development of the communications industry has allowed new ways to work and interact, making sharing information and cooperating with other people requirements in the realization of most persons work. In this sense, the redesigned version of the Memex should provide an easy way to access not only the private information, but access other's information.

The access to others information should have to modalities, a "direct access", where the person accessing the information gains a copy of that information and a "relative access" where only a link is used. The idea behind the original Memex was to gain access directly to the information. A person could store all the books s/he needed. Nevertheless, for situations where the person's work is dependent on other people's work, a relative access seems more appropriate.

Another change in society resulting from the development of better communications is the ability of working and interacting remotely, without the necessity of geographic proximity. Not only a person may work closely with someone that is in the next desk, but with a person who is on the move. For instance, a project manager may have to visit three or four locations during a typical working day. During this time, s/he may need remember information, analyze data, plan actions and communicate with several persons. Just like the project manager, other people may need to record and/or retrieve information at any arbitrary site and time. In order to realize this kind of job, people usually carry agendas or notebooks. The redesigned Memex should be portable in the same way a person carries a notebook with all appointments, to do lists, etc.

Bush's Memex also provided facilities to simultaneously read different pages of information, compare them, analize them, and link them to appropriate information. This is to support the idea processing and discover the significance of ideas and the relationships among ideas [HALASZ, MORAN and TRIGG 1987].



A new Memex should provide input and output media types as the user may require. Also a very user-friendly interface is required. The interface should be adaptable to the particular person using it.

Based on the fact that comparison between different pieces of information (pages, nodes, documents) require space, it is desirable to provide very wide display areas. Also the user may modify anything of the information in the system. The system provides hypertext/hypermedia support from the operating system and file management. Structured Files are provided, but not enforced, living the decision to the user of how to store the information. However, different structure templates exist and agents that analyze the information may suggest the use of a particular template. A strong hierarchy is just one of the possibilities of the system. All modifications to the information may be recorded as:

Hypertext/hypermedia support includes the ability to create typed links with optional procedures attached to them. Traversal of the links include:

Links are treated as objects themselves and are separated from the information. Trails or paths can be created, stored, retrieved and shared between users.

Currently there are many search methods [CRESCENT MEADOW SYSTEMS 1997]. The redesigned Memex should provide multiple ways to the access information such as:

System Architecture

The system should provide facilities to work, both at a particular place (workplace station) and in a mobile fashion (mobile station). This stations may be interconnected by a wireless communication link.Due to the cooperative nature of most persons work today, the system should work within a network, allowing access to other people information.

Figure 1. Mobile Station Sketch


Figure 2. Workplace Station Sketch


There is no doubt that the redesigned Memex will require more processing power and speed than personals computers afford today. Nevertheless there historically, the speed and processing power of computers has increased in several orders of magnitud. Intel has just announced its new 333 MHz Pentium II processor [Intel 1998]. Not only the speed of processors is increasing, but also parallel machines that use multiple processors are being used. This technologies are boosting the performance of computers and there are no signs of change for this trend. The development of such technology will facilitate the implementation of systems that can manage in real time better virtual environments.

Mobile Station

The mobile station consists of a wearable computer system. It provides local information management and remote access to information and other people. The system may be broken into the following components.

The communication between the system module and the rest of the peripherals is wireless.

System Module

This is module is the heart of the system. It manages all the devices, communications and the information. This is a light module that the person wares. It controls communications with the Workplace Station using a satellite link [IRIDIUM 1996]. This satellite link provides communication telephone link from any place in the world. Nevertheless, due to the great amount of information required and the cost of communications, local support is also desired. It is expected that the price for 1 terabyte of memory will decrease to less than 1 USD by the year 2010 [CRESCENT MEADOW SYSTEMS 1997]. Also, the size of memory is expected to decrease at a similar rate. Today, a Digital Video Disc can hold up to 5.2 GByte of RAM and a 3rd generation blue lasers, should yield a 40 GByte ROM in the near future [CRESCENT MEADOW SYSTEMS 1997]. Based on the development of the memory through out history it is possible to forseee arrival of smaller size memory technlogy with larger capacity. The redesigned Memex should provide memory in the order of 10 - 100 Terabytes. This should be more than enough not only because the size of the memory, but also because, better and faster compression algorithms are being developed. In the case that more information is required it can be access over the communication link and cached into memory.

With all, the person is supposed to carry the Memex around, therefore it should be light and non-obtrusive. Research in this direction is realized in several institutions such as the MIT Media Laboratory [MIT MEDIA LAB 1998] or the University of Toronto [MANN 1998]. One example of how wearable computing is evolving can be found at Professor Steve Mann's page from the University of Toronto at "The International Wearable Computing WWW Site".

Special Head Mounted Display

Figure 2. Special Head Mounted Display

One of the requirements for the new Memex is to be able of comparing different pieces of information. One way of satisfying this requirement is using windows. However, these windows may need to be very large individually or it may be many windows to be compared. Therefore a very large display space is required. For the mobile station, one technology soon to be implemented is flexible displays [ZDNN 1998]. Another way to provide a very large display area is using immersion virtual reality technology. This technology is currently on its infancy. It allows the creation of virtual environments where the user could work with "virtual screens" or "virtual windows" of any size. The user can move inside this virtual environment at will. This technology is implemented using a Special Head Mounted Display (SHMD) that allows different media types of input and output. It allows the user to see through the glasses and overlap the system generated visual output to whatever s/he is seeing. Using a position tracker, the system can recognize where the user is seeing and adjust the images to match the image the user sees through the glasses. The special head mounted display is an input/output device only and is dependent on the system module. The communication between the SHMD and the system module is wireless.

Input (from the user and real world):

Output (to user):



Figure 3. Data Gloves

Gloves are to be used as an input and output device. With the aid of 6D position trackers, plus flex sensors for fingers hand arch and wrist, the gloves may be used for:

Since the user operates within an artificial environment, is possible to create virtual keyboards. The gloves provide force feedback to the user, allowing to identify when a virtual key is pressed. An alternative way to input text information is by the use of gestures. In the same way that deaf people may sign each letter, the glove capture the hand and finger position and translates it to letters. Other gestures may be used within the virtual environment as commands.

Optional Peripherals

Different devices may be used in order to print documents or capture information. Digital cameras may capture images. In the case of textual input, character recognition algorithms may be used to convert the image to text. in the case of images or video, different annotations or modifications may be done within the virtual environment.

Workplace Station

The workplace station consists of a desk, a computer system, a very large area to display the information, keyborads, speakers and headphones (for those situations where privacy is required) microphone, head mounted displays, golves, scanners, printers, keyboards and pointing devices. Telephone, videophone and any other communication may be handled by the system. Alternative to the display area, there is a flat digitizer on top of the desk where the user may display and image or window and draw or make corrections or comments on top of it. This "drawing pad" supports free hand drawing an annotation. A third alternative for the display of information to the user is the use of immersion virtual reality. This alternative is similar to the technology proposed for the mobile station.

Basicly the main difference between the Workplace Station and the Mobile Station is the comfort provided by a dedicated physical location and support for meetings and cooperative work. Even though the use of immersion virtual reality, allows for the creation of "virtual meetig rooms", face to face meetings will still exist and proper support from a personal system is always good.


The virtual environments represent 3D environments where the user can interact and cooperate with the system. As the user enters the virtual environment, s/he may select to interact with a searching agent, or browse in a virtual catalog for an appropriate starting point within the information graph. As the user selects the starting point, a virtual window appears in front of her/him presenting the specific information related with that particular node. The user may select to position that window in any place of the virtual environment. The user may also choose to follow a link going from that node. Depending on the preferences of the user the type of link or the gesture used as a command, a new window may appear next to the previous one, or the same window may update its contents with the new node. The user may choose to open any amount of virtual windows and position them in any place. This allows for the comparison of information or the presentation of multiple points of view of a same topic. The user may choose to work in a semi-transparent virtual environment. Semi-transparent virtual environments create a computer-generated image that overlaps the image that the user sees through the glasses. This way, the user may still work and interact with real objects while interacting with the computer at the same time. For instance, in the case of a paramedic, the user may be observing the patient and at the same time the system is interpreting the same image (captured by the SHMD camera) and presents some pertinent information to the user. This information may be treatment instructions, parts of the body to examine or a x-ray image on top of the real body image. At the moment of starting attending the patient, the paramedic indicates the system to save the interaction for a later review. After the emergency is done, the user may chose to display the video in a virtual window, while at the same time edits a textual window specifying the different steps and linking the text with medical data. The user may select to create lins between the text and the video in order to sincronize bothe medias. Also the user may retrieve similar cases and link them to create a performance comparison. The system may automatically detect differences in the procedure and signal them to the user. At the time of creating the link between the different components, the user may specify some system behavior attached to the link. For instance in the text-video links, the traversal of the link will cause the video select the appropriate scene, start the video and stop at the next marked scene. In the case of the performance comparisons, the link specify that a new virtual window should be opened presenting the ideal step procedure next to the current window showing the list of steps performed in reality. The user may wish to create voice annotations and explanations for variations in the standard procedure. The user may still elaborate more the structure of the information and store the structe itself (what for Bush would be the trails). Then the user may modify the interconnecting structure and links between the information. S/he may link to a description of the accident and save the new interconnecting structure. Then s/he can send this structure to the medical doctor attending the patient at the hospital, and to the hospital lawyer for filing in case of a lawsuit.

Figure 4. 3D Virtual Environment Sketch

The user may personalize the virtual environment, such that specific "rooms" with a pre-specified arrangement of virtual objects and behavior. And this environments may adapt to different situations. Since the redesigned Memex has a larger access to the real world situation by the video channel and the audio chanel, the Memex may adapt the room in order to fit the real world situation. Different metaphors may be used in different rooms in order to adapt to different situations.

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