August 5, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

A wizard of an idea: Eran Belinsky, head of IBM Israel, announcing the new associate recall technology.The Harry Potter phenomenon has slipped into a new IBM technology, thanks to the creative minds at IBM’s Haifa Research Lab. The Israeli computer engineers have developed a new technology nicknamed Pensieve, inspired by the pensieve bowl in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

According to IBM, the pensieve was use to collect and retrieve a person’s important memories, and fit the team’s new solution — an associate recall invention that draws connections between the vast amount of information a person collects and creates when using a cellphone.

With more people in the world now owning cell phones than they do landlines, the Pensieve is able to “understand” the context in which information is captured — such as images, emails, business contacts, and text messages — and uses this context to help find the “right” information and material when it is needed.

Recalling images, sound and text

Forgot to write down the name with the phone number of the girl you met last week? Can’t remember where you stored that funny picture to show the boss?

The Pensieve technology uses the images, sounds, and text recorded on everyday mobile devices to help people recall names, faces, conversations and other important information. “Memory recall” happens after address books and calendars are updated, and is triggered by time, location or new information entered into the system.

This is one of a number of different “social” technologies the Israeli team headed by Eran Belinsky, is working on. Talking with ISRAEL21c, he explains how today’s reality and computing power simply makes it easier for a person to search for information, than to file it. Applications like the Pensieve, and others, are set to make the digital world a lot smoother.

If, for example, you have taken a picture of a person at a business meeting, but forgot her name, Pensieve could establish a connection between the image and the business card you uploaded around the same time. “This is like having a personal assistant for your memory,” says Dr. Yaakov Navon, the lead researcher from IBM’s Haifa Research Lab.

Information overload

“Our daily routines,” he explains, “are overflowing with situations where we gain new information through meetings, advertisements, conferences, events, surfing the web, or even window shopping. Instead of going home and using a general web search to find that information, Pensieve helps the brain recall those everyday things you might normally forget.”

Not all projects underway in Israel are completed and available for use today, however. “What makes us different from other Israeli R&D centers is long term exploratory research that doesn’t answer needs for today, but things that will be seen down the road,” Belinsky, a computer scientist and philosophy graduate, tells ISRAEL21c.

One of eight R&D centers the company owns around the world, the IBM Haifa center has been in Israel for more than 30 years, and is the largest, employing about 400 researchers.

The team is also working on another application, nicknamed “Sonar” which deals with the field of social network analysis, creating automatic public and private spheres, and which logs a person’s outreach into the personal and private online world. There is also “Coffee Reader,” nicknamed after a collaborative feed reader the team is building in order to view what our friends are reading.

Why does IBM choose Israel? Belinsky concludes: because of “our ability to improvise, and work out of the box. We can make everything work together. We think sideways.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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