World’s largest collection of baby home movies

Professor Deb Roy at the MIT Media Lab has launched what sounds to me like the biggest “record absolutely everything” type project to date. He and his wife had their first child nine months ago, and have outfitted their home with 11 ceiling-mounted omni-directional cameras, 14 microphones and a 5-terabyte disk cache in the basement to record all their daily interactions with their new son. (As you might expect, they’ve also got several systems in place to maintain privacy, including easy-to-access off and erase buttons.)

Previous projects of this nature have been designed with the eventual goal of becoming memory aids (notably EuroPARC’s Forget-Me-Not, Ricoh Innovation’s Infinite Memory Multifunction Machine, and Microsoft BARC’s MyLifeBits), as training data for context-aware applications (Brian Clarkson’s Life Patterns) or as performance art (Steve Mann’s Wearable Wireless Webcam). In contrast, though Deb is interested in the memory augmentation aspects of the project, his main purpose is purely scientific — he’s using this Human Speechome Project to build up a huge data bank that he can later mine to better understand how human language acquisition works:

“Just as the Human Genome Project illuminates the innate genetic code that shapes us, the Speechome project is an important first step toward creating a map of how the environment shapes human development and learning,” said Frank Moss, director of the Media Lab.

Once at the Media Lab, the data is stored in a massive petabyte (1 million gigabyte) disk storage system donated by several companies: Bell Microproducts, Seagate Technology, Marvell and Zetera. To test hypotheses of how children learn, Roy’s team will develop machine learning systems that “step into the shoes” of his son by processing the sights and sounds of three years of life at home. The effort constitutes one of the most extensive scientific analyses of long-term infant learning patterns ever undertaken.

Update 5/31/06: For more info see the paper, to be presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society in July.