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Microsoft's Lifebrowser learns what's important so you can browse through personal milestones

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A research project at Microsoft determines what content on your computer is related to important life events, and then lets you browse it through a timeline.

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Your computer contains a lot of personal information, from photos and email to calendar appointments and browsing history. And Microsoft Research is trying to make sifting through that content easier with a program called Lifebrowser. The software is able to learn what information is related to significant events in your life, and then lets you browse that content in a timeline. For example, Lifebrowser can look at how many photos were taken at an event as a way of determining how important it might be, or even analyze the photo itself to see how many people are in it. Once its importance is determined, the content is placed in the timeline relative to specific events. So, for instance, all of the photos and emails from your vacation last summer will be gathered together for easy viewing — though, we're not quite sure how things like your browsing history will be integrated. When the program is unsure about something, it will ask you for more details and a slider lets you determine how much information you want to view while browsing.

It sounds a lot like Facebook's Timeline, though creator Eric Horvitz explains that it's been in the works for much longer — in fact, Microsoft Research mentions Lifebrowser as far back as 2004. Despite its age, the program is still described by Microsoft as a prototype, though Horvitz says he hopes it will eventually be made public. While the concept of a program looking so closely at your personal information may cause some to worry — especially in the wake of recent privacy concerns — Lifebrowser should be able to avoid these issues by staying confined to your local computer. "There's a lot of possibility for data mining and personalization in the privacy of your own machine," Horvitz said. "I would not feel comfortable sharing all this with a cloud service."