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Ask HN: Building an app to make real-world conversations searchable. Want it?
45 points by willwhitney on Apr 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
We’re working on Retrospect (http://goretro.co), an app that sits in the background and intelligently records location and audio from your day-to-day interaction with the world. It lets you access your real-world conversations just like you might search your email. Look for things like “conversations with Sarah at Starbucks” or “Baseball games I’ve gone to with my Dad”, then play back the recorded moment.

We’re launching sign-ups for our free beta starting today if you’d like to try it out.

What do you think? Would you use something like this?

It sounds like you are using speech-to-text and NLP algorithms to make audio recordings keyword searchable.

Frankly, the consumer use cases for this are creepy. If this were a thing, and my friend or family member were recording all our conversations, I would ask them to turn it off or leave.

But I think you should market this to law enforcement, law firms, and possibly business executives. It would be very useful in these spaces to have searchable audio transcripts of court hearings, testimonies, depositions, interrogations, confessions, as well as board meetings, keynote presentations, etc. Maybe also useful for journalists and academic researchers who do a lot of recorded interviews.

If your speech-to-text performance is really good, it could also replace stenography in closed-captioning. (Yeah that's still how closed captioning works for live TV--someone listens and pecks away at a stenotype.)

Basically, sell it any place where a stenographer is currently employed, or where people currently use audio recorders. Don't try to get people to record audio of their entire lives for sentimental value, though, that isn't a realistic use case. Most people's lives are mundane and we know it. We don't need a searchable, chronological index of every time we curse or fart.

Want it? With extreme emphasis: oh hell no!

I'm so annoyed by this project. Imagine the kind of chilling effect this would have on daily interactions if you knew everything you said was being recorded. It has a chilling effect even if it's you that's recording your own interactions! If I found out someone was surreptitiously recording my casual conversations I'd just never talk to them again, except to chew them out for doing such a shitty thing. Also, if someone asked me whether it's ok to hit record in a social setting, I'd look at them sideways and not only decline, but would instantly stop trusting them and cut them out of my life as a consequence.

I rarely want people to fail, but I really, really want this privacy-busting, surveillance project to fail miserably. We're surveilled enough as it is without intelligent people contributing to these garbage projects.

Ted, Will, and George: work on something that benefits humanity rather than chills the frankness of interpersonal interactions. The potential consequences of this project are awful.

This summarizes the whole argument quite well. Apparently kintamanimatt and I share the same level of disgust for people who try to create privacy-invading technologies.

I'd use it. If it weren't hosted. And if it was Open Source. Otherwise, I just can't bring myself to trust it.

The concept is a goldmine. You need to convince potential users of its security an privacy protection, should there be any. If there isn't any, your product is a ticking time bomb.

We’re designing this thing so that even we can never access your recordings. Building it with actual security in mind poses some UX challenges (don’t lose all your credentials at the same time!) but we’d rather have that problem than any amount of privacy risk.

As long as it's closed source, I have only your assurance that you don't have keys.

I doubt you or your cofounders set out to deceive users or spy on them, but there are many, many government-related reasons to lie to your users about privacy. The government can be very persuasive that way.

Does this mean that I can store the only copies of the recordings on my machines, or that they are on your machines and there is some step you cannot perform that is required to read them?

They're on our machines, but under keys that we don't have. We're also considering a federated model that would give users control over their storage.

So, the conversations are on server but the required indexes for searching are on client? Seems a little weird to me.

i think he meant keys in the cryptography sense, not database search indexes.

No I got that, but somehow the audio must be processed, right? And it has to be done on client or there is no point for encryption. Also, assuming the search indexes are sent to the server, how would the server access them if they are encrypted?

Agreed. It is just not clear what guarantees my privacy. This wouldn't strictly keep me from using it - perhaps in working environment - but I certainly would not use it in conjunction with personal aspects of my life.

Does this not raise privacy concerns similar to Google Glass? Is it not possible that people may be recorded without their knowing and without their permission?

Yes, and that's definitely an issue we're working on. At the very least we'll notify our users of the relevant privacy laws at their current location, and we'll always encourage people to let those around them know when Retrospect is turned on.

We'll always try to prevent people from being recorded without their knowledge, but in the end it comes down to what our users choose to do. Someone today could cause the same privacy violation by walking around with a tape recorder.

Most conversations are far worse than any written communication about umming and repeating things, etc. To me, this sounds like just so much baggage, assuming that every conversation is significant. I am also reminded of some quotes or lines about words getting in the way of communication. I think that problem is bad enough in the world without BigBrothering our lives.

Having said that, I do think there are some potential niche uses for this. In addition to law enforcement and court, it makes me think of the South American tribe that used video recordings of meetings with whites to hold them to their word. They did not read and write English but they found a means to avoid the fate of so many indigent peoples who have been lied to, taken advantage of, and screwed over by people from more "advanced" cultures.

Amazing idea, now imagine this with Google Glass. It would be just like in the third episode of Black Mirror.

I was thinking about this a few years back, when I was working on firmware for pre-smart-phones. Probably something to do with getting old and forgetful :)

The trouble with audio - as everyone has pointed out - is the privacy and storage issues. What I would be interested in is some way of producing a condensed "markup" of your day, easily searchable using a voice assistant. It would record the basic facts but not the verbatim conversations.

When I first thought of this in any depth it was still unfeasible, but now I think much of it is already there. Still, a big project. Maybe smaller, niche versions for particular tasks would have to come first?

Very interesting idea!

However, while you do address the privacy of the user themselves, what about the privacy of the other unwitting participants who are having their conversations being recorded and stored without their consent?

This is definitely a tricky question, but in the end it comes down to the actions our users take, just like if they were using a tape recorder or Google Glass-like-device.

We'll make sure to notify our users of the relevant privacy laws in their current area, and we'll always encourage people to tell those around them when they have Retrospect turned on.

I like the idea, but there absolutely has to be some sort of indicator that you're interested in recording this convo (and the less invasive the better). How about linking it to calendar events, and/or locations? Facial rec could be an indicator for recording when you hit Glass integration.

How do you expect to tackle the amount of battery power this puppy will drain?

Sounds compelling, though in Turkey (where I live) recording someone without their consent is a criminal offense. To legally use the app, I would need to open every conversation with a request for their consent to be recorded, and even then I could be prosecuted if the material was made available to a third party without the person's permission. Journalists here run into this problem all the time, so I don't think this is a very good market for trying this.

Would love the idea/app/service but I am not sure what exactly your app does. Would it be able to extract enough information from hundreds of business meetings to actually pinpoint not just meetings but also just segments of meetings? => I don't wanna listen to a 60 minute meeting but really only listen to 2 minutes where we discussed feature XYZ

Eventually that's the idea, yeah. We're going to be trying out some topic detection algorithms on the recordings so that we can let you search for specific things that you talked about and jump to them in the recording.

Cool. Keep in mind that it's illegal to record people without their permission in many states. (Pennsylvania, for example.)

I actually think it would be cool, at first, but I would be painfully quiet if I knew everyone used it. It's the kind of thing that would be neat to try for just a day. Once lots of people use it, there would be a nice little market for Retrospect-jamming hardware.

Interesting idea, but it requires quite a major lifestyle change for the user. It is the type of service that takes time for people to adjust to. I wouldn't be surprised if it took you (or a competitor) a couple of years to get a decent amount of regular users.

I'm not sure I'd get a lot of utility out of 10,000 hours of "butt calls". Maybe if there was some memory that I was looking to rekindle by listening to it, but I'm not sure if the actual audio would ever beat my "memory" of it.

It is not legal or ethical, I think. No one should have my conversation in their phone or something, even though s/he is my closest friend or my parent. So, I think I wouldn't use it, but not sure about others.

How have you solved the technical challenges associated with background noise found in real world conversations and recording a high enough signal:noise ratio to index the audio and make it searchable?

Recording people without their knowledge is unethical, and letting people know they're being recorded all the time is also not feasible, so, I wouldn't use this. Good luck.

Might be a good one, say you are on vacation, and would like to be able to relive the experience at a later point.

Clickable link: http://goretro.co/

Sorts of reminds me of the Livescribe pen (see their 'pencast' tools).

Sounds interesting (pun intended..)

+1 for awful pun

sounds quite invasive...

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