Four hundred years before the term artificial intelligence emerged, debates about the development of “artificial memory” stirred. In contrast to natural memory, artificial memory involves using aids to help us remember. It represents a procedural, protocolized approach to recollection.
Today, memory can’t escape metaphors from computing, but this isn’t totally new. Historically, the popular understanding of memory has always mirrored the technology of its time. This essay explores the historical development of artificial memory, from the method of loci to transistors and from shipping warehouses to community lore. Building upon this backdrop, the essay proposes a framework that aims to move beyond existing metaphors for memory and understand how it really operates in the world. Building on this, the essay concludes with an exploration of the idea of memory as orientation: a nascent sensibility for navigating a world that increasingly seems to consist of memory all the way down.