Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm

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2021-08-16 18:30:15

The winter sun sets in mid-afternoon in Kolobrzeg, Poland, but the early twilight does not deter people from taking their regular outdoor promenade. Bundled up in parkas with fur-trimmed hoods, strolling hand in mittened hand along the edge of the Baltic Sea, off-season tourists from Germany stop openmouthed when they see a tall, well-built, nearly naked man running up and down the sand.

"Kalt? Kalt?" one of them calls out. The man gives a polite but vague answer, then turns and dives into the waves. After swimming back and forth in the 40-degree water for a few minutes, he emerges from the surf and jogs briefly along the shore. The wind is strong, but the man makes no move to get dressed. Passersby continue to comment and stare. "This is one of the reasons I prefer anonymity," he tells me in English. "You do something even slightly out of the ordinary and it causes a sensation."

Piotr Wozniak's quest for anonymity has been successful. Nobody along this string of little beach resorts recognizes him as the inventor of a technique to turn people into geniuses. A portion of this technique, embodied in a software program called SuperMemo, has enthusiastic users around the world. They apply it mainly to learning languages, and it's popular among people for whom fluency is a necessity — students from Poland or other poor countries aiming to score well enough on English-language exams to study abroad. A substantial number of them do not pay for it, and pirated copies are ubiquitous on software bulletin boards in China, where it competes with knockoffs like SugarMemo.

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