the _alf blog

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What it T-I-Z with da R-F-I-D


RFID is Radio Frequency ID technology, and is basically just a short-range radio-based communications technology. The difference between it and previous technology primarily lies in it's size (small enough to be easily concealed in common objects) and it's cost (cheap enough to be distributed at a massive scale).

RFID chips are used for many things including detecting theft of merchandise, tracking shipments as they pass through plane/train/ship ports, as well as in up and coming credit and identification cards.

This (edited) excerpt from C|Net news helps explain:

"The generic name for this technology is RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification. RFID tags are very small microchips, which already have shrunk to half the size of a grain of sand. They listen for a radio query and respond by transmitting their unique ID code. Most RFID tags have no batteries: They use the power from the initial radio signal to transmit their response.

"You should become familiar with RFID technology because you'll be hearing much more about it soon. Retailers adore the concept, and CNET's own Alorie Gilbert wrote about how Wal-Mart and the U.K.-based grocery chain Tesco are starting to install 'smart shelves' with RFID readers. In what will become the largest test of the technology, consumer goods giant Gillette recently said it would purchase 500 million RFID tags from Alien Technology of Morgan Hill, California.

"Alien Technology won't reveal how it charges for each tag, but industry estimates hover around 25 cents. The company does predict that in quantities of one billion, RFID tags will approach 10 cents each, and in lots of 10 billion, the industry's holy grail of 5 cents a tag.

"It becomes unnervingly easy to imagine a scenario where everything you buy that's more expensive than a Snickers will sport RFID tags, which typically include a 64-bit unique identifier yielding about 18 thousand trillion possible values. KSW-Microtec, a German company, has invented washable RFID tags designed to be sewn into clothing. And according to the EE Times, the European central bank is considering embedding RFID tags in banknotes."

The 1984 Aspect

All this is just wonderful, but what does this mean in terms of us, as citizens of the United States (and other countries - for while they may not be affected directly, this does seem to be an international trend.) This C|Net News article, dated more than three years ago, raises concerns about a DARPA project designed to enhance survielance of U.S. citizens, and also brings to light the key question: What happens when this technology gets into the wrong hands.

The reason that RFID starts debates and gets people are stirred up, is because it brings to light the fact that socially, we are not able to be responsible with the increase in technological power.

Here's my point: Short of a global cataclysm, technology will continue to be developed, it's just a matter of who and how it is put to use, and whether or not the people in the society allow pursuant corruption to occur.

There will always be those who will devote their life's work to developing some new fangled technology that the world has never seen before. Often, the people doing this are well intentioned. Einstein didn't do his atomic research so that we could atomic-bomb Japan, most biological scientists don't study disease so they can create new ones, and so on.

The problem lies in the fact that our social structure is not setup to handle those few who would manipulate in order to use technology for their own evil ends.

Do you really think that George Bush, John McCain, Nouri al-Maliki, Tony Blair, etc., etc. call the shots on an International scale? Listen to George Bush say something that wasn't written by one of his speech writers, and you decide for yourself if this man is in charge of the United States.

Certain people pull the strings. If would of course be logical for them to remain omitted from the public spotlight, because if they were they could be targeted - you can target something that you don't know the locatin of. What's more, this isn't a new concept! We've had this same damned problem for a really long time.

But it really just boils down to this: The vast majority of people in society are basically well intentioned. Sure people are this and people are that, but I mean when you get down to the basic question of whether or not they would rather their fellow man survive or be destroyed and subverted, most people would be in the former category. As such, "we" have an advantage in numbers.

We also have a significant disadvantage: It's all too easy to assume that because YOU don't have a subversive plot, that others don't either. But I assure you, these elements do exist.

That said, I personally look forward to advancing technology. It makes life easier and more productive for everyone, plus: it's fun. BUt, I make it a point to discern the development of the technology itself from the use to which it is put - since the latter is often masked behind other forces.


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