It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

Let's play Marco Polo with RFID!

Remember that Slashdot story from the weekend - Gillette Buys Half a Billion RFID Tags? Boring, yawn, inventory management, who cares? Well, imagine if those things, along with their readers, got so ludicrously cheap and small that mothers would stick 'em to kids' underwear as they went off to camp, and readers came standard in watches and cell phones. Imagine that, somehow, the range was improved to at least 20 feet - your reader sends out a radio ping (MARCO!) and back comes a list of the contents of the room as every object responds (POLO!). Assume as well that your reader can work out the location of each of these objects.

Ignore the big brother fears for now - everyone will have this stuff, not just the MiBs. Also, ignore my ignorance - many of these enhanced tricks are likely impossible or at least very hard for these little gadgets. For now. Until someone does something clever.

But, imagine! Never lose your keys again! Find the cat! Owners manuals to everything you own - should you ever actually have the impulse to read one - are available with a tag ping and a lookup. Imagine the games SmartMobs will find for this stuff! Handle the tag code on objects in the world with a URI scheme - the Semantic Web reaches out to help create the Semantic World! It's CueCat on super steroids! Facial recognition in your PDA to remember my name? Bah - I've got a RFID business card in my pocket. Consider the combination of this with a WearableComputer, and the world becomes just a bit more active as previously inanimate objects can tell you their stories and stories told about them. High tech animism!

Okay, I'm winding down on this. I know I'm going wonky with this idea, but this is along a theme I've been playing with in my head: My favorite sci-fi stories and meditations on the future involve little clever bits of tech that get tweaked and leveraged in powerful ways few could have guessed at. Maybe this tagging tech I'm hyping won't be it, but it's one of the ideas that tweaked me in VernorVinge's Fast Times at Fairmont High.

Trying to stretch my brane more along these lines - squinting at the knee of the curve of TheSingularity. What else is on the verge of emergence, how much of it is crap and how much of it is the real thing? Will things like this and the WearableComputer and ubiquitous internet actually cause major change, or will it just turn into more chuckles for my grandkids when they ask me what it was like in the 90's and double-naughts, when I was living it up at conventions on the company tab, sipping a stout while getting my whites washed at a whacky laundry/bar in San Francisco?


Archived Comments

  • I'm with you. I've become very intrigued by the possibilities of RFID tags. Have a look at MIT's Auto-ID Center. Lots of great info. http://www.autoidcenter.org/
  • S.f. writer Bruce Sterling's Distraction features (among other things) a group of unskilled laborers making a hotel using smart materials, particularly a bunch of blueprints downloaded off the interview, some RFID tags, and a vocoder. ("I'm a foundation block! I belong about fifteen feet to your right! Good, now rotate me thirty degrees!")