Wednesday, February 13, 2008
In no less than two articles I reviewed this morning, there was the undercurrent of "Big Brother" watching our every move. That's not the Big Brother you've been watching on television. That's the "Big Brother" that was the character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I've had enough of these conversations to predict the responses by most of my contacts, but here's another opportunity for discussion.
In Science Daily, the article Wireless Monitoring Of People and Things: Future Of Social Networking?: observs that "Electronic tags promise to create what some call the 'Internet of things,' in which objects and people are connected through a virtual network." Imagine having instant access to your possessions, and being able to set up your system to tell you when you left really important things behind.
This sounds a lot like an upgrade of the "As seen on TV" sales of The Clapper that helped us find things when our memory failed us. Technology experts predict that RFID tags will soon be incorporated in consumer devices, such as cell phones, laptops and music players. Each tag, which looks a bit like a thin, flexible credit card, costs about 20 cents to produce. A specialized reader can scan the card through any non-metal barrier and from up to 30 feet away, depending on the type of tag. RFID tags are miniature computer chips that contain far more information than a barcode.
Also, you can write to an RFID tag--meaning the signal could not only identify the item, but what group it belongs to, when it was last seen, and other information. The technology has already proven its use in tracking goods. A manufacturer can identify a cart of hamburger patties and know which plant it came from, when it shipped out and a history of its temperature during transit. UW computer-science staff members have already requested to participate in the study so that they will be able to track their equipment as it is moved through the building.
Another useful tool mentionned by the author was the Friend Finder. This allows you to see where your friends are, and connect with them much easier than expending the effort to call them and say "hey, where are you." There's another article on Friend Finders at AFP where a new social network site, Gypsii, allows you to track your friends like the police track a fugitive. "The real time location-based element of Gypsii adds a new dimension to the social networking phenomenon," said the founder and chief executive of the company, Dan Harple.
Gypsii is compatible with other big social networking sites, allowing the core location-specific functionality to be transferred to a user's Facebook page, showing their friends' and their own location. The tracking is made possible with (as you can imagine) your friend's mobile phone. The location of a mobile phone can be identified in two ways. The first is via a GPS chip, which allows a device to recognise its position based on communication with a constellation of satellites around the planet. The second is by triangulation. A phone sends signals to communication towers located around it and by measuring the speed with which signals travel to these different base stations a position can be determined.
The ease with which phones can be located -- to within 25-50 metres of their position, say experts -- has sparked a wave of innovation in the mobile phone industry. I am very interested in these technological developments, and can't wait to hear the dialog!
So, what do you think?