|URBAN INFORMATICS AND RADIO FREQUENCY ID (RFID) TAGS.
Dr Dave Beer - e-Society Research Fellow
I’ve now been working on the e-Society programme for around six months; so far one of the highlights for me was the Urban Informatics Colloquium in Durham in December of last year. The event allowed for an interesting and lively exchange of ideas. The eight papers given all engaged in various ways with the intersections between urban theory and social informatics. Some of the papers will be published together with others in a special issue of Information, Communication & Society in December this year.
Some shared issues emerged from the event, and it is these that I would like to expand on now. In general the papers were concerned with the implications of introducing a range of new information technologies and software into the urban mise-en-scčne.
In particular the significance of Radio Frequency Identity Tags (RFID) became a particular focus of attention at the event, along with issues of surveillance (which has been recently followed up at the e-Society Programme Wide Surveillance and Privacy event – see events round-up), the intelligence of technologies and how we might imagine the next stages of developments in urban informatics.
Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) tags are pinhead sized devices that are very low in cost and can be implanted into virtually anything, from animals, product packaging and even the human body. When a radio frequency signal bounces off the tag it returns a unique ID number that can be read and stored. This means that objects, people and places can be networked so that anything implanted with an RFID can be located and mapped. This information may then be fed into databases and data-mined to inform the predictive systems of what Nigel Thrift has called ‘knowing capitalism’. This would presumably operate in much the same way that online retailers use our buying practices to make purchasing recommendations to us. Eventually these devices will replace the barcode as a way of scanning goods, yet they have far greater potentials and implications for information collecting and retrieval.
As part of their work on the ‘Sorting Places Out?’ project Mike Hardey (Hull York Medical School) and Roger Burrows (University of York) have recently put together a piece on software mashups. These are online maps created by internet users who mash-together maps with other information sources, crime figures for instance. There work was also presented at Durham. It became apparent here that with the rise of internet Mashups, www.mashup.com, and with the incorporation of RFID into things, it is possible to map the exact positions in real time of where people or things are. This may be stock moving around the country or people moving around cities. As this online culture of mashing up data spreads and combines with RFID technology it will be possible to map anything with an RFID built into it.
It is not possible to give these emergent issues any great attention here but I discuss them in more detail, and in relation to some of the literature from projects on the e-Society programme in an article titled ‘Thoughtful Territories: Imagining the thinking power of things and spaces’ which will be published in the journal City in the Summer