USS Clueless Stardate 20010705.1450

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Stardate 20010705.1450 (On Screen): Hitachi has created a microscopic chip which, when coupled with a flat antenna, has the ability to receive a query and to respond with a serial number. The chip is small enough and thin enough so that it can be embedded in nearly anything, including paper currency. The antenna has to be moderately substantial in size (on the order of five square centimeters) but that can be made quite flexible. As a result, this is feasible because it can pass the famous "crumple" test which defeated the use of holograms in currency. Recently, technology has brought counterfeiting within the reach of individuals, and this may take it away again and put it back to only being possible for large corporations and governments. (Ahem.)

But it is not quite the tracking nightmare envisioned by this writer. His fear of us all being tracked everywhere we go without even realizing it should be tempered a bit. These things don't have batteries. What happens is that to read one you hit it with a big rapidly-changing magnetic field. That induces current flow in the antenna coil, which powers the chip to transmit its serial number. But there isn't damned much power and it doesn't last long, and the chip can have no memory of previous transactions. This puts serious limits on just how smart of a transaction is possible. I seriously doubt that there's actually any direct query beyond "Here's some power, please tell me your serial number." And if that is the case you're not going to be getting traced because any unseen reader doing this will be swamped with responses.

I carry a credit card, my driver's license, and typically anything from five to twenty pieces of currency, not to mention other things which might ultimately carry these kinds of chips. If I walk through a reader at a store which tries to make a query, all of them will answer at once, and it won't be possible to derive any signal out of the response. (Sort of like asking "What was that first question again?" at a busy press conference.)

Rather than that, what's actually going to happen is that there will be readers mounted in places where this kind of thing needs to be done. The vending machines which permit you to feed paper currency in a slot now use sophisticated pattern recognition systems to try to recognize the printing on the money, but in future they'll use an electronic challenge and won't be fooled by photocopies or the output of high quality ink-jet printers. When you use a credit card now at a store, likely they zip it through a reader to get information off a magnetic stripe on the back; in future they'll just hold the card next to the box and get the data that way instead. Bars trying to do ID checks on young-looking patrons will have a box the size of a pack of playing cards which will detect whether that driver's license is genuine. That's a far cry from tracking every movement we make. (discuss)

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004