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Sadly Predictable


By Scott Bradner


The September 28th edition of the Wall Street Journal included a 16-page telecommunications report on the state of the wireless world.  It was full of all sorts of fantastic almost-here technology and advice on, as the sub-title put it, "how to get the most out of the wireless world."  But, sad to say, they missed what survey after survey says is the most important factor in people's view of tomorrow's networked society.  And, even sadder, the omission was totally predictable.


The 15 articles, plus sidebars, in the section covered a good chunk of the wireless world, all the way from the health effects of cell phones to wireless barcode replacements for cartons of soda, and from a blow-by-blow description of setting up a wireless LAN at home to Intel planning on adding mini-radios to all sorts of future microprocessor chips.  Some of the section was quite silly including an account of an intrepid reporter trying to live for a week without a cell phone, but overall it was a very useful exploration of a wireless future, even if it missed one of the biggest issues along the path to that future.


On the technical side, the two most interesting articles were about Intel's "Radio Free Intel" plan to add mini-radios to all of the types of microprocessors it sells over the next 7 years and about wireless barcode replacements.  Technically it is not an easy task to shrink more than a dozen individual components into a small section of a microprocessor.  But, if anyone has the expertise to pull it off it's Intel.  Those things that do not get Intel radioettes can be wireless-enabled with the next generation of barcode replacements, which will be unpowered radio reflectors.  A radio scanner is used to get the miniature devices to respond with a code.  These devices have been used for a while to tag pets and farm animals , but are now getting cheap enough to include in consumer products such as washing machines or cases of wine and maybe soon, clothing.  This type of tracking can be extended to people with things like a GPS-based kid-tracker bracelet featured in an article about new wireless gadgets.


But, in what is to be expected from the business sector, I could not find the word "privacy" anywhere in the special section.  With these new mini-radios and barcode chips fitted in everything from your PDA to your underwear, an average person in the WSJ's future would be walking around with a dozen or more wireless devices on their person -- a walking wireless "track-me" sign.  What could be better for someone looking to kidnap a kid then to have the kid wear a bracelet that broadcasts where the kid is at all times?


It is appalling, but normal, that the mouthpiece of American business would forget about privacy.  ItŐs a frightening future they paint by their omission.


disclaimer: To some, Harvard is appalling, to some it's normal, for most of the world it's in between but the one being appalled above is me (and maybe you).