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Recognizing Kevin Ashton's Contributions to RFID Journal

The co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID Center and soon-to-be author wrote a column for 10 years that added greatly to the world's understanding of RFID's role in business and society.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 02, 2014

I have been remiss. Kevin Ashton wrote his last column in the November/December issue of RFID Journal magazine, and I never publicly acknowledged his contribution. Shame on me.

Kevin contributed his first column in January 2004, titled "Time to Face Reality." He wrote that those promoting the Electronic Product Code were deemed "unrealistic." So-called "realists," he said, were just pessimists, and it was time to put aside biases against the new technology and take a more realistic approach.

His final column, "Street Smarts," was about how cities need to embrace the Internet of Things or risk being left behind. The column began: "In 1680, the City of London installed oil lamps on its streets. The lamps were left burning each night until midnight. The reduction in crime and the increase in nightlife were so great that after 1736, the lamps were kept lit until sunrise."

That is what made Kevin's columns both interesting and insightful. He brought his knowledge of history, society, politics and other areas of life to bear, and put radio frequency identification—and technology more broadly—in a larger context.

In a 2009 column, he wrote about the Internet of Things, a term he coined a decade earlier: "We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data" (see The 'Internet of Things' Thing).

And in 2010, he wrote about the need to recycle and RFID's role in doing so. "In 2030, things will be different for one simple reason: Consumerism can't scale," he said. "There isn't enough stuff for everybody on the planet to live wastefully, and even if there were, there wouldn't be enough space for all the waste. Twenty years from now, the world's population will have grown by about one and a half billion, and a larger proportion of that population will be enjoying middle-class lives. It will be too expensive to manufacture everything we need from new raw materials, ship the finished products across oceans, and cart it off to be dumped in a landfill after a few days or years of use. Something has to give—and that something will be how we throw things away" (see Put RFID in the Trash).

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