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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

The solution, of course, is to recycle. But as Kevin pointed out, "It's virtually impossible—and certainly not cost-effective—to sort trash manually, or to build machines that recognize what an object is made of simply by 'looking' at it. RFID is the technology that will enable automatic sorting. Sooner or later, everything will get an RFID tag, which will broadcast identification information to sorting machines and separators so all trash can be reprocessed properly."

One of my favorite columns was "The Tragedy of the Commons." In that 2010 article, Kevin explained that the tragedy of the commons "is one of the oldest conundrums in economics. A medieval village sets aside some common land where all herders can let their livestock graze. It's efficient, and everyone benefits—that is, until a few people allow their animals to eat more grass than is their fair share. These 'free riders' spoil the pasture for everybody, and soon there's no more grass and no more commons. And, in a conclusion with equal parts justice and irony, the free riders lose—there is nowhere for their animals to graze, either. The moral? Everyone can benefit from communal resources, as long as all participants do their part and play fair."

What does that have to do with RFID? Well, Kevin pointed out that "Every time an RFID company pushes for publicity instead of buying an ad, or tries to slip its message in through the back door of a trade show without paying the price of admission, or doesn't pay its dues to an important trade association or standards body, it's taking a free ride. Yes, there's an obvious short-term benefit: a few dollars saved. But, in the long run, it's a strategic mistake. If those [trade publications, trade shows and industry standards bodies] die, the market dies, too."

It was Kevin who first got me interested in and excited about RFID. The world he envisioned—with tiny, low-cost RFID tags on pallets, cases and items, enabling them to be efficiently tracked and managed—was not just compelling, but inevitable. Lately, Kevin has been working on a book about technology, which he will soon spend time promoting. I wish him well. And I look forward to reading it, because it will, no doubt, contain great insights, layered historical context and no small dose of cogent advice.

Kevin, thank you for your contributions to RFID Journal, and forgive me for being so tardy in recognizing those contributions.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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