Journalist suckered by RFID sniper rifle 'Fictionism'

By now many readers of Computerworld would have read my story about a Danish company that was purporting to market a sniper rifle designed to fire RFID tags into people (online April 28, CW May 3, p6). I have since learnt the rifle is a hoax. So too is the company, EmpireNorth, which has turned out to be combination of misinformation, marketing and what its promulgator Jakob S Boeskov calls the art of "Fictionism".

Hopefully I have banged my head into the keyboard enough times to learn my lesson.

Boeskov describes his efforts in these terms: "Fictionism is a brand new art style. The goal of Fictionism is to create fresh reality and to give people a taste of the future, today.

You make a Fictionist art piece by:

  1. Imagining a possible future
  2. Imagining a possible product from this future
  3. Creating this product
  4. Presenting the product today
  5. Reporting the reactions.

So, no excuses, no defences - I got suckered plain and simple and my apologies for wasting anyone’s time. It was an error of judgement and I should have known better. Thanks also to the many readers who have responded so promptly, especially those within the defence and scientific communities. I am now part of an art installation.

Sadly, Boeskov's art movement lacks much of the philosophical and artistic rigour that has been applied to similar movements such as NSK's Laibach http://www.laibach.nsk.si which managed to produce an entirely virtual nation state, replete with passports and bureaucracy.

One of the things that surprised me most about the numerous responses (apart from a lack of animosity) was that while the device I wrote about is an undoubted fake, similar technologies are almost certainly being researched or developed. Far from being a “doomsday weapon”, possession of a delivery mechanism such as an RFID sniper rifle could provide a distinct tactical advantage in a number of contexts. One of these is information superiority, a cornerstone of network-centric warfare. Mind you, it could also be used to track animals - domestic, feral or wild; microchip tracking devices with various delivery systems have been in use for some years.

Or, as has been recently promulgated, affixed to children's wrists to stop them from getting lost at theme parks such as Disneyland.

What initially makes the story of an RFID sniper rifle so believable is it is technically feasible. A human recipient of a projectile fired from such a device is most likely to notice they have been hit, but that doesn't mean such device cannot work.

As one former military source told me, "It's not about conspiracy. It's about painting-up what you want to hit and knowing where it is. I like the idea; sure it has limitations but it also has clear benefits."

Boeskov has scored himself another sucker. But the real question about technologies such as an RFID sniper rifle is who might be currently developing it and what the rules of engagement will be when it arrives.

It is perhaps telling that some of Boeskov's clip art is similar in its stylistic clumsiness to the early fanciful graphics trying to sell John Poindexter's efforts at "Total Information Awareness" - which was no hoax.

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