As anyone who has ever tried to escape from a supermarket knows, Murphy's Law of perversity governs the exits. This means that if you choose the short queue the shopper at the front will bellyache about being overcharged and, while you wait stoically during the ensuing commotion, all other queues will dissolve. If, on the other hand, you choose the long queue, it will take longer to subside than radiation. One solution is to shop online. But that usually means receiving substandard, unwanted produce. Now, however, there is another possible remedy: the radio frequency identification (RFID) label or 'smart tag'. This thing is tiny - somewhere between the size of a grain of sand and a speck of dust - but, in theory at least, effective. In the future smart tags may enable an electronic reader to detect every item in your trolley (no direct line of sight required) and ring each up almost instantly. The reader will be linked to a network that will send product information to the retailer and manufacturers. Your bank will then be notified and the amount will be shaved from your savings. Not that you will notice - in the time it takes to finish this sentence you will have wafted out of the supermarket, saving precious Now Economy time. Anthony Higginbottom, the RFID programme leader for Deloitte Consulting, describes the technology's future as 'very bright'. 'RFID is a transformational technology whose adoption is being driven by some of the largest organisations in the world - WalMart Stores, the United States Department of Defence. RFID is here to stay.' Because of its innate ability to disclose your preferences to interested parties, though, privacy advocates want it abolished. Earlier this year, some massed outside a business pioneering RFID - Metro's Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany - armed with banners bearing slogans including 'No future' and '1984: Orwell, 2004: Metro'. On the business side, an issue generating unease is the cost - between 30 and 60 US cents per unit. Tom Manning, a partner and RFID expert with the global management consultancy Bain & Company, said that, although the price of RFID was tumbling, it remained high. 'So while it probably makes sense for tracking pallets of inventory through the warehouse, it's still a little pricey to stick an RFID tag on every candy bar.' Companies should avoid spreading RFID technology 'like peanut butter', he said. Frank Spitznogle, boss of the Denver-based RFID implementation outfit Arfidea, said the tagging of most goods would be impractical until the price of the tags dropped 'another factor of 10'. 'The industry must separate what can be done technically and what is cost-effective,' he said. Worse, RFID is unreliable, according to Computing Technology Industry Association representative David Sommer, who highlighted 'the physics' of persuading RFID readers to read tags accurately. 'Success rates for tag readings run as low as 80 per cent. RFID readers have difficulty detecting tags through interference from metal, liquid, nylon, conveyor belts and dense materials such as frozen meat,' he said. He blamed the simplicity of RFID readers, which typically lack an operating system and have no standard interface. As a result of all these failings, companies are showing reluctance to adopt the technology. More than 50 per cent of retailers have low or worse expectations of increased revenue from RFID within the first five years of adoption, according to the RFID Journal. Pricey, dicey and prone to trigger paranoia, RFID clearly has a long way to go before it conquers the queue. ? Confused by computer jargon? E-mail email@example.com with your queries.