Transactions In A Cashless Society
Information technology will blur the boundaries between well-formed and discrete concepts, entities, or states of being in the future because of the porous nature of "being digital." Without question, the generation of kids born a quarter of a century hence will have totally different views about the most basic tenets of society, from love and family to business and pleasure. Of these, I've chosen to focus on money, and how business transactions will change over the next 25 years.
Cattle are widely considered the oldest form of money, used over 10,000 years ago as payment and to account for debts and credits. Currency emerged much later, after the Stone Age, and its worth was established by convention and trust, using objects like shells. Paper banknotes emerged at the end of the 17th century as a promise to pay a sum on demand. Only in the middle of the 18th century did printed, fixed denominations appear.
Today, cash is replaced increasingly by electronic credit and debit. In excess of $3 trillion is moved around the planet daily. But no money moves in the sense of coins or pigs going from my pocket or pen to yours. Everything's a scheme of pointers. The bits used in such accounting have no inherent value. They're only the means.
The next step is for some bits to have value. To distinguish these bits, they'd need an agreed identity and a unique and secure ID. And to stop multiple spending of the same bits, there would need to be a clearing process or a means to reveal the identity of anybody who tries to double-spend. All these requirements are easily achieved in both traceable and anonymous systems of E-cash. In these cases, money does move; the bits are money. This is the future, though only in part.
A parallel and more intriguing form of trade will be barter. Swapping is very attractive because each party uses a devalued currency, in some cases one that would otherwise be wasted. With minimal computation, three-way, four-way, and n-way swaps can emerge, thereby removing the need for any common currency. Without question, we'll see new forms of market making and auctions. But the most stunning change will be peer-to-peer, and peer-to-peer-to-peer transaction of goods and services. If you fish and want your teeth cleaned, you need a dentist who needs fish, which is so unlikely that money works much better. But if a chauffeur wanted fish and the dentist wanted a driver, the loop is closed. While this is nearly impossible in the physical world, it's trivial in cyberspace. Add the fact that some goods and services can be in digital form, and it gets more likely.
The point can be generalized beyond money. Peer-to-peer is a much deeper concept than we understand today. We're limited by assumptions rooted in the physical world. Future IT will change those limits through new habits. To cite just one: I now move millions of bits from one laptop to another by transferring those bits through a server 10,000 miles away. Imagine telling that to someone just 25 years ago.
About the Author: M H Ahsan is a professional Journalist in India. He is an author of several books & Journals. Produced & Directed several television news programs in different channels across the world. Presently, he heads several news portals and publications in south asia.