Welcome back SF Writers, to the first episode of the Mad Inventions Series, or M.I.S. for short, a place to generate ideas for your SF stories, based on our technological developments. If you’ve missed our intro, you can read it here. Today we briefly look at digital currency and where we’re at.

The concept of credit goes back to the late 1800s. According to Mastercard, in 1946 banker John Biggins introduced the first bank card, called “Charg-It”. Then, in 1955 Diners Club enabled its 200,000 cardholders to use it for purchases at stores in more than a dozen countries, setting up a lifestyle familiar to most of us today.

With the advent of credit and debit cards, it was only a matter of time before other methods of payments would be introduced. And that is how we got to online services such as PayPal, founded in 1998, and to credit card keyfobs. Also, of course, digital currency in the form of Bitcoins.

Today, the market is focusing on biometric readers and chips that can be implanted into cell phones or other devices, such as jewellery for example. They work thanks to Near Field Communication (NFC) chips embedded inside them and can be very handy. If you have paid using “contactless” during your last trip to the stores, then you have used an NFC.

When two NFC devices are placed onto each other, they generate an electromagnetic field which allows them to exchange data. The size of these chips is so tiny that you can insert them almost anywhere, from inside a ring, to inside your body. I don’t think it will be too long before we go shopping and scan our own hands at the till, instead of our credit card.

Where do we go from here? We know that NFC isn’t limited to money transactions, but it extends to data in general. Up until now we have seen movies or read stories in which people exchange information in this fashion: bracelets that open doors; retina scans to access entry; chips under the skin, etc. Biotechnology has even allowed us to log-in to mobiles or computers through fingerprint and facial recognition, with what we call biometric readers.

In my teen SF series Tijaran Tales I have made use of this technology for currency and for file transfer. Files are not simply sent via the network though, but are literally picked up from a screen, placed into the surrounding environment in a holographic form and enlarged for everyone to see.

With the idea of the digital wallet in mind, you need to ask yourself the following:

  1. What else can I transfer? For example, some of the characters in my stories have explored the concept of telepathy, but can we actually find a way for people to communicate their thoughts to each other using technology?
  2. What risks can I introduce to turn the useful NFC into a threat?
  3. In what ways could a biometric reader mess up a human body? Could it alter the person physically or psychologically?
  4. What type of currency will exist in the future? We started off with barter of goods after all.
  5. Will future societies still need money?
  6. If electricity goes, what would happen to our digital society?

So there, some food for thought. And remember, if I do manage to inspire you and you make it big, you owe me a drink!