Bigger bucks ahead … because money itself is being re-invented! But it’s not really about the money; material wealth may be a secondary motivator.
The new money is 100% Internet-based. It flows free and fast like electrons, and it comes with superpowers. Call it money 2.0, internet money, or supermoney. “Up, up and away!”
(Note: The term "supermoney" is used by at least two companies: supermoney.com of Santa Ana, California; and supermoney.eu of Milan, Italy.)
No, the new money isn't bitcoin or any cyber currency. It’s not online banking, either; and it’s not the paperless, card-less buying and selling that happens every day on the internet or phone.
It’s a brand new baby, baby … and it promises to change everything. Moreover, it’s part of a larger trend with other revolutionary branches – an epoch-making megatrend into spectacular uncharted territory.
Hasn’t money already been re-invented?
In spite of e-commerce everywhere, 21st-century money does not yet exist, except in seed form. It is only now starting to germinate and proliferate.
Although the new money isn’t cyber currency, bitcoin has played a key role in making it possible. Money 2.0 goes way beyond bitcoin, though, because it’s a whole new medium of exchange -- as different from traditional money as email is from snail mail or instant online news is from yesterday’s printed newspaper.
The new money is now being activated by an “internet of value” or “value web” based on an open-source protocol like that used to create today’s internet of information.
THE SUPERMONEY SYSTEM
Current online financial services may seem to be 21st-century efficient, but that’s an illusion, according to Chris Larsen, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Ripple Labs. Behind the internet façade, “The actual movement of value runs on pre-internet rails,” he says.
“Through the internet, you give the command to move value, but the thing you're trying to move, value itself, moves on slow, decades-old infrastructure.” That’s why, for example, an interbank transfer or currency exchange that “should be” instant may take hours or days to complete.
Ripple Labs has developed a “value web” protocol that promises to change all that.
Currently Ripple is the only funded organization offering an open-source protocol capable of creating a financial internet with the scope and power of the information internet. Other contenders may well emerge, however.
How the value web goes beyond bitcoin
Bitcoin, the popular new cyber currency, is breakthrough technology, according to Larsen, but it can’t be the foundation of a complete value internet. Why? Because it’s basically just another currency, like the dollar or euro, although an electronic one with many advantages. At best bitcoin or another cyber currency will gain wide acceptance; but it won’t replace traditional currencies, nor should it; nor is that required for a robust value web to emerge.
Requiring a specific currency would be like requiring a specific language, such as Esperanto, for creating an information internet that transmits ideas, Larsen points out.
“On the information internet, any language works,” he says. “Similarly, on the value internet, you need to seamlessly move any form of value: traditional currency, bitcoin, airline miles, virtual reward points, gold, sea shells, whatever humans think of as representing value.”
What the value web does
Basically the Ripple protocol “provides the ability for humans to confirm financial transactions without a central operator,” says Larsen. “This is major.” Bitcoin was the first technology to successfully bypass banks and other authorities as transaction validators, he points out, “but our method is much cheaper and takes only seconds rather than minutes.” And that’s just for starters. For example, “It also leverages the enormous power of banks and other financial institutions.”
The power of the value web stems from replacing archaic back-end systems with all their cumbersome delays and unnecessary costs. Yet the money 2.0 system does NOT seek to cut out the middleman; banks and other financial institutions will still have a vital role in the value-web era; in fact, their role may be expanded as they become more dynamic and competitive after shedding obsolescent infrastructure.
Unlike other cyber-tech approaches, the value web does not seek to bypass banks and governments, but to help them transform into more dynamic, socially-useful institutions.
Compared to the old pre-internet technology, key benefits of the value web include –
- Faster completion of transactions, seconds instead of minutes, hours or days.
- Lower transaction costs, a fraction of a cent in most cases, versus higher bank fees or merchant credit card charges of 2% to 5% or more of the transaction amount.
- Easier global commerce, thanks to seamless, near-immediate currency exchanges.
- New wealth through micropayments, allowing the monetization of an expanded range of services, products, and internet content.
- Reduction of problems such as spam, by enabling micro-charges to discourage mass mailers, for example.
Why value-web technology is positioned for success
Ripple Labs could go out of business tomorrow. Yet value-web technology is likely to emerge anyway. Why? The cat is out of the bag. Entrepreneurs and financial insiders now know that a value web is possible. Technical groups will inevitably emerge to create the necessary code.
Too much money is at stake for this not to happen. Globally many trillions, not billions, of dollars (or currency equivalents) are exchanged every year. Huge savings and new income streams are possible for competing organizations that lead the way with the new tech.
COUNTERPOINT: Large, established organizations like banks tend to be conservative. Many may be expected to resist transitioning to the value web, just as many publishers have embraced the information internet slowly, clinging to print.
The protocol that Ripple Labs has developed is not likely to go away, however. The Ripple code has been released as open-source, in effect a gift to the world. Yet Ripple Labs is well enough funded to shepherd the technology until it can take flight on its own.
If Ripple Labs endures, which many think likely, the organization plans to morph into an entity like Red Hat Software. Red Hat provides profit-making services in connection with the open-source operating system, Linux, developed by AT&T Labs. If Red Hat were to go out of business, Linux would live on. But Red Hat does well because so many people value its support services.
There are six other key reasons favoring the early success of the value web technology as developed by Ripple Labs:
1. In contrast to most startups, Ripple is backed by big, reassuring funders:
- Google Ventures.
- Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm.
- IDG Technology Venture Investment Fund.
- Lightspeed Venture Partners.
- And several other prominent venture and angel funders.
2. Ripple Labs appeals to establishment organizations. Unlike ultra-revolutionary startups, the company’s management knows that the future emerges from a healthy blend of innovation and stability. Far from seeking to bypass banks, for example, they have designated banks and financial gateways as the prime early users of the protocol. Already one bank has signed up: Germany’s Fidor Bank AG, and more than 20 others are kicking the tires. Several financial gateways have come aboard. The latest: Bitso of Mexico, which is launching a digital currency exchange for the Peso.
3. The open-source approach has proved stable and dynamic. The internet community and Silicon Valley like it.
4. If and when a competitive open-source technology emerges, it will not replace Ripple’s work, even if superior; the best elements of each set of code will simply be merged by the open-source community.
5. The company is run by seasoned pros, a technical staff that now exceeds 50.
6. The company offers support to independent developers wishing to create specialized applications.
BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of Ripple Labs’ future, a new internet of value has been set loose upon the planet, and some developers somewhere will make it happen. Based on the same universal principles as the information internet, its growth may be unstoppable.
MORE THAN MONEY MOVED
The emergence of supermoney appeals to a deep yearning for something more profound than material wealth: freedom, self-sufficiency, and self-fulfillment.
The desire to tame the excesses of “big banks” and “big government” – viewed by some as marginalizing the “little guy” – motivates many bitcoin enthusiasts to change things in a fundamental way. While making money is important, enhanced freedom and personal power loom large for them.
Value web enthusiasts share the passion of bitcoiners, while also seeing a vital role for enabling organizations such as banks, but with the balance of power shifted toward individuals, families, communities, and smaller organizations.
Though their central authority function will be history with money 2.0, banks that shift to the new technology are likely to be even more valuable to their customers than at present -- and even more successful financially. They will hold hands in vital new ways and help usher in new levels of wholesome wealth, prosperity, and productivity.
The value web isn’t the only budding development that promises to shift power from central control to distributed, peer-to-peer and person-to-person control. Three others are worth noting here, because they and the supermoney trend may strongly reinforce one another. All, like supermoney, are in the early sprouting stage.
1. The green energy net
In spite of the global appetite for oil, natural gas, and coal, fossil fuels must go away before climate change does us in. The good news is that green energy is coming on strong.
Exotic new forms of green energy may also hold near-term promise. See Shhh! New Energy Breakthrough Is Quietly Powering Up.
The key point, sociologically, is that green energy such as solar is mostly a decentralized phenomenon in stark contrast to the centralized nature of fossil fuel production and distribution. Anyone can install solar cells on their home or business building, and suddenly become not only energy-independent but also an energy producer, sending excess power to the local grid. A bellwether move is New York State’s recent plan to facilitate a more distributed state-wide grid system with incentives for homeowners and business to participate as energy producers.
Like supermoney, the green energy grid promises to shift power toward the local and individual.
COUNTERPOINT: Although a strong trend, a pervasive green energy net is far from assured. Some big oil, natural gas, and electric power companies are sure to fight the green-energy trend until the bitter end. Others are likely to give green energy marginal support or lip service only.
2. Automatic work
Traditional work, performed by people, is bifurcating into two forms: automatic work, best performed by non-human systems; and fruitful, fulfilling activity, which by definition can only be done by conscious, caring, feeling beings.
Almost everything people would rather not do, if they didn’t “need the money,” is being transferred to intelligent systems. These smart “automatons” include software routines in the cloud; factories that run on automatic; and robots including cars and planes that guide themselves, small drones that fly or crawl to check or fix, and nanobot monitors that traverse our bodies to keep us healthy.
Large layoffs, made possible by intelligent technology, are a present-day reality with little evidence of mass hiring to right the balance. No matter how “good” the economy gets, large numbers of new jobs are not likely to be created by big competitors in most industries. Each year it makes less and less sense to pay people for functions done better and cheaper by systems, software, bots, and apps. More and more functions are being assumed by smart tech even in knowledge fields such as surgery, college teaching, and news writing.
The trend toward a world of declining “work” (for people) may seem to move us toward more central control and disempowerment of the individual. And without course correction, it almost certainly will.
However, some futurists foresee a redefinition of human work. The “new work” will be anything that conscious, caring, feeling beings do because they want to. That includes physical activities that bring pleasure and health; and mental and social activities – such as artistic and scientific endeavors – that please and uplift others as well as oneself.
Pay people for such activities? Why not? With plenty of wealth being created by the smart systems, where should all that “money” go? To a few human overlords whose days may be numbered, because they too can be replaced?
Redefining employment will be no easy task. It will require finding the will and ways to compensate people for fruitful, fulfilling activities now done mostly for free. These includes non-profit and community services, artistic creation, scientific inquiry, parenting, gardening, looking out for others, and innovation of all sorts.
Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but the alternative may be mass disempowerment, riots and rebellion in a robotic dystopia. Many educated young people seem to sense this. Turned off by traditional jobs in big business or big government, they strive for careers that satisfy a deep yearning for self-fulfillment and “making a difference.” The problem is the earning-a-living part.
“Work” – if and when redefined as fulfilling, fruitful activity -- will be inherently distributed, person-to-person, and local with global reach. Why? Because the discretion for taking action rests with the individual, although fine-tuned by social influences. Only the “old work” – best done automatically – requires an outside authority for permission and empowerment.
COUNTERPOINT: Government leaders, heads of private organizations, and many citizens may be slow to consider compensating people for non-commercial contributions, important as they may be. The “job,” although the recent child of industrialization, is too well-established. In people’s minds, punching in to perform pre-defined tasks is the “only” proper justification for financial reward.
3. The internet of makers
This trend relies on the fast proliferation of 3D printing, broadly defined as intelligent assembly at the molecular level. The “printers” are evolving in an increasing variety of sizes and types, some suitable for use in homes, others for making things in small businesses, others for use by larger organizations ranging from auto-makers to commercial construction firms.
Anything and everything can and probably will be made by 3D printers, which may be thought of as mini-manufacturing devices. These “makers” will make more than trinkets, models, and art works. They will also make structures as complex as aircraft and as large as buildings (assembly-ready components). In addition they will “make” biological entities such as food (meat and more); and replacement parts for enhancing the human body.
Like supermoney, inexpensive 3D printers promise to shift power from large manufacturers to local makers -- at home and in small shops and community facilities such as schools and libraries.
COUNTERPOINT: The large-scale proliferation of 3D technology is by no means assured. Some large manufacturers may be slow to embrace the technology; others may seek to aggregate 3D applications in large central facilities, limiting participation by individuals and small companies. Some third-world nations may prefer large factories run by low-wage workers, though others may see the distributed technology as a route to parity with advanced countries.
As, and if, control shifts downward and outward, the supermoney trend promises to add steam to the three others in many ways. For example:
- Homes and businesses with solar panels may transfer excess power into the local grid. Compensation through the value web will be simple, efficient, and with very low transaction fees.
- Local green-power generation will lower the overhead costs of in-home or in-company “making”; and the items made may more easily be marketed through the value-web system.
- Thanks to the “internet of things,” smart sensors can monitor everything and automatically reward people financially. For example, putting privacy concerns aside for the moment, imagine roadside sensors detecting a citizen picking up trash or tending a community flowerbed. A few dollars or cyber currency units, authorized by a community or non-profit group, could automatically be added to the citizen’s account as a reward.
- Efficient currency exchange, powered by the value web, will make it easier to share one’s self-fulfilling, fruitful work internationally, whether the work is intellectual property, art, 3D designs, or a service.
- Micropayments, facilitated by supermoney, will make more things monetizable, whether dribs and drabs of energy, internet content, personal services, casual actions, or material objects.
Thanks to the synergy of all four trends and others not mentioned here, people could become less dependent on traditional jobs, income, or public assistance in the form of money. They could produce, in conjunction with family and community members, more of the wherewithal for living, whether food in a community garden, electricity through solar cells, shelter through the “printing” of components made of indigenous material, clothing, household gadgets, and other objects though 3D “makers.”
The new money might become an extremely powerful influence for good. For example, imagine a pervasive micropayment system that rewards only actions that others appreciate or applaud. Although fraught with issues, such a system could become a subtle means of social influence more effective and democratic than much of today’s elaborate legal system.
COUNTERPOINT: Greed won’t go away, and for some people it may endure and grow as a basic driver. Have millions? Need billions! But thanks to the decentralizing, democratizing power of money 2.0, for many people human values may increasingly challenge the out-of control materialism that now prevails.
Toward a utopian or dystopian divide?
As the transformation of value energizes other transformative trends, more and more of us may conclude that we face a choice between pie in the sky and mud in your eye -- utopia or dystopia.
Things will get much better or they’ll get much worse. There is little middle ground. Today’s fast-evolving society may be a caterpillar. It can’t just keep worming and squirming along. It must choose metamorphosis or death.
On the downside, the new internet of value could be used to extend and reinforce yesterday’s more self-centered, polluting, and contentious economic morality – values associated with greed. Or on the upside, the same value web could be used to elevate economic morality – move values to the next level, a leap that may be vital for us to thrive and survive.
In concert with the parallel social and technological developments, supermoney has the potential to move whole economies into sustainable prosperity through human motivations the “old money” just can’t seem to muster.
However the coming change works out, for good or ill, we sit on an unprecedented launching pad. Look for a mighty thrust into a new stratosphere of danger and human possibility.
# # #
The shift to decentralized, more accessible, and more efficient money, things, energy, and systems is part of the highly-human megatrend that is now possible -- the shift to an era of enhanced health, science, mind, economy, culture, and living. For an overview, see Spectacular "Supersociety" Possible Thanks to Highly-Human Shift?
For more information and interaction, see Highly-Human Focus.
About the Author
Richard Samson is director of the EraNova Institute and has served as a consultant to IBM, AT&T, and other large organizations. His work appears in the SuperLife social network; the Highly-Human Focus website (formerly Highly-Human Jobs); and The Futurist Magazine, published by the World Future Society. His books include The Mind Builder, Creative Analysis, The Language Ladder, and Mind Over Technology.
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
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