Futurologist Says Global Pandemic Could Eliminate Cash

London Telegraph
Friday, Sept 19, 2008

If you were surprised by the financial crisis, wait until you hear what's coming next. Futurologist Richard Watson journeys into tomorrow's world

After a week when it's been impossible to predict which financial giant will still be standing at the end of the day, let alone the year, it would seem like a fool's errand to talk about decades down the line.

These days, if you raise your gaze to the horizon, you'll find experts warning of a host of problems: melting ice caps, global pandemics, terrorism, the end of oil, meteor strikes, even robot uprisings.

It's all too easy to become paralysed by such possibilities - and yes, there are ideas, discoveries and events over the horizon that we can't possibly comprehend. But while the future is unknown and unwritten, we can begin to trace its outline, and prepare the first drafts.

For example, the financial services industry has been in quite a state recently. Despite today's troubles, we can say that we'll always need banking and insurance. But will we get them from the same places? Asda and Tesco already sell insurance alongside carrots and spaghetti, and are certain to expand their offerings.

What would happen to the big banks if Wal-Mart, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Vodafone all applied for banking licences to deliver services such as electronic payment, as I believe they will? And will we still need high street branches staffed by human beings once artificial intelligence really kicks in, and you can talk to a machine that's checking the market every second for the best loan or insurance policy?

Even the nature of how we pay for such things will be different. It is estimated that by 2020, only 10 per cent of financial transactions will be in cash. We can safely predict that the idea of money as a physical object might well become extinct not long after - especially if a global pandemic starts us thinking about all the germs on those grubby notes. Instead, digital transactions will be made through computers, or cell phones, or even chips inserted into our forearms.

Full article here

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