(The Straits Times)
SINGAPORE – Take out your wallet and count the number of cards you carry, not to mention all the Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) that you have to memorize for every possible transaction. Then there is your passport, driver’s license, insurance documents, not to mention details like home and work addresses, phone and fax numbers.
All that information, says BT Laboratories’ Peter Cochrane, can be put into a single silicon chip on a smart card. Everything from employment and medical records to financial status can be written into the chip. Add a short-range wireless transmitter-receiver, implant the whole thing under your skin, and you have a personal transponder, just like those in airplanes.
A chip like that can give you total freedom, according to Professor Cochrane. You walk into an airport and clear Customs and Immigrations in minutes because all your personal information will be processed by computers instead of humans. Since all your financial information is also in the chip, you can simply walk up to an ATM machine in any country and withdraw money as and when you need it.
Even grocery-shopping could be easier. Just walk into a store and pick up whatever you want to buy. No more queues at the cashier’s counter.
All this could be reality in 10 years time.
The future of money
Cash is headed for a whole new dimension. MasterCard has invested millions in the development of an E-cash system called Mondex. Smart Mondex cards have tiny embedded microchips that can store not only electronic dollars but also five other types of currency, an abbreviated medical history and even a personalized electronic “key” that can open everything from your apartment to your office. Says Henry Mundt, MasterCard executive vice president for global access: “The chip that we are putting on the card now will form the platform for the ultimate in remote access for consumers to their funds, anytime, anywhere. What we really see happening in the future is consumers being able to design their cards to meet their individual needs. We refer to that as moving more toward life-style cards.” E-cash is already everywhere, from highway tolls to subways.
Technology and finance have become one and the same. As William Niskanen, chairman of the Washington-based CATO Institute, puts it, “The distinction between software and money is disappearing.” And nowhere is that truer than in the world of cold, hard cash.
Paper money is, in its way, amazing stuff. It is, for instance, easily transferable and widely accepted. You can pay the baby sitter without even thinking about the complex financial dynamics underlying the transaction. Cash-especially U.S. dollars-is also portable, storable and exchangeable. (Just ask the thousands of Russian Mafiosi who pay for nearly everything with $100 bills.) But paper cash does have some awful drawbacks. Lose it and it’s gone; sit on it and it may lose its value overnight: think about what just happened in Asia, or earlier in South America.
Enter electronic cash. The idea of digital money is simple enough: instead of storing value on paper, find a way to wrap it in a string of digits that’s more portable and (most important) smarter than its paper counterpart. Smart money? Well, yes. Because digital cash is endlessly mutable, you can control it much more precisely than paper money. Think about the $2,000 check you send to your daughter at college for expenses. How is that money really spent? Books … or beer? Electronic cash takes that relatively simple transaction-passing an allowance-and makes it into a much more intelligent process. And one that hardly requires something as old-fashioned as a bank.
For starters, you can send the money over the Internet encoded in an E-mail instead of sending a check. Your daughter can store the money any way she wants-on her laptop, on a debit card, even (in the not too distant future) on a chip implanted under her skin. And, you can program the money to be spent only in specific ways. You might instruct some of the digits to go for books, some for food and some for movies. Unless you pass along a few digits that can be cashed at the local pub, she’ll have to find someone else to buy the drinks.
Smart, digital cash may also address some of the other problems of paper money. If you lose your digital cash, for example, you will be able to replace it instantly by asking your computer to invalidate the disappeared digits and replace them with a fresh set. And unlike paper money-which stops earning interest as it shoots out of the ATM slot-smart money can keep earning interest until the moment you spend it.
Chips get smaller and smarter
By Eric C. Evarts, The Christian Science Monitor
First, they appeared in computers. Then they went into clocks, calculators, and coffeemakers. Now they are popping up in credit cards, car windshields, running shoes-and even pets.
Ultimately, say technology experts, they will be embedded in people to track their health, résumés, and whereabouts.
“They” are silicon chips. And as these tiny objects get smaller and smarter, they are bringing about more changes in the way we live. For example:
Britain recently passed a law granting special privileges to foreign pets implanted with silicon ID chips. If the chip indicates a pet’s vaccines are up to date, the animal can come into the country without the usual six-month quarantine.
Running shoes equipped with computer chips can adjust the shoes’ cushioning based on whether the wearer is running or walking.
Last September, American Express introduced the Blue Card-a credit card with an electronic chip that acts as a checking account for Internet purchases. The chip stores financial data and works much like the magnetic strips on the back of other credit cards. But it holds much more data, lasts longer, and is more secure from thieves.
Travelers on Virginia toll roads can have tolls debited from their bank accounts via chips embedded in windshield stickers.
Ultimately chips could migrate under our skin, though the ethical and humanitarian implications remain unclear. In 1996, Professor Kevin Warwick at the University of Reading in Britain had a chip put in his arm that could unlock doors, turn on lights, and boot up his computer.
All the technology needed for chips to interact directly with humans is already available, says Gene France, a senior fellow at Texas Instruments in Dallas. “All we have to do is figure out how to get them not to be so clunky.”
“If I could just download [commands] from my brain, that would be kind of exciting,” says Mr. France. “I’ve always maintained that someday [knowing] calculus will be a matter of sticking your hand on an electrode pad…. For cellphones, I’d like to be able to just stick this little [chip] in my ear.”
Another obstacle is power. Today’s batteries are too big, heavy, expensive, and don’t last long enough to run embedded chips. “My goal,” says France, “is to reduce power requirements so the chips can run off body heat. Everybody I talk to says … it’ll never happen,” he adds. “So I figure it’ll be 30 or 40 years.”