40 Years Ago: Electronic Money Is Too Easy

by Sarah Grotta 0

MIT Technology Review went into their archives and pulled an article from 40 years ago where technologist expressed concerns about how the electrification of money might play out in society. Their concerns have come true with amazing accuracy. The following are a few excerpts:

The possibility that electronic cash might zip through the consumer’s fingers faster than hard money worries Gordon B. Thompson of Bell Northern Research. Mr. Thompson wondered whether the combined impact of responsive cable TV and electronic money might tempt the shopper into impulsive video-shopping. ‘The hard sell one sees on television could be directly coupled to a purchasing act,’ said Mr. Thompson. ‘By just inserting a credit card in the appropriate slot and pressing a button, the latest kitchen gizmo is on its way to the viewer’s home, and his bank account will have been automatically adjusted.’

EFT could make it possible to issue paychecks on a daily basis, and to pay bills on a daily basis … It could be possible to control payments precisely for maximum benefits, for example, paying one’s taxes precisely at 11:59 on April 15 of each year.
Because computers are more impersonal than human-centered systems, there might be an increase in ‘beat the system’ types of crimes. The challenge of the game of ripping off the computer may be just too much. ‘The person who today tries to beat the house in Las Vegas … might find the challenge of beating the electronic value transfer system too good to pass up.

Last but not least, the article from the 1970’s also brought up the concerns about the safety of all the data that would be amassed and how it might be used by governments. Add Google and Apple to that prediction and it accurately describes the payments industry today:

Finally, and perhaps most ominously, the concentration of data in EFT systems will tempt greater government control of the economy, for huge amounts of economic data will be readily available, tempting policymakers to act upon it. And the power of EFT records may also tempt government to gather information on the habits and finances of the public, perhaps endangering privacy

Overview by Sarah Grotta, Director, Debit Advisory Group

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