It once might have seemed facile for the real world to have been influenced by sci-fi: isn’t sci-fi supposed to describe a world that's out of reach? But in these heady, oddball times, it feels normal for impossible, philosophical future fiction to be coming true.
Richard Branson is selling tickets to space tourists. Elon Musk is openly making decisions based on The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Isaac Asimov. Donald Trump seems to basing his leadership on that of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho from Idiocracy.
So if weirdo ideas that were once the reserve of Sci-Fi are now #inspo for our reality, should we be looking to Sci-Fi as a serious indicator of the future? What does Sci-Fi tell us we’ll be using to pay for stuff in the future? And could this form part of a sound investment strategy?*
We’ve looked at some classic speculative fiction and marked the likelihood of each currency emerging IRL out of five 💵.
Currency: Credits. Likelihood of adoption: 💵 💵 💵 💵
It’s boring. It’s simple. It’s obvious. It’s The Credit!
The TV shows Babylon 5, Star Trek, Firefly and Farscape. Movies Star Wars, Total Recall, and Demolition Man. Judge Dredd (the movie and the comics). The Ender’s Game books. Too many video games to count.
They all use the “Credit” as their future-currency. Does that mean that the Credit is the work of lazy writers? Or is it an acknowledgement that in the future, we’ll boil the concept of money down to something that works for everyone, and thus becomes boring by default, like Ed Sheeran?
The existence of the Credit is likely a latent expression of the latter: that homogeny = tedium. There are already examples of nouns invented to please everyone which shed their interest along the way. Just look at the linguistic knots that car manufacturers tie themselves into to create a worldwide brand name that appeals equally all over the globe: The Matiz, the Aveo, the Qashqai, the Aygo, the Yaris.
(It’s also important that car brands don’t outright offend anyone either. Mitsubishi discovered this the hard way with their unfortunately-named Pajero, which means “wanker” in Spanish, and makes the manufacturer's decision to emblazen "Pajero" in large type across the back of the vehicle all the more amusing.)
Now, look at the de facto currency of tomorrow: Bitcoin. That the name was invented by the mysterious crypto-genius Satoshi Nakamoto means nothing - it may as well have been created by polling every mid-size marketing agency in the world and averaging out the results. We should be grateful that we ended up with "Bitcoin" - it could just have easily been the Credit.
So, all hail The Credit - a unit of currency that sounds like the kind of insanely dull thing that underpins a devastatingly exciting future. Four 💵 out of five.
Currency: The leaf. Likelihood of adoption: 💵 💵 💵 💵
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has made some tech predictions that are devastatingly accurate and wildly absurd all at once: the cross-language Babel Fish pretty much exists now, except it’s a boring plastic tech product and not an alien fish that lives in your ear canal, excreting language translations into your brain.
So while some of HHGTTG’s sci-fi currencies, like the Altairian Dollar, Flanian Pobble Bead, and Triganic Pu, are just silly names, one of them - the leaf - also straddles this same half-crazy/half-wise divide.
While the idea of the Leaf becoming a currency is a simple but wry gag in HHGTTG (finally, money actually grows on trees!), it might actually be kind of plausible. In the book, it emerges that humanity has actually descended from a bunch of people that another planet considered low-priority and sent to colonise the young and pristine earth millions of years ago.
Thus, these management consultants, telephone sanitisers and hairdressers adopt the leaf as a currency and immediately all became immensely rich - and then have to find a way to deal with the consequential mass deforestation.
So far, so stupid. But using leaves as currency is not quite as dumb as it sounds.
There is even a precedent of sorts: leaves come from plants, plants can be used to make fabrics, and fabrics have historically been used as currency (it’s how the Silk Road got its name, for instance). And cotton is a constituent part of some banknote paper, and cotton grows on plants... so you could kind of argue that we’re already using leaves for our money.
And for Doomsday Preppers, the paranoid/enlightened (delete as appropriate) people who are preparing for a post-apocalyptic world, the leaf is an important potential currency.
The key to making leaves work as a currency is like any other currency: scarcity and inherent value. Tobacco, marijuana, coffee and spices are ideal candidates, and will all be especially desired in a dystopian world where your meagre diet of boiled rat might need perking up with some flavour and/or mind-altering distractions.
Whether the world ends in a flaming mass or not, our intrepid Preppers seem pretty determined to get off-grid and may well end up roaming the land, trading stuff for leaves - hence a surprisingly high probability score of four 💵 out of five.
Currency: Time actually becomes money. Likelihood of adoption: 💵 💵 💵 💵
In Time, the 2011 Justin Timberlake movie, features a future where everyone’s life is limited, and each person has, unfathomably, a countdown timer on their arm. While this gives the film a corny movie countdown-timer plot device, it also allows for some quite sophisticated reasoning: what happens when time literally becomes money? What if you make lots of money? Do you live forever? What if you steal someone else’s time?
There’s plenty of evidence to correlate wealth with life expectancy - in the US, rich people live up to 15 years longer than poorer people - so it’s already possible to “buy” an extension to your life, assuming you have the cash.
But using time as actual money itself? Well, anyone who has chosen between taking a day off work and earning some extra cash has essentially already used this currency, albeit in reverse.
And despite the value of time becoming the source of a million agonisingly cheesy Instagram meme-quotes, our money is starting to align more closely with the ticking of the clock.
Creating cryptocurrencies takes a defined amount of time: the complex calculations that need to be completed to “mine” slivers of coin take a long time, even with the most powerful processors. And people are so eager to conflate time and money in this way that there has been a worldwide shortage of GPUs as coin miners scramble to make as much virtual money in as short a time as possible. Because, you know, time = money.
It turns out that the hitherto absurd idea of using time as currency might actually be happening already, baby, and so four 💵 out of five might even seem a little conservative in that regard.
Conclusion: Leaves, credits, time itself - it’s all quite unexpectedly likely: 💵 💵 💵 💵
- Disclaimer: None of this is a safe investment strategy. Do not invest in leafy bushes on the basis of MONTAG’s utterly unscientific claims.
However… there’s something exciting and eerily plausible about the idea of money as we know it vanishing and being replaced by fun, new stuff.
And as hyper-local currencies like the Brixton Pound have shown, there’s nothing to stop us just going out there and inventing our own unit of currency, and really making it work.
Go forth and make your money. But, really, don’t base your economy on leaves.