If you wanted a chariot, 150 years ago, there was a person out there capable of building that chariot for you. Most likely that person was part of lineage of chariot builders, or somehow part of a guild which was preserving and improving the craft of chariot-making. The end result would have been a custom vehicle, built more or less for your taste, and unique.
As time passed by, and as the means by which we processed raw materials became more and more accessible, the craft of chariot-making started to enjoy the benefits of automation. Instead of building a custom, unique chariot, they started to build, by automating the processes, standardized chariots, which were cheaper to make and own. You may remember the Ford Model T as being the first chariot (with an engine attached, as a bonus) made on an automated process, the famous assembly line.
History recorded, from that point on, many other areas in which automation scaled up production, and brought down the price. Clothes, furniture, even food, became the stars of the industrial revolution, in which we were able to process raw materials with more predictability and lower costs.
Introducing The Internet
About 30 years ago, another revolution started. Only this time it wasn’t about how we process the raw materials around us, by creating goods that other people consume, but about how we process relationships between humans, and between humans and other objects. What Interned brought on the table was an increased accessibility to information. Just like we gradually achieved a better accessibility to raw materials, during the industrial revolution, we made a similar jump in processing information and interaction.
As a direct result of this revolution, we started to automate relationships too. Not only relationships between humans, but also relationships between humans and money, or between humans and social structures (known as countries or governments).
It wasn’t the Internet alone, but the whole ecosystem of apps and tools that it made accessible, from social media to smartphones. Because of this new ecosystem, we have now, for instance, a thing called Tinder.
This Tinder thingie automates a very common process between humans, which is romantic connection. Or what we perceive and define as being a romantic connection, because there are many nuances to this, from just a weekend hook up, to a long term commitment. Beyond our personal definitions and expectations of a romantic relationship, the bottom line is that, in this new ecosystem, what would have take, probably a few months of courtship before, is now packed into a swipe-left / swipe-right afternoon activity. Connect, send message, meet and that’s it: bam-bam, thank you ma’am. Rinse and repeat.
I’m not going to comment on the utility of this process, if it’s better or worse, if the whole hook-up culture is alienating fundamental parts of our behavior, I’m not going in that direction, I’m just taking note of the phenomenon. Just like you couldn’t ignore a Ford Model T on the streets, compared with a standard chariot, you can’t ignore now the Tinder impact (or, broadly, the online dating niche impact) on our modern lives. It’s relationship automation at its finest.
But there are other types of automations, which aren’t that obvious. Yet. But they have the potential to shape our short term future (10 to 20 years) in ways comparable to how online dating changed our relationship patterns and expectations.
It’s about our relationship with money, and our relationship with government (or what we perceive now as “countries”).
Crypto-currencies Are Automating Our Relationship With Money (And Countries)
Before being outraged by the title above, take a deep breath. And think for a while about what you perceive as money now. Again, I’m not going down the rabbit hole of magic thinking, and how money isn’t more real than Santa Claus, I’m just keeping it at the relationship status, how you relate to it.
Money is printed by governments. Governments are entrusted by elections, which are held every 4 years (if you’re lucky enough to live in a democracy, that is). So money is just the result of you putting trust in someone who controls the printing process. This entire process is slow, and prone to errors, miscommunications and plain manipulation. Politicians aren’t famous for being honest. So, the entire money printing process is, in fact, quite fragile.
Crypto currencies are making this entrusting process faster and less prone to miscommunications and plain manipulation (which may still happen, by the way, but to a much lesser degree). And the nicest part is that you start realizing there are more “money” than just “government money”, and they are totally legit, as long as there is enough trust provably deposited into them. There is Bitcoin, Ethereum, Hive and probably a few thousands more.
And how you relate to these groups, in which value flows in and out based on trust, defines your life in ways we never experienced before. We may have access to Bitcoin or Ethereum, and automate the process by programming bots to pick the best value at any given time. We may flow programmatically these tokens into areas which are providing better ROI, and maximize the profit (DeFi is the name of this game, if you’re curious).
But the most interesting automation of our relationships will be the one related to what we call now “countries”. As money becomes less and less coupled with what we call “official” structures now, we will want to tightly couple our lives with different types and levels of “official”. The dynamic is changing, in the sense that leading social structures are now definable and implementable faster than before. We don’t need to held elections every 4 years, we can hold elections every week, if we want. It takes a tap on our smartphones.
So, instead of this top to bottom structure, called “state”, we may start seeing “government-on-demand” structures, which will give access to their citizens to various resources, just like states give now access to standard citizens to some resources (legal identities, citizenships, health services, education).
And we may start automating the “citizenship” process, based on what benefits we get from the on-demand-government, just like we automate now the romantic relationships. We may just swipe right for a country in which Ethereum is the main currency, education is cheap and travel is free, and swipe left for a country in which US Dollar is still the main currency, education is so expensive we must take a student loan to participate in it, and travel is allowed only if you wear a mask and you’re vaccinated.
We may seem quite far away from this moment, but remember the first Bitcoin was mined just 10 years ago, and barely anyone knew about it.