Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A World Without Money

Here’s a scenario for you: your daily life revolves completely around bettering yourself and those close to you.  You have no need for work, because money is non-existent.  The value we place on material possessions is completely absent from society, thereby making the idea of working for a paycheck obsolete.  You may still go to a “job”, but you do so in order to improve yourself in areas like education, experience, physical fitness, camaraderie, or any number of reasons other than fattening your now non-existent wallet.

I’m joking, right?

It’s hard to imagine a society where money doesn’t exist.  Really, if making more moolah wasn’t important, who would wait our tables and flip our burgers?  Who would stock the shelves of grocery stores?  Money is the deciding factor in everything.  People work to make money to buy things.

Fans of Star Trek will know that the futuristic societies portrayed in those stories have evolved past the use of money.  Their drive and ambition is, instead, to further themselves and achieve more.  The idea is altruistic and refreshing, yet for us it seems millennia away.

Not so fast.  Fans of Star Trek will also recognize the term “replicator”, which is a machine that can create food and supplies out of atoms and molecules.  A person walks up to the replicator, asks for a hot cup of coffee or a slice of pepperoni pizza, and voila it appears before them ready to eat.  Again, this is the stuff of science fiction…but really, it’s not.  It's modern science and engineering.

I’ve been hearing more and more about 3D printers making their way into the public eye.  These printers can manufacture three dimensional plastic objects out of specifications supplied by the user.  In other words, if I wanted a pen to write with, I could program the printer to create a plastic casing for a pen, and it would “print” that casing.  I’d still have to acquire the ink and ballpoint features, but the bulk of my object has been created for me.

Just last week I read an article about people building the casings of assault rifles using 3D printers.  On the popular television show The Big Bang Theory, Howard and Raj create action figures of themselves using a 3D printer.  These things do exist, and they are becoming more and more prevalent.

I’ll admit that building simple plastic pieces and models is a far cry from generating a steaming cup of tea from molecules, but some engineers have gotten a lot closer than those 3D printing machines available commercially.  Below is an interesting article from a few months ago summarizing the author’s friend and his attempts to construct a replicator in his lab.

Interesting stuff.  Brings to mind the ideas I conjured up in my first novel, ProjectUtopia.

But where am I going with all of this?  Well, imagine being able to dispense food in seconds or even minutes from a machine in your home.  You would never need to go to the grocery store.  You could ask for ingredients like flour or turmeric or whatever to make your own dish, or you could just program the dish itself into the replicator.  Why ever go to a restaurant?  For the intimate, dining out experience?  Well, restaurants would have replicators as well.  You just punch in your order, it materializes on the table, and when you leave it recycles the remaining bits of food and even the dinnerware and utensils back into molecules and atoms that would be used for the next customer.

So if you are no longer paying for your food, what would you do with your money?  Buy new clothes?  Why not just replicate them as well?  Buy an 80 inch TV?  Replicate that.  Buy a car or a house?  No, just replicate them.

Suddenly the things we prize, those material possessions we all covet, are all suddenly worthless.  Your neighbor has a bigger house or a green lawn?  Replicate a new addition or new grass seed or whatever.  You want a fancy watch?  Replicate it.

We’d still need electricity and heat and utilities, right?  Well, if a replicator can create food and clothing and electronics, it surely could create photons, and it most certainly could generate energy.

So what would we do with ourselves if we had all of these things available to us at the push of a button?  I’m sure some of us would become incredibly lazy, but I also think a bit of Darwinism would set in.  Most people couldn't just sit around doing nothing forever.  Humans like to compete with one another, it’s ingrained in our DNA, and so you’d see a lot more sports and creativity in the world.  In other words, most of us would strive toward improving our minds and our bodies.

Yes, there'd still be work to do, but eventually work would become more like a hobby.  Doctors would still be necessary, but the idea of paying them with money would be silly because they could just replicate everything they'd ever need.  So why would anyone even go to medical school, you might ask?  For the challenge.  To better oneself.  To help others.

And I'm sure there would still be some mundane jobs like plowing snow or cleaning public places, but people would do those things for camaraderie.  And nobody likes messes.  Yes, you'd probably have people who would shun the new system and intentionally cause problems, but if everyone is striving to be smarter or stronger or whatever the case may be, I think you'd see a lot less crime.

I know, I know, this all seems like the far-fetched ramblings of a sci-fi geek.  And I’d agree with you, except that replicators are practically available now.  Primitive, yes, but look at the ENIAC when it was first built in the 40’s.  It took up an entire building and was a fraction of a tiny percentage as powerful as the cell phone in your pocket right now.  So just imagine where our replicators will be in 70 years?

A world without money?  It won't happen overnight, but the possibilities of it happening a few generations from now aren't quite as absurd as you might think.

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