Pirate monies: What virtual wallets tell us about the future of the economy
Join us for an afternoon of discussion on the future of financial exchange technologies, from virtual wallets to alternative stock exchanges.
Economic activity is taking place with ever decreasing levels of human input. Automated systems trade in stocks and shares faster than we can track by eye, while prices are tweaked by bots and our deliveries are arranged using algorithms and databases. Carrying a virtual wallet makes it easy to keep track of several accounts and multiple currencies at once, and pay for our purchases in half the time it takes to count out the traditional coinage.
As society increasingly bemoans fat-cat bankers and miserly investors, could these technologies lend a hand? Whether it is virtual currencies, bartering for goods and services or crowdfunding, new paths through the financial jungle are on their way. Platforms for trading that do not depend upon a third-party presence are rendering the middle-men surplus and empowering buyers and sellers to take direct control of their finances. While surviving on Bitcoins for a whole week is difficult, virtual currencies can now be used to pay for specific real-world goods and services, from a pint of beer and online dating, to a home or (allegedly) parenthood.
But what effect is this digitised economy having on society? Businesses are making automated decisions, and consumers are distanced from the items they are buying. Given the level of complexity involved in encrypting these platforms, how are they to be regulated? There are virtual markets designed for the easy (and anonymous) sale and purchase of drugs, as well as concerns that these cryptocurrencies offer criminal organisations a means of selling weapons, money laundering and turning illegitimate money into legal tender.
There are instabilities in these systems, though – automated systems running on algorithms are subject to human error during programming and maintenance, and companies have lost millions owing to problems in the past. New software belonging to one electronic trading firm went haywire during its launch in 2012, aggressively buying and selling $7 billion of shares in less than an hour. The virtual stock exchanges have discovered that speed is a valuable source of capital. The act of using digital stock-brokers in an electronic marketplace has led to the commoditisation of milliseconds and a premium being placed on access to data feeds – so what are the real-world, tangible results of this? And just how secure are these systems?
Join us and our specialist panel, chaired by Anna Irrera, Reporter at Financial News. Speakers include Louise Wilson (Managing Director of Abundance, an alternative platform for individual investment in renewables), Darragh Browne (CEO at Blockspin, Bitcoin cryptocurrency developers) and Donata Huggins (TransferWire, crowdsourced foreign currency exchange).
The event is one of a series leading up to Nesta's FutureFest, a weekend of events challenging us to imagine and shape what is to come. For this event, we are asking:
“What would you miss if your wallet was entirely virtual? What would you enjoy about a completely anonymous international payment mechanism?”
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