Editorial 20 April 2018Cecille de Jesus
Implants, biometrics or wearables: What is the ultimate wallet of the future?
A column exploring blockchain-related possibilities in the far future. Here, we look at blockchain technology in conjunction with other developing technologies. Disclaimer: this post may be closer to science fiction than fact.
Consolidating wallets and identification systems into one digital wallet is something some start-ups are already starting to work on. Today, cryptocurrency wallets are largely desktop, hardware drive, or mobile-based. But with several other technologies developing simultaneously, it’s hard not to think how these devices may become obsolete in the near future.
So what comes after—what emerging technologies do we know of that may replace what we have now?
- Chip Implants
This payment option is one of the most popular contenders in this race and is also a very common sci-fi detail. In fact, the concept of network-enabled chip implants has survived decades of science fiction and has been featured in shows and movies, including Andrew Niccol’s In Time (2011), and the Outer Limits, “Stream of Consciousness (1997).”
The concept is both badass and terrifying at the same time. And the most interesting thing is that this may actually become a reality soon. In 2016, a company aptly named Dangerous Things launched a product called xNT Tag, an implantable chip that can facilitate NFC transactions, including financial transactions like cryptocurrency payments.
This is the kind of stuff dystopian movies are made of. Unsurprisingly, the product has not obtained government approval and comes with a stern warning:
“This kit definitely contains dangerous things,” they wrote on their website.” Use of this device is strictly at your own risk.”
Still, Dangerous Things reached their $8,000 goal within a week of launching their Indiegogo fundraiser, and ended up with nearly four times that amount at $30,619, an indication that some are for it. Although most people would probably prefer a more medically established and “trust-worthy” source for something as sensitive as chip implants.
But here’s one argument against chip impants: as we all know, where money goes, crime follows. Will muggers start chopping off body parts to get the money? This is a gruesome thought. Although a simple multi-signature mechanism could deter such a modus—requiring passphrases for transaction confirmation in addition to the implants. But even with this in place, some may still try—God forbid you run across an ill-informed mugger.
Although highly convenient—not to mention superbly suave—another downside to chip implants is the fact that people will be reluctant to insert a device into their body, even if it’s just right under the skin. But assuming that a person is okay with this, there lies the question of privacy—can it be subjected to abuse, particularly in tracking individuals?
This would, of course, be a gross violation of rights. But it is worth noting that phones can already easily be monitored now (and can be tracked quietly in the background even when apps are inactive). But unlike phones, one would have to cut himself before an implant can be ditched.
Last month in Hong Kong, I asked Shyft Network’s CEO Bruce Silcoff—who himself is working on a blockchain-based universal ID system to help unbanked people gain access to financial services—what he thinks of an utterly dystopian possibility where it’s mandatory for humans to be implanted with such a chip upon birth. This was one of the worst case scenarios I could think of. And even he thinks it’s a scary thought.
“There are a few companies that have been working on a consolidating both the payment side and the identity side into one wallet. What does that look like—whether it’s a wearable, whether it’s embedded in you—I think that almost scares me a little bit if it’s embedded in you.”
“If we ever get to a day where government tells you, ‘you gotta put a chip in your body,’ that’s a problem,” he adds. Silcoff says there are ways for the government and society to work in harmony for a balance between freedom and regulatory obligations.
“There’s a fine line between freedom and convenience or advancement in technology,” Silcoff says. “as long as it’s up to the consumer—the individual person, to choose the form that they’re comfortable with—that they have their freedom of choice.”
- Biometric Identification and Payments
I asked some friends at Coin Crunch, a team conducting Podcasts and Youtube videos where they review cryptocurrency projects and interview founders. And while many are putting their bets on implants, Coin Crunch’s Danny Fries has his money on biometrics—another popular contender in the race.
“I think it will be a bio recognition app as a primary security layer—fingerprint, facial recognition, and voice,” Fries says. “The benefits being that (1) you don’t have to remember your key and (2) the above three are entirely unique to individuals.”
“The main dangers I see are that facial / voice can be faked with some new tech… this will probably get worse as tech gets better. Example: (Lyrebird, a voice-cloning synthesizer),” Fries says. `
“One possible solution would be to combine a simple safeword / traditional memorable password with the voice recognition part,” he adds. Coin Crunch is a community of intelligent blockchain investors and technologists that focus on big picture ideas and the groundbreaking tech of new crypto projects, releasing content regularly on Youtube, and have had their fare share of technology assessments.
Fries’s bet is actually quite a viable horse: it may be easier for a biometrics-based system to gain widespread acceptance, having already been widely implemented in other applications. Another benefit that comes to mind is “distress detection,” which may be handy in identifying theft and hostile situations. This has been studied by researchers from the University of British Columbia.
If biometrics can go so far as to detect “distress” at a time when a transaction is being initiated, maybe it can trigger an alarm for authorities to monitor something that could potentially be a case of kidnap for extortion—something that may become dreadfully common these days.
They don’t have the same sci-fi appeal that implants and biometrics do but wearable devices have an edge over other technologies: they’re not as intrusive as implants, and are already a far more common and easily accepted thing these days.
One disadvantage to wearables is that compared to the first two, there is a better chance of misplacing this device, although there are ways to locate a missing device using mobile phones. Stealing such wallets can be so easy for expertly dexterous, sleight-of-hand bandits, but again, multi-sig features can be a life-saver.
With so many developing technologies, the room for speculation is wide open. What do you think is the ultimate wallet of the future? Are there any technological developments worth watching and putting on the list?
Let us know your views in the comments below.
Cecille de Jesus
Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.
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