In June 1999, I received an invitation from Science Magazine to enter an essay competition named “Visions of the Future” to visualize the scientific world in 2050. “Essays will be judged on originality, range of extrapolation from a scientific basis, and amusement value. Winner(s) will be published in Science and will receive a year's subscription to Science,” the invitation email stated. As a young (24 years old) computer engineer with some backgrounds in AI and combinatorial optimization, It was a great joy for me to predict how computational stuffs would impact our society in the next 50 years. So I decided to enter the competition and doing my best to make a realistic vision of the future.
I started working on my essay on June 21, 1999 and came up with a 2-page essay on July 1, 1999 which was submitted to Science on the same day. It was December 3, 1999 that the winners were announced in Science by Jasny et al., where they said, “As a prelude to our celebration of the new millennium, for the next 4 weeks we are presenting the 12 winning essays of our Visions of the Future competition.” They also mentioned, “We received 160 essays from all around the world, and participants ranged from students to professors emeritus. Certain themes recurred. Many entrants speculated on the interface between humans and computers, cloning and genetics, ecology and the possibility of environmental doomsdays, neurochip implants, conquering AIDS, transcending the aging process, or the social structure of science.” They added, “Unlike our normal peer review process, the judging was idiosyncratic and subjective--we picked the essays that seemed to us to be the most interesting, amusing, creative, and thought-provoking.” Unfortunately, my essay was not among the 12 winers as the main theme of the winning essays was biology. More than 50% of the winning essays had a direct speculation on some biological advances in the future. It seems the scientific hype of that era around the cloning, human genome, and DNA computing, had a strong impact on the contest atmosphere. In addition, my essay had a fancy view to the future in a field which was not very endemic to Science, that was economics. There was also a problem from my side: The essay was super concise. As a young researcher, I expected all mature scientists to understand me easily! But currently at the age of 46, if I want to write the same essay, I will use at least twice the words I used in 1999!
Some illustrations by Adam McCauley for the Sciense's Visions of the Future (published December 1999 in Science)
Anyway, we are now in 2021, and 22 years after 1999 we can have a better look to the essays and the valuation of their visions. I should declare here that I have no attempt to judge other essays. The only thing I want to do here, is the evaluation of my own essay. You may find it interesting that the essay was about the future of money and a new type of digital money which is based on a public and digital ledger system! More interestingly, it had exactly predicted the creation time of the ledger-based money, that was 2009! When we compare that prediction with what actually happened by the creation of bitcoin and blockchain, reading the essay would be a must-do job. The PDF version of the essay is accessible here and I explain some parts of its content in the following.
The first paragraph of the essay explains that scientists found out in 2007 that we should have an information-based money, something beyond the digital systems for transferring the conventional currencies. The second paragraph is the most important paragraph of the essay. It supposes that by the support of a coalition of four departments (ministries) a new department (division) at Aria Technology Group was formed in 2009, which was named Information Architecture (IA) department. The main role of IA department is to define the Social Information Space (SIS). The SIS as described in the essay is a public digital ledger in order to keep track of all social operations (transactions). According to the description, not only digital currency transactions are kept on the SIS, but also all product & service deliveries are recorded on it. In today’s language, the SIS is an equivalent to a multi-purpose blockchain for all social interactions (transactions). In real world, IBM is currently the leading firm in developing such an information space. It is very interesting to see how IBM defines the blockchain in 2021 and its similarity with the second paragraph of the essay which was written in 1999. IBM says, “Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.”
The third paragraph has another astonishing prediction. It predicts that 2021 is the year in which digital currency is widely accepted and used. Considering the acceptance of digital currencies by some investment and central banks around the world in recent months, shows the accuracy of this prediction! In fact, the motivation of writing this article and sharing the essay is the coincidence of the predicted date (2021) with the actual date. The forth paragraph predicts that in 2022 the public use of social interactions card will be started. The social interactions card is an electronic card protected by our biometric information and holds a copy of all of our transactions on the public ledger. It includes all information about the assets and digital currencies which we own. The rest of the essay describes how the ledger-based economy will affect our society till 2050.
Finally, I should say although the essay apparently describes a public digital ledger to record all of social transactions, it does not specify its implementation method. It could be either centralized or decentralized (distributed). As we know, the blockchain is a decentralized implementation of a public ledger. So the ledger-based digital currency which is described in the essay is not necessarily in the form of current decentralized cryptocurrencies. The future may be somehow different as some shift from the decentralized to centralized implementation may happen by some push from the world’s central banks.