It’s fun to watch young children learn to handle cash by buying an ice cream and giving us back the change. But there will be nothing adorable about being surrounded by machines that need equally patient hand-holding when it comes to using money, like making sure our refrigerator stocks up the right vegetables in correct quantities before it pays the delivery robot.

Doing this every day with each of our 15 online devices will mean we do nothing else in our internet-of-things future.

The conventional financial system will be of little help. Banks can clear fast payments. With the backing of the legal system, intermediaries can make our appliances honor and enforce obligations. However, when it comes to making payments that are contingent upon the delivery of a product, service or asset, the existing technology will become overwhelmed when everything gets connected.

That’s where smart, or programmable, money comes in. Lines of cryptographic code, running on a distributed ledger technology such as the Ethereum blockchain, will calculate the right payment amount, and come embedded with conditions for a transfer of value from one party to another. The money itself will contain these capabilities, and we don’t need to look very far to see who will make it available to us.

The Bahamian Sand Dollar was the world’s first digital currency issued by a central bank, though it won’t be alone for long. From China to Sweden, authorities are preparing to offer electronic cash. Britain has set up a task force to explore a Britcoin. If it goes ahead, a digital euro and an American FedCoin won’t be far behind.   

A twofold wariness is driving this experimentation. Some central banks fear the rising influence of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin; others fret about the growing market power of e-commerce and payments firms that are harnessing data from billions of transactions. Competition between the U.S. and China for global financial dominance is another motivation. In all this, perplexed users are asking, “What’s in it for me?” 

The short answer: Ask your future car. The real utility of a central bank digital currency may be realized when one internet-enabled machine pays another, without having to ask us for permission every time.

At present, we think of the money we move from a savings account to a digital wallet as cash, even though the dollars, pounds or yen being spent are the liability of the wallet operator. It’s the sovereign’s job to clear the operator’s — or its bank’s — IOUs. The monetary authority performs that function by debiting one account and crediting another. That’s when the transaction that we began by paying someone digitally is permanently settled. With official digital cash, the liability for the money simply shifts from the operator to the central bank. 

Even aficionados of behind-the-scenes real-time gross settlement won’t find digital cash much different in day-to-day lives from what we’re already used to.

But give it five or 10 years, and our lives might change. We may be ferried around in autonomous cars that need to fuel up and park after dropping us off. Would we really like to receive annoying messages from our bank in the middle of a meeting, wanting us to validate payments at the gas station or the parking lot? It’ll take another urgent text from the car’s computer to assure us that our vehicle is getting the service we’re paying for, and asking if it has our go-ahead to part with $23.65. More work for us.

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