Whether or not you've used it, you've almost certainly heard of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that's currently trading at around $9,000 U.S. dollars per unit.
Experts are torn on whether cryptocurrency is a passing fad or here to stay. The folks at MIT Technology Review seem to fall into the latter camp: The publication included digital money in its "10 Breakthrough Technologies 2020," unveiled on Wednesday. The annual list highlights technological advances that the publication expects to have an actual effect on the way we live and work.
Digital money can include cryptocurrencies, which operate without the oversight of any sort of centralized bank, as well as other forms of digital currency. Facebook made waves in June by announcing its new digital currency, Libra, which could be used to buy goods online or be securely transferred to friends and family. The plan is for the currency, which the social media giant hopes to launch later this year, to be backed by reserves made up of U.S. dollars as well as other international currencies.
Days after Facebook's announcement, the People's Bank of China revealed it would be speeding up the launch of its own digital currency. As Tech Review points out, "China is poised to become the first major economy to issue a digital version of its money, which it intends as a replacement for physical cash."
The seeds for the conversion to digital currency were planted long before those announcements. Mobile payments company Venmo had 40 million users as of April 2019 and was on pace to handle $100 billion in transactions that year. An increasing number of retail stores, like Sweetgreen and Dos Toros Taqueria, have gone cashless. Increasingly, money lives in the online world, moving from one account to another by digital means; new forms of online currency are the next logical step.
With a $550 billion market cap, Facebook clearly has an advantage in trying to create a widely used form of digital currency. But if, as the experts predict, digital money is a breakthrough technology, other companies are sure to follow suit.
Or, as Tech Review puts it: "The digital money wars have begun."