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2050: CBDCs, AI, and the uncharted path ahead | Opinion

2050-cbdcs-ai-and-the-uncharted-path-ahead-opinion
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Opinion
2050: CBDCs, AI, and the uncharted path ahead | Opinion

As we stand on the threshold of an epochal shift in finance and technology, the emergence of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) stand as the two most defining factors. Yet, it’s when these forces intertwine that the real intrigue begins.

We’re at a turning point, and the road we’re traveling is one of no return. Money, as we knew it, is vanishing. In Sweden, a mere 9% of transactions in 2020 involved physical cash. Finland is on a fast track towards a cashless future, predicted to embrace it entirely by 2030. In The Netherlands, digital payments have become the norm, and Norway stands at the pinnacle of this revolution with a staggering 98% adoption rate of debit and credit cards.

Yet Germany remains the last frontier of cash, with many still clinging to physical currency. However, even in Germany, the tide is turning, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made contactless payments not just a matter of convenience, but a safety concern, prompting a slow but noticeable shift toward digital payment methods.

So what will ultimately be the extension of digital money? The answer is CBDCs. Like a digital rendition of a symphony once played with paper and coins, CBDCs are recreating money, only this time with the might of central banks behind them.

In a world where national governments still hold sway, uncontrolled currencies will remain a non-starter. The need for security, regulation, and stability ensures that CBDCs are the most obvious future for our financial system, aligning the digital transformation of money with the mandates and interests of sovereign nations. This marriage of technology and governance not only charts a new course but signals the next phase in our financial evolution.

China’s Digital Yuan is more than a concept or future; it’s a present reality. The Bahamas’ “Sand Dollar” isn’t just a technological marvel; it’s a beacon of national financial changes. Around the globe, around 80% of central banks are no longer pondering; they are actively crafting CBDCs.

But that’s just a half of the story.

Parallel to the CBDC movement is the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). An unseen force, AI is poised to transform almost every single aspect of our lives, with the financial landscape being the most obvious industry. By 2024, 40% of Asia-Pacific banks will rely on AI to gauge customer sentiment and tailor their offerings.

Now, let’s pause and envision the fusion of CBDCs and AI. Can you see it? A world where every transaction is not just digital but intelligent. Where data meets learning machines, creating an alchemy of possibilities.

Imagine AI sifting through the vastness of digital transactions, spotting fraud with a surgeon’s precision. Envision a world where banks know you so intimately that they offer real-time financial advice or micro-loans just when you need them, as adeptly targeted as video recommendations proposed by TikTok algorithms.

But here’s the catch: what if, in our pursuit of convenience and innovation, we’re forging chains that bind us? What if, by rendering money digital and decision-making algorithmic, we’re closing the gates of freedom? What if our every transaction becomes a story told to an unseen audience?

These are not mere questions; they’re warnings. They’re signposts on the path we’re walking.

In the upcoming sections, we’ll delve into the nuanced dance of CBDCs and AI, a dance that’s reshaping business, commerce, criminal justice, and our very identities. We’ll explore the promises, the hopes, the dreams, and yes, the nightmares too.

A disturbing convergence: CBDCs and AI in 2050

An examination of different countries’ CBDC models underscores a common theme: CBDCs must be aligned with real problems and genuine needs. 

The launch of a digital currency is not merely a technological exercise; it’s a profound socio-economic maneuver that should align with citizens’ necessities and preferences.

The Bahamas’ Sand Dollar, though an ambitious venture, did not significantly impact financial inclusion, while Nigeria’s eNaira, though met with resistance, showed the perils of forced adoption. 

Meanwhile, the convergence of CBDCs and AI  is a tantalizing prospect for many. But a closer examination reveals a future fraught with potential pitfalls and dangers. Let’s explore six disturbing possibilities that could emerge by 2050:

Total surveillance and control

Imagine a world where every financial transaction is monitored and controlled by AI-powered systems governing CBDCs. Your spending habits, invoices, taxes, investments, and even charitable donations would be tracked and analyzed in real time. 

Governments could create social credit systems akin to China’s current model, where citizens’ behaviors are scored and ranked, and individuals are awarded or punished based on what the state deems right or wrong. This dystopian concept, once relegated to the realms of science fiction and episodes of “Black Mirror,” is now edging closer to reality.

Such a system could lead to a totalitarian state where individuals’ freedoms and privacy are obliterated, and everyday actions are governed by a cold, calculating algorithm. It’s a chilling thought that harkens back to the 20th-century totalitarian regimes, which might have succeeded further if they had access to today’s sophisticated surveillance tools. Unlike those historical instances, our current technological landscape could facilitate an unprecedented level of control and conformity.

In this nightmarish scenario, fiction becomes a prophetic warning, underscoring the urgent need to balance technological advancements with ethical considerations, personal freedoms, and human dignity.

Algorithmic discrimination 

As CBDCs become the norm, AI systems could determine individuals’ financial fate. These algorithms, though free from human biases, might unintentionally discriminate based on data.

For example, those living in economically disadvantaged areas might receive higher interest rates or have limited access to financial services. 

With no clear accountability and the complexity of AI, understanding or challenging these decisions could become almost impossible. This could further widen the existing socio-economic gaps and solidify a class divide that’s impossible to bridge.

Economic strangleholds 

The merger of AI with CBDCs could grant an unprecedented level of economic control to powerful entities, both governmental and corporate.

By leveraging real-time data and predictive modeling, large nations or corporations could manipulate monetary policies to suit their agendas. One can’t help but recall Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearing, where the scrutiny was over data privacy and control. Now, imagine if someone with that level of influence had access not just to personal data but to the very mechanisms controlling money itself.

Consider how this might have exacerbated during the 2020-21 trade wars, with nations using this technology to devalue currencies or impose sanctions at the flick of a switch. Smaller countries, lacking in technological prowess, might become mere pawns in a global economic chess game, outmaneuvered by giants with access to AI-powered financial tools.

This alarming vision underscores the urgency to consider the ethical ramifications of melding artificial intelligence with our financial structures. The line between innovation and exploitation might become increasingly blurred, making the need for regulation and thoughtful deliberation more critical than ever.

Personalized marketing dystopia

With complete access to spending data, corporations could use AI to create hyper-personalized marketing strategies, making traditional advertising look quaint by comparison.

Imagine receiving an advertisement tailored to your recent breakup, or a marketing pitch based on your medical expenses. Such intrusive marketing could become an ethical nightmare, leading to a loss of personal autonomy and transforming individuals into mere data points for exploitation.

While regulations like GDPR were designed to protect people from commercial corporations, they may not be enough to guard against governmental intrusion. The question then arises: who would stop governments from exerting total control over the people’s data and personal information?

In a world where personal data is the new currency, the merger of AI with CBDCs raises a pressing concern that extends beyond corporate greed.

It begs us to consider the fine balance between technological advancement and the fundamental rights of individuals. The frightening possibility of governments wielding this dual-edged sword highlights the urgent need for a global conversation about ethical boundaries, transparent governance, and the sanctity of personal privacy.

Loss of financial anonymity and freedom 

The ability to transact anonymously might vanish with CBDCs and AI, as every financial activity would be tied to your identity. Think of whistleblowers or political dissidents who rely on financial privacy to protect themselves; their safety could be compromised. 

Furthermore, governments might control or censor transactions based on political views or affiliations. The notion of financial freedom, a cornerstone of democratic societies, could erode entirely, leaving a populace beholden to the whims of AI-driven policy.

Ethical quagmires and legal challenges 

This convergence would inevitably lead to complex legal and ethical questions. Who would be responsible for an AI’s financial decision? How could one appeal against an algorithm? 

Existing legal frameworks might become obsolete, and crafting new regulations would become a herculean task. Moreover, ethical considerations such as consent, transparency, and justice would be continuously challenged, leading to a constant tug-of-war between technological advancement and human rights.

Digital identity in 2050: willingly stepping into a dystopian world

The thrilling embrace of CBDCs and AI leads us to an inevitable intersection — the construction and control of digital identities. 

As we project towards 2050, we must critically examine the underpinning technologies and societal shifts that may transform identity, privacy, and personal freedom.

Biometric technology: seamlessly intrusive

Biometric technology, while not entirely new, has reached unprecedented sophistication. It’s not just about fingerprints anymore. From iris scans to gait analysis, the very elements that make us unique are becoming keys to our digital world. In 2050, your face might become your passport, and your heartbeat your banking PIN.

But herein lies a paradox. What happens when these biological traits are stolen or manipulated?

Unlike passwords, you can’t change your DNA or facial structure. The permanent nature of biometric data gives rise to a world where a single data breach could result in lifelong identity vulnerability. 

This seamless integration of biometrics into our daily lives introduces unforeseen privacy risks and creates a societal dependence on technologies that might be beyond our control.

Blockchain: the myth of transparent chains?

The application of blockchain for identity checks offers tantalizing possibilities. A decentralized, transparent, and immutable ledger could safeguard our identities and revolutionize how we interact with governmental and corporate entities.

Yet, the very transparency that offers security could turn into an unprecedented surveillance tool.

Imagine a world where your every transaction, medical procedure, or educational milestone is recorded permanently on a public ledger. 

Blockchain’s promise of anonymity might become a double-edged sword. While initially touted as a tool for privacy and individual empowerment, it could ironically morph into a mechanism for tracking an individual’s every move. In this unsettling scenario, every aspect of your life becomes a data point within a dystopian blockchain, recorded and immutable. Moves that cannot be erased, ever.

Self-sovereign identity: the illusion of control

Self-sovereign identity, where individuals hold and control their digital identities without intermediaries, is a fascinating paradigm shift. It promises a future where you are the sole custodian of your digital existence, free from corporate or governmental overreach.

But are we ready for such a monumental shift? What if you lose control over this self-crafted identity, either through mismanagement or malicious attack? 

The shift from reliance on institutions to personal control might lead to a landscape filled with potential traps and pitfalls. Your entire life could be compromised, not by the failure of an institution but by your misstep. It’s a freedom fraught with danger.

Decentralized identities (DIDs): a complexity of risks

Building on self-sovereign principles, decentralized identity (DID) leverages decentralized networks to enable seamless interactions across various digital platforms. It’s a groundbreaking approach that empowers individuals while retaining privacy.

However, this decentralization introduces complex, interwoven risks. Mismanagement, hacking, or a collapse of part of this decentralized network could disrupt not just one aspect of your life but everything and everyone connected to your DID. 

In a world where digital connections are intricate and multifaceted, the loss of control over one’s decentralized identity might have cascading effects, leading to a personal and societal crisis.

New paradigm of business and commerce

The marriage of CBDCs, digital identity, and AI is not just a revolution at the individual level; it’s a seismic shift that has the potential to redefine the landscape of business and commerce.

For example, countries like Sweden, where the e-Krona is being tested, are experiencing a dramatic reduction in transaction costs and time. Intermediaries become irrelevant, and what once took days now takes seconds.

However, this seamless efficiency could be a double-edged sword. The 2021 cyber-attack on Colonial Pipeline in the US is a stark reminder that swift payment systems could be equally quick in spreading financial chaos if hacked. The line between efficiency and vulnerability has never been so thin.

The emergence of digital identity brings about unprecedented convenience in customer identification. Imagine a world where biometrics, like in Aadhaar in India, verifies identities in an instant, eradicating many fraudulent activities. But at what cost?

China’s Social Credit System showcases the extreme end of this spectrum, where data becomes a tool for surveillance and social control. We might be heading towards an era where businesses know us better than we know ourselves, blurring the ethical lines between personalized service and intrusion. In the 16th century, humans were placed at the center of the universe; now, we might be distancing ourselves from our human essence, edging towards dehumanization, a concerning development that merits reflection and caution.

AI’s role in transforming the business environment offers both allure and alarm. With AI-driven tools, businesses can predict customer behavior like never before, but they also open doors to bias, discrimination, manipulation, and loss of autonomy.

Amazon’s recommendation algorithms and Netflix’s AI-based recommendation engine showcase the commercial success of predictive analytics. Yet, controversies like Apple Card’s gender bias and the Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2016 US Presidential Election demonstrate the darker side of this technology.

The vision of business and commerce in the era of CBDCs, digital identity, and AI is both inspiring and intimidating. It’s a terrain filled with potential for growth and innovation but fraught with ethical, security, and social challenges.

The journey towards this brave new world requires careful navigation, balancing efficiency and innovation with ethics, privacy, and human dignity. The stakes are high, and the path uncharted, but the dialogue must begin now to steer this evolution in a direction that preserves our values and freedoms, ensuring that technology enhances rather than diminishes our humanity.

The new age of crimes

Imagine a world where every transaction, no matter how insignificant, is permanently etched on the blockchain’s immutable ledger that powers CBDCs. This technology could fundamentally alter criminal practices such as money laundering and fraud. 

According to a study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, global money laundering transactions are estimated at 2 – 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion – $2 trillion annually. With the adoption of CBDCs, these criminal activities could be significantly hampered due to increased visibility and traceability.

However, this shift might also provoke an evolution of criminal enterprise. With traditional financial crimes curbed, criminals might exploit the vulnerabilities of this new system.

Cyberattacks targeting digital wallets or CBDC infrastructure could become the norm, reminiscent of the $4.52 billion worth of cryptocurrency stolen, as reported  by CipherTrace in 2019. Advanced hacking methods, ransomware, and DDoS attacks might shape the new face of financial crime.

In a dystopian scenario, the CBDCs’ omnipresence could even facilitate a novel form of financial warfare. Nation-states, through their cybersecurity arsenals, could seek to destabilize adversaries by disrupting their CBDC systems, echoing the 2015 cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid that left parts of the capital without electricity.

The risk of financial censorship is another potential fallout. With the ability to monitor every transaction, states could exert control over individuals’ financial lives, potentially suppressing dissent and curbing civil liberties. The plight of Wikileaks, which faced a financial blockade from payment processors in 2010, may serve as an eerie premonition of this potential future.

Moreover, the debate over state surveillance could reignite, with instances like the NSA’s PRISM program serving as a grim reminder of what might become a pervasive reality.

Amid this, combating this new age of financial crime will require a paradigm shift in law enforcement and regulation. Techniques such as AI-powered predictive policing, already in use in cities like Los Angeles, might become crucial. However, the balance between surveillance for security and preservation of privacy would become a perpetual tightrope walk.

Despite these alarming possibilities, the same technologies could also provide potent tools for law enforcement. Advanced AI algorithms might be used to detect suspicious transactions and predict criminal behavior. Interpol’s AI-powered facial recognition system, already assisting in catching fugitives, might be adapted to catch financial miscreants.

While the future of financial crime in a world of CBDCs and AI holds many unknowns, it also presents opportunities for innovation in detection, prevention, and enforcement. 

Could crypto be a solution?

The rise of CBDCs and their intricate alignment with AI has painted a picture filled with both awe-inspiring possibilities and grim uncertainties. But in this labyrinth of digital finance, could cryptocurrencies, the non-state-backed digital assets, emerge as an alternative, a solution, or even a counterbalance?

As CBDCs begin to proliferate, the line between cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and state-backed digital currencies may become increasingly blurred. While CBDCs offer the promise of streamlined efficiency and state oversight, cryptocurrencies represent the ideals of decentralization, privacy, and freedom from state control. Herein lies an inherent tension and an intriguing symbiosis.

Impact on the crypto market

The adoption of CBDCs could, at once, validate and challenge the crypto market. On the one hand, the widespread acceptance of digital currencies might boost public trust in cryptocurrencies, potentially driving further adoption. On the other hand, CBDCs could present themselves as more accessible and stable alternatives to volatile cryptocurrencies, possibly overshadowing them.

The crypto market might adapt, with privacy-focused coins like Monero becoming more appealing to those seeking to escape state scrutiny. 

Or it might see innovation in bridging assets that can seamlessly connect CBDCs with various cryptocurrencies, akin to how the Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC) operates within the Ethereum blockchain today.

Cryptocurrencies: a counter to AI-coupled CBDCs in 2050?

As we look toward 2050, a future where CBDCs are intricately connected with AI, cryptocurrencies may present themselves not just as an alternative but as a necessary counterbalance.

In a world where financial transactions are scrutinized, controlled, and predicted, cryptocurrencies could remain a bastion for privacy, autonomy, and individual sovereignty. They might act as a safety valve, a realm of financial freedom in an increasingly controlled landscape.

Imagine a scenario where social credit systems are tied to CBDC transactions, determining access to services based on spending habits. Cryptocurrencies could be the way to escape this Orwellian financial ecosystem, providing an alternative route for personal agency.

Yet, such a dichotomy could further fracture the global financial system, with different strata of society choosing or being forced into different digital currency ecosystems. Regulation, technological advancements, and socio-political factors will undoubtedly shape this dynamic interplay.

The road ahead

In our pursuit of efficiency, convenience, and control, are we setting ourselves on a path toward a digital dystopia? The innovations in biometric technology, blockchain, self-sovereign identity, and decentralized identity present a future where our very selves become digitized, decentralized, and potentially dehumanized.

The convergence of CBDCs and AI within this landscape amplifies these concerns. Control over money becomes control over identity, and control over identity might mean control over individuals. The lines between freedom and surveillance, autonomy, and dependence blur in this digital dance.

As we look towards 2050, we must confront these existential questions head-on. Are we building a future that empowers individuals, or are we constructing a digital cage, adorned with the allure of technology but ultimately restraining our freedom and humanity?

The decisions we make today will ripple into our tomorrow. Let’s approach this brave new world with caution, reflection, and a firm grasp on the values that define us. It’s not just about embracing technology; it’s about understanding what we might be relinquishing in the process. The choices are ours to make, but the consequences will shape generations to come.

Ankish Jain
Ankish Jain

Ankish Jain is the crypto-savvy writer you’ve been searching for. With his fingertips on the pulse of digital currencies, he’s penned insights for leading publications like Capital.com, Invezz, Coinbench, and NFT Fluent. A former tax analyst at PwC and an entrepreneurial spirit, Ankish doesn’t just follow trends; he anticipates them. From Bitcoin’s ups and downs to the next big thing in DeFi, he’s your guide through the thrilling twists and turns of the crypto maze. Want to know where the market’s headed? Ask Ankish. Just don’t ask him about his cloud-kitchen venture; that’s a story for another day.