My name is Dietmar and I am an entrepreneur in the year 2030. I run a fleet of autonomous taxis in Zurich, through a business called Fast Cabs.
A lot has changed in the last decade, so I hope what you are about to read helps you understand the financial systems that are required to facilitate the businesses of tomorrow.
I incorporated the business entirely on a Swiss government issued blockchain. My partners and I hold shares in the form of smart contracts, with built in voting rights and share issuance functionality. All shares on the Swiss stock market are now smart contracts. The only distinguishing factor making a company public (or not) is a Boolean database field called ‘PUBLIC_TRADABLE’.
We are keeping ours to ‘FALSE’ for now. It’s not that we are worried about the extra paperwork, in fact there is no paperwork in 2030, now that all our transactions are automatically classified by our bank’s AI and booked via API into the correct accounting fields.
We currently run 30 driverless taxis as part of the city’s privatised transportation scheme. We funded 10 ourselves and lease the other 20. The leaser gets paid in real time based on a 50% split of all revenue made on those taxis. This is easy to do because each taxi has its own digital identity, wallet and corresponding wallet logic. The leaser therefore doesn’t need to trust us to pay on time or to pay the correct amount.
Not that trust is really a problem anymore. After a series of high-profile fraud and corruption cases in the early 2020s, companies can now not be successful unless they build ‘trust by design’. It’s the first thing investors and lenders ask about.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. All my company’s ‘events’ are added to a Merkle Tree made up of quantum-resistant hash functions. Events can be financial transactions, accounting adjustments, taxi rides, recharges or maintenance trips. Our last audit took a nerve racking 30 seconds, which is the time it took for our auditors’ algorithm to remotely check that our financial database balanced and that our corresponding event blockchain was valid.
Financial audit algorithms are not the only algos we have to accommodate. The tech businesses of your era were borderless and became more powerful than most countries. They took full advantage of Western governments’ haplessness, lobbying against increased anti-trust and social media responsibility and happily paying whatever regulatory fines were imposed against them. That all came to an end in the early 20’s, when regulators finally showed their teeth, imposing personal liability on tech executives for regulatory breaches and ordering the break-up of several tech giants, which were forced to sell off sections of their business to stimulate market competition.
The authorities also now have a real time ‘event feed’ that monitors our management systems. They have detection algorithms running for price manipulation, monopoly behaviour and any kind of foul play. It might sound a bit big brother I know, but it’s not all bad: tax returns are now a thing of the past, for example.
Talking of tax, in the mid 2020s companies are viewed as social entities that need to support their people as much as they need to support their customers. Our tax rate is a function of the salary range between our lowest and highest earners. So if a company pays their CEO five hundred times as much as their lowest earning employee, they get hit with a very high tax rate to compensate the state for needing to care more for these low earners.
It’s not just audits, tax and regulation that have sped up. The whole business runs at a pace that completely excludes humans from operational roles. Humans are just not fast enough in this world. We run the algorithms which in turn run the business.
I’ll explain what I mean. When a customer needs a ride, they use an aggregator app on their smartphone to post a lift request, including the details of the trip required. All licenced taxis in the area receive the request and prepare a quote.
The quote is dependent not only on the distance and time required for the trip, but also the potential routes. In 2030 the roads have become economic players themselves, with wallets and their own price optimisation algorithms that price according to the traffic situation and road condition. The cab needs to take all this into account and quote the potential passenger a reasonable price in less than 3 seconds.
The passenger has a choice of several leading aggregator apps, but it doesn’t really matter which one they use. What matters is the algorithm they choose to run within their app. Algorithms or ‘algos’ as we call them, are now independent products just like apps of your day. Most apps are free but it’s the algos that people buy from independent stores to help them filter through the enormous amount of data they are now exposed to. All products: visual content, music, restaurants and of course taxis are filtered for humans by recommender algos.
Taxi hailing algos can order by price, speed, customer review rating or perhaps a combination of everything. A taxi’s customer rating is particularly important for customers as they seek a safe, high quality ride. The most common method is to give heavier weighting to reviews from a customer’s friend or acquaintance.
These ‘weighted ratings’ are possible because in 2030 all bots and people have digital identities, known as a ‘seed’. These are government issued IDs that use cryptography to disclose only the things about you that you want known. For example, the app can query any of my taxis’ public fields, like ‘LICENCE_NO’ so they can cross check it to the official licence register, or ‘REG_NUMBER’ to cross check with all friends’ taxi histories and ratings. Right now, human drivers are making a comeback despite the reduced product quality, a little like the vinyl revival of your time. To facilitate this, hipsters would need to make sure that ‘IS_HUMAN’ returns ‘TRUE’ on the taxi’s ID.
Once the passenger has chosen the taxi and is on their way, the taxi starts making continuous micro payments with various route wallets as it goes. It also continually communicates with the routes ahead. If the traffic situation changes, an alternative route is negotiated with the various economic players involved, not least the passenger, who will need to be notified.
Cash is a distant memory in 2030, and so are cards. As soon as bank payments became instant there was no need for Visa or Mastercard to act as middlemen. The customer’s app initiates a wire straight from the customer’s wallet to the taxi wallet when the trip is complete.
The problem of fraud and chargebacks was solved with ‘fraud ratings’, facilitated by the above-mentioned digital identities. All economic actors, including the bots, are held to account using these ratings, so if you are about to wire money to a wallet with a shady history, the system will warn you up front. This strongly incentivises fair resolution of financial issues, just like Ebay in your time, who were the pioneers of this trust system.
When the customer is in the cab, they can pick up whatever audio or visual content they feel like for the journey. As soon as they enter the cab, our smart screens detect their current subscriptions and automatically log them back into whatever VR filmscape they were last watching.
The advertising in my cab uses smart screens that display targeted ads according to the customer’s purchasing profile, which is communicated to the cab from the customer’s personal device just like their content subscriptions. The screens can tell when a customer’s eyeballs actually look at the screen, just like impressions in old-school web advertising, so the advertiser fires us a real-time micropayment to my wallet every time a customer looks at the ad.
My taxis are finished with solar paint and glass, so they are permanently recharging. However, when it’s a cloudy day they use more electricity than they can create. When their batteries are low, they automatically hook up to the city’s smart grid for a recharge. When plugged in and recharged they can even use their panels to contribute back to the grid. The grid is now ‘smart’ which means traceability can be recorded using a public power blockchain to prove the amount of power used and produced. The wallets of the taxi and local charging units are debited or credited according to who powered whom.
So as you can see, by 2030 some things have changed a lot and others not so much. People still need to run businesses and, thankfully for my business, people still need to hail taxis. It’s the methods and systems that facilitate those endeavours that have changed most.
This facilitation has been enabled by infrastructure that enables complex interactions at huge scale. Just a simple taxi ride has involved thousands of actors collaborating and often competing at breath-taking speed using common web protocols. The World Wide Web is finally worthy of its name.