When I was a pup of 15, working my first retail summer job, one of the first things explained to me was the idea of card not present
risk. This issue came up when people phoned in an order to the store where I was working and wanted to pay by credit card. I’d have to fill in the fiddly 3-ply carbon sheet with a ballpoint that always ripped the form, and deal with a manager hovering over me, worried about fraud from nefarious people who paid with stolen cards. I continued to work part-time jobs in retail, as you do, until my early 20s. The fear of credit card payments happening without live humans attached always hung in the air.
The emergence of e-commerce in the mid 1990s made this concern less of an issue, as remote payments exploded. Fast forward two more decades, and gazillions are spent globally by purchasers unseen. Amazon has taken the idea of recurring purchases by subscription to a new level, with millions of consumers signed up for automatic deliveries of loo roll, kitty litter and bacon. Somewhere in an Amazon data center, an algorithm is making a purchase on customers’ behalf. Some small measure of purchasing agency has been handed over to software.
And now we’re shown smart fridges that will reorder on your behalf
, no human necessary. Out of milk? Ding dong. (Presumably the smart fridge doesn’t check the Dropcam and let the delivery person in the house just yet). And of course we’ve seen, for art’s sake
, bots making random darknet purchases
. The latter feels like a business model waiting to happen, a sort of Chatroulette + Square + Your Market Goes Here. I digress.
What set me off on this thread was thinking about the delegation of agency to increasingly intelligent machines, and how this relates to both money and legality. We are on the cusp of redefining rights and liabilities around things like self-driving cars (see below) and certainly testing boundaries of legality in the case of bots breaking laws (like ordering drugs or weapons online). Rather than asking top-down questions about the ethics and responsibilities of machines, more action seems to be happening in a bottom-up fashion, re-framing rights and recognition as a means of defining liability when agency is handed over to hardware and software, action by action.
Which brings me back to money, and who or what is spending it. The IoT is now seen as new territory for things that buy things. The TechCrunch piece below enthusiastically describes a landscape of objects in your home buying things for you. One question is, based on what values? Purchasing is politics. Will my devices buy things based on my values, or on manufacturers’ recommendations? Will they bargain shop? Will they debate? My coffee maker may want one brand of beans, but what if my dishwasher objects? Did either or both inform my toothbrush? Which of my things will be hijacked to make fraudulent purchases? Fully automated luxury capitalism!
Look around. Which objects, brands and systems in your life do you trust to spend money for you?