Somewhere along the way, contactless payment has departed the realm of far-off science fiction to land firmly as a mainstay of modern, everyday life.
At some point, everyone simply started understanding that tapping a small plastic square against the screen of a card reader is, obviously, going to work – and instantaneously at that. Whenever this change occurred it must’ve been the same time that everyone accepted the WiFi logo at 90 degrees in fact now, inherently, means ‘contactless’.
I’ve seen people adhere strictly to the concept – never allowing their device to actually make physical contact with the receiver – and others wave their cards back and forth as if a swiping action is absolutely mandatory. In general though, everyone just seems to ‘get’ it. It is as normal as anything else that once seemed alien, like making a phone call or taking a flight.
The technology that makes this possible is called an NFC – Near Field Communication – tag, a minute chip that stores relatively small amounts of data. In your run-of-the-mill NFC tag you won’t be able to store more than 64 bytes, in fact. Yet this is enough to open a world of opportunities, and the tags don’t have to be relegated to existing only in your bank card. Whilst they’re being incorporated into phones (Apple Pay being a main proponent of this tech) the tags are versatile enough for this to just be the tip of the technological iceberg.
Take for example, the NFC Ring, developed by McLear LTD. This metal accessory looks like any other ring, but wearing it enables the user to unlock their phone simply by holding it, or even open their front door provided it uses an NFC lock. A ring allowing contactless payment is currently available for pre-order on their website, nfcring.com, for £69.99.
So where does it stop? One day, the technology could be a standard-procedure cybernetic implant, perhaps in a fingertip, or a tooth. Will the cowboys of the future bite down not to check for gold, but to spend it instead? What if ‘your money or your life’ becomes one and the same, inextricable from one another, as your own body is also the source of your finance, your identity and even your car keys. Years from now, we could all be wielding information through machines just by extending our hands out above them.
Whilst that does sound like the prerequisite to the eventual collapse of human civilisation, to me, it sounds like a technology that we cannot explore soon enough. Contactless payment may have quickly been taken for granted, but the limits of the science behind it will not be reached for decades to come.