Everything is awesome.
A thought occurred to me a few days ago about a potential chain of events that might transpire in the near future. It felt like a eureka moment; some things just kinda clicked and suddenly made sense when considered together. First, a quick background. There is a lot of talk that developments in artificial intelligence and automation will automate many jobs and create huge numbers of people whose skills are no longer useful because machines will be able to do those jobs. And worst of all, they won't be able to re-train and/or get different jobs because those jobs too will be automated - there are no replacement jobs coming. This video covers this really well:

This seems like a real possibility (in many ways it's already happening in many industries), though it's hard to say how "smart" these machines will be and how much they will be able to ultimately automate. But let's say they're smart enough to render billions unemployed and unemployable. What happens to all the unemployed? A very popular solution commonly proposed for this chaotic period is basic income. Here is a good video that explains that concept:

In addition, we have a very real prospect of economic collapse as well as a total elimination of paper currency, with all transactions made digitally, probably with some sort of microchips.

It seems like artificial intelligence, automation, and basic income concepts are starting to gain a lot of attention and popularity. It is happening incrementally but already people like Bill Gates, Steven Hawking, and Elon Musk have talked about the dangers of AI, and because of their popularity, this is bringing it into mainstream consciousness.

Many countries are starting to take the idea of basic income seriously. Notably, Finland is starting a trial on it:
Finland is about to launch an experiment in which a randomly selected group of 2,000 - 3,000 citizens already on unemployment benefits will begin to receive a monthly basic income of 560 euros (approx. $600). That basic income will replace their existing benefits. The amount is the same as the current guaranteed minimum level of Finnish social security support. The pilot study, running for two years in 2017-2018, aims to assess whether basic income can help reduce poverty, social exclusion, and bureaucracy, while increasing the employment rate.
France might try something similar too:
For the past two years, the think-tank Génération Libre has been promoting the creation of a monthly "Liber" — consisting of €450 per adult and €225 per child, balanced by a standard 23% tax on all revenues, including on capital.

"The simple deduction of the total of the Liber (which is basic and unconditional) from the Libertaxe (which is proportional to revenues) automatically leads to either a 'negative tax' (for the lowest incomes), a sum of money paid in cash by the local authority, or a 'positive tax' (for the highest incomes), a net contribution to the local authority," write economist Marc de Basquiat and philosopher Gaspard Koenig in an article in support of the payment.
There is a push to run the experiment in many other countries as well. There was effectively a basic income in Libya, though they may not have called it such, until that spectacularly successful social experiment was blown away by NATO in 2011. Gaddafi's people didn't implement it to offset the effects of automation; it was introduced there because it seemed like the decent thing to do.

Anyway, it seems like automating jobs away will push the Powers That Be to consider their options, if this is indeed on the agenda. What to do with the vast majority of unemployed humans?

So here's my suspicion about what might be happening here:

Automation increases corporate productivity dramatically, allowing the rich to get dramatically richer while the majority are jobless and broke as they are not the owners of the machines/facilities to benefit from them. Of course, this means we don't have any money to buy stuff either. So in the initial stages of automation, companies who are laying people off and replacing them with machines will benefit by saving money. What they haven't considered is the economic effect overall - people without jobs can't buy whatever these companies are selling. But of course those few companies who do think of the larger context and are loyal to keeping people employed will be driven out of business due to narrow-minded competition automating and out-competing them on price and quality. This results in the inevitable social and economic collapse - people without jobs can't buy anything, big shocker! What now?

The collapse may also be engineered - in whole or in part - and linked in some way to paper currency. But these people are slick; they like to make things "make sense" and not be completely out of the blue with no plausible explanation. Then people are left shrugging thinking, "well we knew it was coming, it was inevitable, it wasn't some freak incident no one saw coming." And using automation as a catalyst just makes sense - it's growing exponentially, many famous people are seriously concerned, it's bound to lead to an economic crisis, and all they have to do is gently guide it and manage the outcome in their favor. No need to "engineer" it arbitrarily.

Just as the riots are starting, the government implements basic income. This gives everyone an allowance and purchasing power. But this is where they drop paper currency in favor of fully controlled electronic-only currency. They will insist this is the only way basic income is possible on a truly large (possibly global) scale - to curb the corruption, money laundering, etc., that might compromise it. Whatever the stated cause of the collapse, people will be desperate so no one will really argue too much; they'll just be happy to get money again.

Ultimately, of course, if machines produce all goods, money is actually completely unnecessary anyway. But our social mentality doesn't allow for that idea just yet, and controlling money (and retaining the concept that it's necessary) means controlling people - this time much more directly and much more profoundly. People won't work for a living - but they will literally only live if their digital money handout isn't cut off. Who will rebel then?

Automation could offer a utopia - there is nothing wrong with letting machines do the annoying drudgery and allow humanity to stop laboring at pointless and stupid soul-crushing jobs and instead focus on whatever fulfills them in life - travel, reading, education, creative pursuits, friendships, families, whatever! But the elite won't just let us be free - any beneficial technology that should liberate us will actually enslave us even more. We might not be working for a living, but they will still get 99.99% of all the benefits from automation and we will get the "free" scraps - just enough to keep people content, but also fully dependent on the handouts from the elite who own the automation (it won't be socialized).

The key word is decentralization. Both automation and digital currencies can be decentralized. One thing is for sure: such technologies, once matured and implemented on a wide scale, are incredibly powerful. Either that power is concentrated in the hands of the few at the expense of everyone, or in the hands of everyone enabling freedom and abundance the likes of which has never existed.

Automation has one really pesky issue: right now the elite need us to produce. They want to control us but they need people mining resources and producing products and services, so they can't really get rid of us and still have their wealth and comfort. Someone has to actually do the work! Once machines do everything, the vast majority of humans are no longer needed to sustain the flow of resources and production and development of technology. We become obsolete with respect to production. Once we have no more value to them, what happens then?

Our value as human beings (not as worker drones) never mattered to them. Just look at the homeless, or the poor neighborhoods in inner cities. Detroit is a great example. Bottom line, people who are not needed for production are discarded at best - they form into slums and barely register on anyone's radar. This will be everyone when fewer and fewer of us have an actual use to the system. Just flushed down the proverbial toilet like Neo in The Matrix when he was unplugged.

So either we will control the means of production and be free from drudgery and labor, everyone will be fed and housed and supported by the amazing productivity of machines, or we enter the worst dystopia in history and for the first time in history are actually completely useless to the elite, who can now fully sustain themselves with machines. I really don't see any middle ground - it will either be absolutely terrible for the vast majority or absolutely awesome.

If history is any indication, we are screwed. Productivity is already dramatically increasing but jobs pay next to nothing, work hours are longer than ever, and people are working multiple jobs. The current state of technology makes each person armed with advanced tools 100x more productive than a person armed with a shovel and an abacus 100-200 years ago. But why aren't we working less and benefitting from this today? All the smart people from 100 years ago logically predicted a lot of leisure time and prosperity in this time, they just completely neglected to consider the psychopathy and greed that completely prevents this. The benefits have been realized from tech and productivity, but they are pooled at the top. The divide between the rich and the poor has never been greater. So if we continue on this trend, it sure doesn't look like it's heading in the direction of a "really awesome" future all this could enable. The top will continue to benefit until we are no longer needed at all. Then we are going into camps at best, or killed off at worst.

Sorry for being a Negative Nancy. The future is open. But it's just not likely to be nice given what we know of the past and present. And this isn't the far future. This dramatic shift is already starting and will be in full swing 10 years from now, unless something intervenes. And the intervention would have to be rather dramatic - massive natural disasters, global revolution. I don't know if cryptocurrencies will ever be simply allowed to take over - you think they won't put up a fight to prevent decentralization of money/power?

If the dark version of this scenario is at all plausible, I can only hope that an ice age or nice comet cluster comes soon after to end the misery and wipe the slate clean.