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By @SimonCocking, review of Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin, the revised paperback edition by David Birch.

Money is changing and this book looks at where the technology of money might be taking us in the future. Technology has moved our concept of money from physical things to unseen bits of information. With the arrival of smart cards mobile phones and Bitcoin it has become easier than ever to create new forms of money. Crucially money is also inextricably connected with our identities.

Your card or phone can identify you for security – and also enable information about you to be associated with your money (think for example of store ‘points’ cards). To understand all of this and to see where we might be going the author first of all looks back over the whole history of money which spans thousands of years.

He sees evidence for possible futures in the past both recent and ancient. After all not all ‘future’ starts from today. For example it can be argued that the future of money began back in 1971 when money became a claim backed by reputation rather than by commodities of any kind. At this point money became bits. Looking much further back to a world before cash and central banks we see multiple ‘currencies’ operating at the level of communities and the use of barter.

The newest technologies will take money back to where it came from: a substitute for memory to record mutual debt obligations within multiple overlapping communities. This time though money will be smart. It will be money that reflects the values of the communities that produced it. Future money will know where it has been who has been using it and what they have been using it for.

Available to buy here, ISBN 9781907994654. See more book reviews here.

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Review of Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin

David, or Dave, writes well, and this is a great book to get your hands on for a big picture, contextual overview of what has happened in the digital money / crypto based space. The chapters cover a wide range of time, predating the emergence of Satoshi Nakamoto and Bitcoin itself, including some interesting insights from his own involvement in UK based attempts to launch something not too dissimilar a decade earlier.

There is also a good introduction from fellow fintech influencer Brett King, who has written in depth about Banking and what the future may hold for us. We follow Birch on Twitter and he often posts links to interesting articles and tweets about fintech trends worth following. His writing style is wise, informed, knowing and humorous, which makes for a good combination and an enjoyable read. If you haven’t read the first edition of this book then this is as good a place as anywhere to dip your toe into the fascinating evolving world of digital money, bitcoin, crypto in a wider context and much more.

For those that have read the first edition this version is a little disappointing because it is described as an updated and revised version. The question then is always how much has it been updated, because early on, in the text you come across a sentence that says ‘when writing this book in … 2016’. This would suggest that perhaps it has been a more superficial update rather than a root and branch overhaul of the text, ideas and trends as they have evolved in the last three years.

We are big fans of Dave Birch and his writing, so this version feels like a slightly missed opportunity to deliver something which could have been even more cutting edge and relevant. Perhaps that will be in Before Babylon 3.0 or something else he is working on?

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See more reviews here.

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