EXCLUSIVE: ‘Beam us up Scottie!’ – Ali Paterson, Fintech Finance in ‘The Fintech Magazine’
Do the economics of the Star Trek universe have something to teach our post-COVID world? Ali Paterson boldly goes in search of answers in the pages of Trekonomics
Disclaimer: Before reading this book, I knew very little about Star Trek, outside of JJ Abrams’ movie franchise, which makes up some of the 556-plus hours of ‘boldly going’ on the big and small screen, including the 70s TV series and its many spin-offs.
But author Manu Saadia condenses all of that into a page-turning, six-hour read to produce what is quite possibly the most important book not about fintech… for fintech.
In it, the die-hard Trekkie and LA tech startup advisor outlines what each civilisation discovered on the Star Trek journey stands for, economically and socially, and how the organisation of these societies and their finances relates to us.
Saadia suggests that humans have reached a point in their evolution that’s not dissimilar to the culture of the Ferengi in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), described by a character in one episode as ‘greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls’ whose civilisation was built on unbridled free enterprise: profit was the sole motivator and only reward, encouraged by the Ferengi’s societal framework, known as The Rules of Acquisition.
But, Saadia wrote Trekonomics in 2016, since when the push towards digital has been compounded by COVID-19. We humans are starting to see technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), make parts of our lives redundant, which could quickly lead us down the rabbit hole of universal basic income and other forms of what is dubbed Capitalism 2.0.
From there, we could follow the path taken by the fictional interstellar government, the United Federation of Planets – Federation for short. It used technology to build a post-scarcity society where the mind, education, love, art and adventure are the truly important things. It’s this possibility that makes Trekonomics so compelling: it’s fintech for good on steroids.On the other hand, humanity could go the way of the Borg, a ‘civilisation’ of cybernetic humanoids, or drones, who have no needs or wants that aren’t fulfilled by being part of a collection of beings – a hive mind that’s succumbed to the Borg trope that ‘resistance is futile, you will be assimilated’. It’s not too much of a stretch to think of the Borg society as Communism 2.0; the antithesis of the Federation’s ideals.
If you accept that the human character in the 21st century most closely resembles that of the Ferengi in the 24th, then, like the various Ferengi individuals we meet in Star Trek, we have choices. Is Nog and Rom joining Starfleet a metaphor for how each of us could choose between ‘acquisition’ and the more aspirational principles of the Federation, which is what Saadia conjectures? Is Star Trek, in fact, giving us a nudge in the right direction?
Love it or loathe it, Star Trek’s inspirational impact on technology has already been incredible, from flip phones, to table computers, Siri, GPS, and bluetooth headsets. Perhaps it’s not so far-fetched to imagine it influencing our economics, too.
Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek by Manu Saadia is published by Pipertext and is available in hardback, Kindle, audiobook and MP3 editions
Great for: Demonstrating to your lockdown-weary partner that there was a point to watching all those back-to-back voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise
Best read: With a good glass of Saurian brandy
Good read rating: ★★★★★