The setting is on Earth in a not distant future (imagine 150/200 years).

AIs manage most aspects of society, including justice administration. They are extremely efficient and can quickly solve complex problems but they are not sentients. Imagine a litigation being solved in minutes instead of years like we do.
Humans with Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) are linked with AIs and provide generic guidance and overseeing. Basically humans with BCI are the reason why AIs are not sentient. BCI humans are the sentient part of the AI.

Society has moved to cashless for all official transactions since a long time. All (official) transactions are monitored by AIs.

A vast underclass of citizens don't have access to BCI and are therefore relegated to minor, low paid jobs and limited access to basic services. To survive they are usually organized as "clientes" (AKA clients) of a "patronus" (AKA patron).
These terms are a vague reference to the relationship that was formed in ancient Rome (see Patronage in ancient Rome) in an attempted embellishment by those who profit from it. But the actual nature of the connection in this question is fundamentally different.
First of all this kind of relation, although widely known, has no official digital registration and is not managed nor monitored by AIs. It has therefore no legal bonding. It is merely an utilitarian bond between the two parties in which both gain although not in an equal, balanced way.

Breaching the relation would cause a severe loss of trust though. For the client it would be impossible to find another patron, for the patron it may be difficult to acquire higher standing clients with only the more desperate ones (and thus those with less skills) seeking him out.
A smaller part of this underclass, the one most in need or with the lower skills, has to give themselves into service to organized syndicates that operate outside of the law.

It does exist a parallel 'deep web like' network where profiles and positions are stored and shared. Since all payments are monitored by AIs because of the cashless society patrons can't pay someone officially to rig an election or to incite a riot or other shady activity. Paying people officially for an item or service but then obtaining a different service (e.g. a riot) would be hard to arrange and would lead to too many traces in the system. For instance an AIs would quickly find out that many of the identified rioters had recently business transactions of some kind with a specific patron. This would lead to very embarassing questions, especially if the same pattern emerges multiple times. While the higher level patrons may be anyway above the inspection of the law lower tiers need to keep plausible deniability.

The use of clientes by patrons covers activities that are illegal or would bee too expensive if done in full compliance with the law. For instance:

  • voting in local elections. A patron with a large base of clients has considerable local power. Some patrons may make arrangements with higher tier patrons to pursue broader influence.
  • menial activities that are ill suited for robots without paying due taxes, insuarance, retirement.
  • sexual exploitation
  • organized rioting

In return clientes are given items and access to services they would not otherwise afford : food, medicines, clothing, access to virtual reality with its plethora of services.

Of course different clients are suited for different tasks. This is where organized syndicates step in by facilitating the exchange of clients among patrons as well as using them for their own needs.

While it may be difficult for a patron to exchange his client who is a beefy 40 years old male weighting 100 kg to another patron who is looking for a petite young female the Syndicate may arrange the deal being able to pick from a very large pool of patrons and customers.

Clientes may be exchanged also against items, services, political support and so on. This items would be bought legally by the patron or Syndicate.


Provided that the authorities keep looking the other way (as many of the elite members are also benefitting from this system) and will not take action against it would this system of 'currency' work?

Note that clientes are NOT slaves. In order to induce them to perform a certain task they need to receive an adequate benefit in return. While abruply leaving may hurt their future living conditions, it is certainly in their possibility to do so. Of course, if this caused damage to a patron or Syndicate they may have someone after them who would like to have a friendly explanation on how breaking bonds may lead to some other kinds of breaking...

Note to edit: edited to improve the explanation of the client / patron relation. Improved explanation of the need to avoid official payments. Improved some examples for further clarification. Added detail explaining non sentient AIs

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't see a question here. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 4, 2021 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon "would this system of 'currency' work?". I have bolded it now $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ why wouldn't the AIs be sentient? wouldnt that be useful for solving complex and ethical questions in law? $\endgroup$
    – zackit
    Mar 4, 2021 at 13:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @zackit that is a relevant question. In short BCI humans ARE the sentient part of the AI. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 14:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP indeed, it is a different relationship with some similarities. In the case of this question, as stated, it is neither a legal nor a moral bond. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 14:11

8 Answers 8


What is a good currency

I would consider what is an ideal currency. Some properties from wikipedia

  • Fungibility: its individual units must be capable of mutual substitution (i.e., interchangeability).
  • Durability: able to withstand repeated use.
  • Divisibility: divisible to small units.
  • Portability: easily carried and transported.
  • Cognizability: its value must be easily identified.
  • Scarcity: its supply in circulation must be limited.

A subjective scoring

People are not fungible. Each person would have different skills abilities etc. 0.

People are durable. They can be used multiple times. 1.

People are not divisible any smaller then one person. The value of any one person is different from another. 0.

Yes people are portable, but considerations need to be made like food, sleep etc. Try gathering and moving more then a dozen people. It costs resources to do this. 0.5.

It is vary difficult to appraise a personas value by just looking at them. Finding the right person to employ is a big business. 0.

Scarcity, yes and no. Coupled with the unknown value per person, it then depends on what purpose they are needed for. If just warm bodies are needed, then no, they are not scarce. if you need a particular skill, then they can be very scarce. 0.5.

People would make a poor to bad currency

So 2/6 at best. The underclass that does not have access to the official currency would rapidly have created their own. Witness general human societies. Some places, phone minutes have become a more stable currency then their official state currency. Cigarettes in some prisons for some time periods.

  • $\begingroup$ They are durable only to a certain extent. They get sick and lose value; they die and lose all value. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Mar 4, 2021 at 23:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd add "storable". Maybe "durable" was intended to include this. A great thing about paper money and even better with electronic money is that it is cheap and easy to store. You can stick a bunch of bills in the mattress or deposit a bunch of money to your account and it will sit there indefinitely, until you need it, while requiring little or no maintenance. Maybe even paying you interest. People as currency are hard to store. You can't just stuff a person in a closet and take him out again years later when you need him. At a minimum you have to feed him. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Mar 7, 2021 at 4:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, people are not very portable. I can easily stuff a few hundred dollar bills in my wallet and carry them with me wherever I want to go. The additional effort to walk with hundreds of dollars in my wallet versus not is so trivial it would be difficult to measure. With a credit card I can carry thousands of dollars or more with trivial effort. Imagine if when you went on vacation you had to bring 100 slaves ... oops, clientes ... with you to use as money on the trip. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Mar 7, 2021 at 4:03


Not unless you broke it down to "You can have the labor of this one for eight hours."

Otherwise it will be too hard to make change. This is actually a serious problem. One Roman emperor accidentally induced an economic boom by issuing a lot of small coins exulting in one of his victories and thus making it easier to make change.

And unlike coins, inflation can't cope. You can't set the value of a client as less than the value of the client's labor for X period of time, because otherwise the whole thing falls apart.

  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting objections. Must think over them... $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 14:21

Yes - but it will be more volatile than bitcoin.

You're not trading the human's life directly. You're not trading the productive output of the human directly. You're trading what's known as a derivative: You're trading to right to give the human FWMV (food/water/medicine/vrtime) for the rest of their life in return for their services rendered.

This is essentially a future in the currency world. I will pay you X dollars (And we agree on X today) for the right to for me to later exchange Y FWMV for Z return (human voting a particular way, having sex with you, etc).

To provide the FWMV, you need to purchase that when needed, and by purchasing these futures, you're committing to the future purchase of FWMV.... no matter how much it may cost at the time!

If FWMV is very expensive - then owning a human suddenly becomes a liability. Even speculation in the media that the cost of some medicine is about to rise could imply an increase in FWMV, which could send the price of this asset tumbling. A baby boom and suddenly those human-outputs you bought for retirement are now valued negatively.

Just like when oil futures dropped to negative briefly in 2020 (Oil extractors were paying refineries to take the oil off their hands because they had so much of it), your human futures are going to be exceptionally volatile depending on the perception of future expense of Food, Water, Medicine, or VR.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting analysis. Thank you! $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 19:24

The use of clientes by patrons covers voting in local elections, menial activities that are ill suited for robots, sexual exploitation, organized rioting and much more.

It isn't immediately obvious from your premise how valuable all those things are, or why they require the exchange of actual human beings in order to perform them.

I mean, you've got your elite aristocracy with all the power, and a much larger underclass with none... if you want someone to do specialist work why not just pay them to do it? We already have the likes of software consultants and prostitutes and all the other jobs that make up the "gig economy". What happened to make those people unhirable? Where did they go?

If your counterargument is that people will enter into clientage to avoid eg. having to do sex work, and then their new boss just tells them to go down on their wealthy friend anyway, it isn't clear why that client relationship was worth entering into in the first place.

Conversely, contracting out staff to another employer or even outright sending them off to work for other people is already a business arrangement that exists and that has some legal protections around it to avoid various kinds of abuse (eg. TUPE).

The relationship you're proposing seems to have far more in common with modern-day servitude centred around debt or access to critical services (eg. health insurance). Simply framing your "currency" as transfer or contracting-out of staff seems like it could be done without recourse to a shady shadow economy, and given a suitably precarious situation for the people involved it isn't like they could afford to say "no".

Whatever this is, it doesn't seem much like currency to me!

Your edits have clarified some of the issues, but the underlying ones still remain.

What your aristocrats need is not a currency based on people, but a currency in which people are valued. The people are the good that is being traded; not only do they not need to be the unit of valuation but the differences in skills and physical condition make them clearly non-fungible, and would fail to take into account changes in value due to demand, etc... if everyone wants petite females, then your 40 year old 100kg dude is effectively worthless.

Use something else as a unit of account, and run your meat markets on that. There's nothing to stop anyone reinventing cash after all, digital or otherwise.

  • $\begingroup$ Specialist, high paid, work is going to be done by BCI humans. Those who can't afford BCI or a decent education are the ones in need of a patron. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ The use of clientes by patrons covers voting in local elections, menial activities that are ill suited for robots, sexual exploitation, organized rioting and much more. "It isn't immediately obvious from your premise how valuable all those things are, or why they require the exchange of actual human beings in order to perform them." How come it is not obvious? Only humans are allowed to vote (well, a part of them). Regarding sexual exploitation I guess that could happen with a machine too... but let's just not go there $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake if the jobs need doing, and you have money, just pay someone to do them. You don't need to own a code monkey to get them to bash out code. Clearly the jobs the serfs are needed for are pretty rubbish ones, so clearly hiring someone to do it will also be cheap. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ All payments are monitored by AIs because of the cashless society. You can't pay someone officially to rig an election or to incite a riot or other shady activity. So you would need to pay them officially for something but then obtaining a different service. Moreover the notion of client and patron entails a notion of both loyalty and protection that lacks in a simple monetary transaction. If you want to push your political agenda having a number of loyal clientes gives you strength and leverage. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake there's no loyalty in your transactional system. They are fungible workers, bought and sold. If you pay some other aristocrat to lend you their treasured serfs for a bit, that's just a matter of contracting still. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2021 at 16:47

Could it be made to work? Sure. But it would have all the same challenges that barter has always had, plus further challenges because you're limiting barter to one commodity: human labor.

Presumably different clientes have different value. Of course different skills and talents are not interchangeable. That's presumably why people would want to trade. A lusty man might think that beautiful sex kitten clienta (what's the feminine for "cliens"? Is it "clienta"?) is very desirable ... but if he has a horrible toothache he might prefer a bald old man who is an expert dentist.

Mary mentions the problem of "making change". Valid point. Maybe today the patron needs an auto mechanic and has several low-skill manual laborers to spare. But will someone trade a skilled auto mechanic for an unskilled laborer? Probably not. But if he demands two unskilled laborers, maybe the auto mechanic isn't worth as much as two.

You mentioned yourself the classic problem of barter: What if I want something that Bob has but I don't have anything that Bob wants? You could, as I think you are saying, set up a "brokerage". If I have an accountant and need a mechanic, and Bob has a mechanic and needs a pastry chef, we can't make a deal. But if Charles has a pastry chef and needs a mechanic, now a broker could arrange a 3-way deal.

The existence of such a brokerage could solve the "change" problem. If, say, I have two manual laborers and need a mechanic, but the "going rate" is that a mechanic is worth 1 1/2 laborers, I could trade my two laborers for a mechanic and have a "credit" on file for 1/2 a laborer the next time I want to make an exchange.

But at that point the obvious next step would be to apply values to all clientes against some fixed standard. Like say we take "unskilled laborer" as the standard. Then maybe a mechanic is worth 1.4 laborers, an accountant is worth 1.6, a nuclear physicist is worth 2.3, whatever. And whenever I want I can "sell" clientes to a broker to receive credit on this scale and "buy" clientes using these credits, with the broker maintaining accounts. But now we're half way to reinventing money.

And that line of reasoning leads me too ... Why barter clientes this way? Why not just use money? You say it's a "cashless society". So what? If someone needs to hire a cliens away from another patron, why can't he just give him money rather than trying to barter another cliens? If the answer is that it's illegal and so they can't run the transaction through the official banking system, okay. It would still be simpler to just have a black market currency.

There are many advantages to money. (Especially if you have a lot of it, but that's not my point here.) I mentioned coming up with a 3-way deal for the different clientes. But money makes it easy to have 4 way deals and 5 way deals and 100 way deals. When I want to trade my software development skills for a hamburger, I not only don't have to find a fast food place that needs a web site, I don't have to worry about putting together a chain of wants to get me from a web site to a hamburger. We all accept money so we effectively build very long and complex chains seamlessly and without effort.

Money can store value. When I go on vacation, I don't have to work during the vacation to pay for my hotel room and meals and tickets to the amusement park. I work before I go and save up that value as money in the bank, which I then draw from as needed.

Money enables us to easily establish consistent relative values for different goods and services.


Money was just a brilliant invention. The only reason I can see why people would go back to barter was if the financial system broke down and it took time to build an alternative. Like sure, if a new strain of covid suddenly wipes out 90% of the population and society collapses, we may be back to barter for a while. But before long people would re-invent money.

  • $\begingroup$ " It would still be simpler to just have a black market currency." Am not so sure about that. A currency that is used ONLY on the black market? One that is accepted in both but is not controlled by AIs does not exist in my world. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2021 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake Assuming the AIs can prevent a currency from being used on both black and white markets, then yes, black market only. There are many possible forms. I doubt it would be paper bills printed on an underground printing press. More likely either something like bitcoin, or some commodity that is widely values. That could be a precious metal like gold, or it could be some more mundane commodity. Like during World War 2, cigarettes became a standard currency on the black markets of Europe. When there's a need, some clever person will come up with a way. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Mar 5, 2021 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ May be suited for another question but probably it would be impossible to answer without a deatiled description of that world. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2021 at 17:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake Hmm, if you've already decided that you are going to use this idea in your story, if it's essential to the plot or you just think it's a cool idea, then you're asking the wrong question. I don't think you want opinions on "Would this work?" As you've already decided to use it, I think a better question would be, "How could this be made to work?" or "How can I make this sound plausible?" $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Mar 7, 2021 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ Not really essential to put this in the story as a currency. Could be just a system in use with some other kind of currency in place (food rations? VR tickets?) if it does not pass the scrutiny of this site ^.^ $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2021 at 14:20

I am not sure you are describing a 'currency' as much as you are describing a 'barter system'.

"You do this for me, I will do this for you."

A currency is an intermediary in a value transaction. A future IOU. Something given now for values rendered, in exchange at a later date for other values to be received.

In this system, there is no currency, and there is no need for or ability to provide a currency intermediary. Value is exchanged directly, not indirectly. How do you 'bank', 'store', or 'accumulate' clientes for future transactions - all necessary parts of a currency?

It would be no different than exchanging goats for sheep, or labour for food, or services for medicine. In fact, I would envision a very strong barter economy amongst the underclass, as without a currency it would be the only way they could trade and exchange value among themselves.

In the prison camps of wartime, in many cases cigarettes became the 'barter currency' - a consumable goods not meant to be hoarded or stored, but to be traded and consumed immediately. I am not convinced your society would be any different.

  • $\begingroup$ Good point taken $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2021 at 14:21

Yes. Consider journalists. There can be an official, government monitored economy whereby the patrons can make campaign donations to politicians in exchange for basic services (insider tips about decisions affecting stock value, being exempted from tariffs, pardons, etc.). But scrutiny of campaign donations causes issues. So a wealthy patron can instead contribute journalism services - friendly stories about the candidate, investigative digging and hostile stories about the opponent. Small change can be made between companies because they are free to write human-interest stories about how everyone is buying a certain brand of car or investing in a certain stock. Larger changes can be explained in terms of nominal ownership, editorial policy, market forces ... there are public relations people whose job could be to make up something that sounds believable.

It might seem like such a system has very poor accounting for value, and perhaps it's true. However, these arrangements are all subject to power anyway: anyone is entitled to what they can take by force, and no more. More traditional market translations of value are also a bit nebulous and indirect - for example, a particular painting is worth about 421,000 kidneys extracted from live human beings, a market process that also depends primarily on the relative power of those involved. (Although the second article linked describes severe health and economic consequences, fine editorialists and ethicists extol us to buy into this growing marketplace, without listing prices. They make excellent clientes in any universe) So the difficult, vague step of valuation can be folded into the already necessary step of negotiation with no net increase in effort. At the end of the day, either the patrons part ways with a smile, convinced that appropriate favors have been exchanged ... or they don't.


The problem:

This could possibly work if every on is standardized but they are not. This doesn't solve the "coincidence of wants". If I need a strong 30 year old and you have a 60 year old then we can't trade. even with the syndicates smoothing this over what happens when there is a sharp increase in demand for one type of labor 2000 miles away that the local syndicates can't deal with? Not to mention the hassle of carrying a person around.


I could see a very similar system developing to 1700's England. The local syndicates could issue money to the patrons for x amount of labor for x age and x physical health. This would give people smaller denominations to work with. Also, Patrons would realize that they wouldn't have to turn them in for labor and trade amongst themselves. This would give the Syndicate more power though, and it would not be too stable but increasing that this is being use unofficially I don't think people are going to be investing with it.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .