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The killer application for electronic networks isn't video-on-demand. It's going to hit you where it really matters - in your wallet. It's not only going to revolutionize the Net, it will change the global economy. Clouds gather over Amsterdam as I ride into the city center after a day at the headquarters of DigiCash, a company whose mission is to change the world through the introduction of anonymous digital money technology.

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I have been inundated with talk of smart cards and automated toll takers and tamper-proof observer chips and virtual coinage for anonymous network ftps. I have made photocopies using a digital wallet and would have bought a soda from a DigiCash vending machine, but it was out of order.

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My fellow passenger and tour guide is David Chaum, the bearded and ponytailed founder of DigiCash, and the inventor of cryptographic protocols that could catapult our currency system into the 21st century.

They may, in the process, shatter the Orwellian predictions of a Big Brother dystopia, replacing them with a world in which the ease of electronic transactions is combined with the elegant anonymity of paying in cash. He points out the plaza where the Nazis rounded up the Jews for deportation to concentration camps.

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This is not idle conversation, but a topic rooted in the Chaum Weltanschauung - state repression extended to the maximum. David Chaum has devoted his life, or at least his life's work, to creating cryptographic technology that liberates individuals from the spooky shadows of those who gather digital profiles. In the process, he has become the central figure in the evolution of electronic money, advocating a form of it that fits neatly into a privacy paradigm, whereby the details of people's lives are shielded from the prying eyes of the state, the corporation, and various unsavory elements.

Fifteen years ago, David Chaum seemed a Don Quixote in Birkenstocks, a stray computer scientist talking of a technology that appeared more rooted in science fiction than high finance. Today, still bearded, but wearing a well-tailored suit, he stands in the thick of a movement that seems unstoppable - the digitization of money. His passion now is to explain that the change need not be oppressive.

He travels among bankers and financiers, he runs a company, he proselytizes.

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And he hopes somebody listens, because the wild card in the era of digital money is anonymity, and David Chaum thinks we're in trouble without it. Dollar Bills or Bill Dollars The next great leap of the digital age is, quite literally, going to hit you in the wallet. Those dollar bills you fold up and stash away are headed, with inexorable certainty, toward cryptographically sealed digital streams, stored on a microchip-loaded "smart card" a plastic card with a microchipa palm-sized "electronic wallet" a calculator-sized reader and loader for those cardsor the hard disk of your computer, wired for buying sprees at the virtual mall.

Of course, real money - the trillions of dollars handled each day by banks, other financial institutions, and electronic money how to earn clearinghouses - is already digital.

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No physical tokens are exchanged: all transactions are conducted using streams of bits. But digitizing the final mile of electronic money, where the coin and dollar bill go the way of the vinyl LP, will make all the difference in the world.

It will not only change the physical way you spend your money, it will alter the way you view your own economic being. And depending on the manner in which it is implemented, digital money might allow others to view your financial status with a decidedly discomfiting intimacy.

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Advertisement Is e-money really going to happen? Hard currency has been a useful item for a few millennia or so, but now it has simply worn out its welcome.

A recent paper by several cryptographers at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, begins by enumerating what all e-money advocates identify as the fatal flaws of cold hard cash: "The advent of high-quality color copiers threatens the security of paper money.

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The demands of guarding it make paper money expensive. The hassles of handling it such as vending machines make paper money undesirable. The use of credit cards and ATM cards is becoming increasingly popular, but those systems lack adequate privacy or security against fraud, resulting in a demand for efficient electronic-money systems to prevent fraud and also to protect user privacy.

The solution is to cram our currency in burn bags and strike some matches. This won't happen all at once, and paper money will probably never go away hey, they couldn't even get rid of the pennybut bills and coinage will increasingly be replaced by some sort of electronic equivalent.

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But that's not happening. The US, in particular, is promulgating public cluelessness. When I called a spokesperson for the Federal Reserve to ask about electronic cash, he laughed at me.

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It was as if I were inquiring about exchange rates with UFOs. I insisted he look into it, and he finally called me several days later with the official word: the Federal Reserve is doing nothing in that area.

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Outside electronic money how to earn Fed, there are people in government interested in the issue - isolated visionaries in the Department of the Treasury and Congress, in the Office of Technology Assessment - but while they ponder it, plenty of other institutions are devising schemes that will knock our currency preconceptions for a loop. The timetables are short, and as the players look around and see what their potential competitors are doing, those timetables get even shorter, particularly in the race to be first to deliver a plan that offers transactions on computer nets.

For starters, there is CyberCash Inc.

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Headed by Bill Melton, the creator of the Verifone system that handles credit-card transactions between merchants and banks, the principals include Jim Bidzos, president of the cryptography provider, RSA Data Security Inc. In the first quarter ofCyberCash will offer a network equivalent of debit-card transactions, electronic money how to earn expand to credit cards.

The next step: cash-like components that support peer-to-peer payments. Visa has gathered a consortium of financial institutions to design "Electronic Purse," specifications for low-cost purchases at gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, and school cafeterias, in addition to such routine items like calls from pay phones, road and bridge tolls, and videogames.

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Citibank has been running a prepaid card test in a Long Island facility. Many transit companies envision fare tickets as coinage to buy newspapers and sundries.

The phone companies issue phone cards with similar pretensions. In Denmark, Danmont has distributed overcards with money for spending on such things as parking meters and laundromats. Similar systems exist in Portugal and Singapore.

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Mondex, a consortium led by two British banks, will roll out its digital-cash system, involving an estimated 40, cardholders, to the public in Swindon, England, next year.

Its creators envision the system spreading worldwide, as people slip their smart cards into special phones and wallets to conduct cash-like, tamper-proof transactions, even across borders. At Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota, students are issued "MavCards," to be used not just for MCI long-distance calls and dining-hall meals but for cash services like photocopying, vending, and laundry. Finally and inevitably there's Microsoft.

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For months, it had been quietly organizing a digital money group, presumably to put its own stamp on the emerging phenomena of digital transactions. Along with the buyout, Scott Cook, Intuit's president, became Microsoft's executive vice president of electronic commerce - reporting directly to chairman Gates, begging the question, will dollar bills be replaced by Bill strategy binary options news As a result of this mad rush, the road to digital cash is not so much a smooth transitional path but a multi-lane cloverleaf with infuriating turnoffs, circles, and dead ends.

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