In a move that totally didn't need to happen, Internet-payment company PayPal has announced that it's teaming up with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to develop the world's first interstellar currency. With real-time Internet access now available on the International Space Station and NASA's Deep Space Network connecting spacecraft across the solar system, what purpose does this serve? Who knows! I'm more interested in whether we'll even be using currency in our space-faring future.
Popular science fiction has taken both sides of this coin. In George Lucas' Star Wars, money was alive and well in a spacefaring galaxy. Smuggler Han Solo was hardly going to do his work for free - Luke and Obi-Wan had to sell everything they had just to buy passage off of Tatooine. Despite a universal monetary system ("credits"), local currencies seem to have continued to thrive. In the prequels, the Jedi Knights' credits are deemed worthless to the local economy, forcing them to resort to barter and trickery. Speaking of the Jedi... what would be a fair salary for a Force-wielding, laser-sword brandishing peace emissary be anyways?
In the world of Star Trek, money seems to no longer be necessary. The advent of virtually-unlimited energy generation has relieved humanity of the need to make much of anything. Crew members aboard the Enterprise have their food custom generated molecule by molecule and can be transported instantly from place to place. Replacement parts are only a button press away; new clothes require no extra effort. Yet in this world of extreme plenty, no one seems to eat to excess, consume to wastefulness, or fall to slothfulness. Seemingly without compensation, the men and women of Starfleet are willing to risk their lives for their fellow man. The idealism here hardly seems plausible given our modern conditions. Every step towards renewable energy and 3D printing, though, seems to take us a bit closer to this fantasy.
So with vision of the future will come to pass? It's anyone's guess, but in his remarkably-thorough envisioning of our near-future expansion to Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson seems to lean towards the latter. We're certainly nowhere near replicators or transporters, but he sees colonies on Mars banding together for the common good as mechanization reduces our daily workload. Once we attain the technology for living on another world, maybe this idea isn't so far off...