EVEN THE most ardent technophobe would be hard pushed to avoid using a computer several times a week. The ATM, (aka cash machine, cashpoint, hole in the wall, autobank, and magic money machine, to name but a few) is so much a part of everyday life that the very concept of going into a bank to withdraw money seems alien.
But those early cash machines were a very different beast to what we have today, and on the golden anniversary of what is generally recognised as the first cash machine, it's a good opportunity to see how things have changed. After all, there are an estimated 70,000 machines in Britain now, and 3 million worldwide, so they must have been on to something.
Barclays in Enfield was the site of the first "Barclaycash" machine. Unlike the machines we know today, it took your card on the production of a six-figure PIN code and spat out an envelope with ten £1 notes inside.
Your card was then posted back to you for reuse. Yes. Posted.
Supposedly, the six-figure PIN was later reduced to four because the inventor's wife couldn't remember six.
But there are other pretenders to the crown. Just as the system we use today for television is not that of John Logie-Baird, the ATM system is similarly littered with forgotten heroes.
New York had the "Bankograph" in 1961. It didn't dispense money, it merely took deposits and the public didn't trust it. It lasted six months before being decommissioned.
In Japan in 1966, there was the "Computer Loan Machine" which offered cash loans for three months at 5 percent off a credit card. It was the forerunner of Wonga in that sense. But again, it wasn't about our own money.
In the UK a Scottish inventor mastered a technique using cheques impregnated with a small amount of radioactive material that was able to identify the PIN code. He was beaten to the punch by the Barclays system even though this is a lot closer to the system we use today. However, it was some way off the reusable cards we know.
In the US a Chemical Bank ATM, the Docuteller, became the first to be linked up to the bank's computers so it knew what it was giving you. Before that, you unexpected overdraft was dealt with afterwards.
Once again, the UK led the charge for the first modern machine. A Lloyds branch in Essex had a bespoke IBM 2984 ATM fitted in 1972 and from there we've never looked back.
Now, there's ATMs that don't need cards, ATMs that will let you withdraw with NFC, even ATMs that will open your account for you. Touchscreen, colour screen, and most importantly of all, hacked to play Doom on.
Some have expressed concerns that ATMs aren't secure. After all, many of them still run XP (though it's an embedded version well away from the internet) and some are just not set up properly. Remember the two lads that downloaded an instruction manual and hacked a machine with the factory codes still installed?
You might think we're moving away from paper money, but there'll always be a need, and for that, there'll always be the ATM. Happy 50th, Barclaybank. We'll post your card to you in a week or so. µ
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