Eyes glaze over when I mention my interest in researching automated teller machines. Yet after I explain why I think they're relevant, many people can easily recall personal anecdotes in which an ATM plays a central role: a chance encounter with a long-lost friend while waiting in a queue, or the fear of being robbed in an unfamiliar location, or the feeling of seeing an insufficient funds notice displayed on the screen.
Most urbanites have interacted with the ubiquitous "cashpoint." Paul Volcker, of the U.S. Federal Reserve fame, even considered it the "only useful innovation in banking." Cashpoints appear frequently on TV and in printed news because, for most consumers, they're one of the few points of contact with today's otherwise-ephemeral financial services.
In spite of their cultural significance, ATMs recede into the noise of everyday memory. Few stop to reflect on how they—and the computer infrastructure that supports them—became the backbone of contemporary retail payments.
The cash dispenser was born almost 50 years ago, in 1967. For many, this was the first tangible evidence that retail banking was changing; the introduction of the ATM marked the dawn of contemporary digital banking. Several lay claim to the invention of the cashpoint, including John Shepherd-Barron and James Goodfellow in the U.K.; Don Wetzel and Luther Simjian in the U.S.; and even engineering companies like De La Rue, Speytec-Burroughs, Asea-Metior, and Omron Tateisi. But the ATM is a complex technology. There was no single eureka moment that marked its arrival.