I’ve been trying to figure out what someone from a relatively low tech civilization could offer as currency to a higher tech one. I’m sure whole papers (or at least blog posts) have been written about this topic, but there’s only a few things I can think of, and some are dependent on the tech disparity.

If the high tech civilization has not just 3D printers, but something like matter replicators where you can build crap from the molecule up, the only things of real value I can think of would be information, power, labor and entertainment. The only physical material that would have intrinsic value would be things the replicators can’t recreate, like matter with a half-life shorter than, I don’t know, 40 years or something, like plutonium 241. Or maybe energon chips or zero point modules. Then that stuff would have potential value. Not that you’d want a bunch of loose change in your pocket made out of Californium 252. It would be asinine to use as currency.

If a civ does have matter replicators, information would still be valuable, like the plans to print your own Nintendo Switch, or the high tech civilization equivalent. In fact, if you had a civ with matter replicators and unlimited power, information like that would be nearly the only thing of value, I think.

If an advanced civ didn’t have matter replicators, then just about anything could be barterable. Gold has no intrinsic value. It’s a great conductor of heat and electricity and is nearly chemically inert, so it definitely has its uses. Humans generally go bonkers for it, but there’s every chance that an alien civilization could value some random material like aluminum simply because their planet has less of it, or because the aluminum cartel has told everyone that aluminum is desirable, the same way diamonds are here on Earth. Again, diamonds are useful in tools and other applications, but have no intrinsic value other than that we’ve decided as a race that they’re valuable.

Power is obvious. Any civilization would need power, (and let’s assume that the laws of thermodynamics hold true no matter your tech level) unless they’re at a point where they know how to generate so much that it’s moot. Dyson sphere level civilizations would have to be pretty embarrassed with themselves if they needed more power than 100% of a sun. Or… 99%, depending on the efficiency of their solar panels.

Then there’s labor. If your civilization has matter replicators, they probably have robot labor. I mean, we’re getting to that point. We have machines building cars, and in a few years those cars will be driving themselves. Amazon’s warehouses are full of industrial roomba things that carry stuff to and from shelves. Eventually all uber drivers and DoorDash drivers and UPS drivers will be replaced with robots, and we don’t even have matter replicators. But, if a civ has had a robot uprising like in Dune and their robots are no more advanced than roombas, then labor is something a low tech civ can trade on.

The only other thing of value a lower tech civilization can offer is entertainment. I drew Deus picking up a pack full of bars of something. I was thinking rhodium when I drew it, but honestly, let’s pretend those are fancy boxes full of thumb drives with terrabytes of human on human porn. Maybe some Hollywood movies and Buffy and Cheers and The Bob Newhart Show too.

Double res version will be posted over at Patreon. $1 and up, but feel free to contribute as much as you like.