Platonic Payments


Paying is strange. Consider the following exchange:

        Me: Hello unfamiliar person. I would like to give you some fiat currency in exchange for the goods and / or services you provide.

        Clerk: Splendid! Let me just whip out this large, obnoxiously bright, unwieldy machine and get the banks involved in our newfound relationship.

        Me: That sounds reasonable. Surely Jamie Dimon did not make enough money last fiscal year and deserves a cut of your vanishingly low margin retail business. Please take this cold, hard, magnetized piece of plastic. The design reflects my personality and pecuniary worth.

        Clerk: I am obliged to thank you for handing me this trinket. Allow me to swipe it, the same way humans have read information off of cards for decades. You will also be required to sign a piece of paper because I honestly believe you may call your bank and vehemently deny purchasing this cup of black coffee.

        Me: Perfectly understandable. I love the feeling of generating potential evidence for a court case every time I want to buy something. I also demand a paper record of this transaction because I do my taxes with a quill pen and slide rule.

        Clerk: Yes quite common. Well, have a wonderful day, stranger I have interacted with but not touched. This large, black, computerized point of sale system symbolizes the technology-driven separation that grows between humans even when we interact in pers..

        Next Customer: Hello unfamiliar person!

Paying isn’t too hard. Swiping plastic takes seconds. It’s just too weird. Here I propose the way I would prefer to pay, optimized for low friction and high humanity.

The handshake, like currency, has been around for millennia as a symbol of trust. Unlike currency though, the handshake requires no additional hardware, central banking system, or card. It does not allow for a precise and safe transference of wealth, but it could, with a little help from our friend the bitcoin.

This is an idea I call “platonic payments”. 

To accept payments you wear a watch, or ideally it is integrated in to an existing watch like the Pebble. To pay you wear a ring, which contains a short-range rewritable RFID tag storing a single bitcoin address. The payee specifies the amount with two dials on the watch, one for dollars, one for cents. Both parties then shake hands, bringing the RFID ring within reading range of the detector, which uses the information to charge the payer’s bitcoin wallet. No fees. No slow hardware exchange. No cold plastic or large, expensive POS systems blaring light in an otherwise relaxing environment. I also think service establishments should just charge 20% tip by default.


Bitcoin addresses are nearly infinite and can be created, online or off, and disposed of at will. Thus an NFC chip in a smartphone could passively rewrite the tag with a fresh address every time you pick up your phone. The merchant software, either run on the watch or connected to a smartphone, would request the appropriate amount from the user’s bitcoin wallet with the public key. This is not built in to the bitcoin protocol but could be managed by a service like Coinbase, which could then verify the account is valid and securely transfer the private key.

This does face the problem of a change by both parties. However, if it started being built in to smartwatches and all users had to do was buy a cheap, stylish ring that barrier may lower. A payment method that didn’t force me to take anything out of my pockets or even carry a wallet, while increasing the humanity of a transaction sounds like a dream come true. I would even get my tag implanted so I wouldn’t have to wear the ring.

The other problem is the system still involves trust. Someone could skim your ring, grab the address, and post a request if they got close enough. Since each transaction involves a new address the hacker could only make one request, but it could be big. This could additionally be mitigated by only allowing transactions of a certain size or only keeping a small amount of money in this wallet, making skimming uneconomical.

Alternatively, Coinbase could ask the user to verify the transactions they made after the fact, but this would allow the payer to deny legitimate transactions. And that, is something I would love to test. If you knew you would get away with it, would you rob someone after shaking their hand?

  • runsonmagic

    You realize this is what most doomsdayers believe the “mark of the beast” in the book of Revelation is?

    • Rob isn’t familiar with the fact that some people don’t have a conscience and could easily shake someone’s hand with a straight face if it meant stealing their money.

      He also thinks that sodium fluoride is healthy and that DNA from GMO food crop isn’t assimilated by gut flora, which wind up producing the same proteins as the artificially inserted DNA segment inside the body, so it’s not a big surprise.

      He’s like the Anita Sarkeesian of biohacking.

      • Desmond Duval

        After decades of research and countless randomized controlled double blind studies, there has been shown to be no significant difference between GMO and non-GMO foods.

        To claim anything but, is pseudoscientific woo, and holds no scientific validity. Please stop fear mongering. There is enough for people to legitimately be concerned about in the world (shrinking middle class, global climate change, a potential war in Ukraine, etc) that to distract people with provably false scientific claims is actively detrimental to the movement forward of our species.

        Peg this on the board of willful ignorance with homeopaths, acupuncturists, and people who are afraid of sucrolose. Also people who think sugar makes kids hyper. They’re wrong too.

        • “After decades of research and countless randomized controlled double blind studies”

          GMOs weren’t largely introduced until the mid-90’s. Check your facts or be more honest instead of pulling shit out of your ass and hopping onto the “rational” “skeptic” bandwagon of “progress.” You’re just as willfully ignorant as the homeopaths and soccer moms.

          • Desmond Duval

            Every crop you’ve ever eaten is genetically modified. That is why corn cobs have more than six kernels, and tomatoes are red, instead of their normal rainbow hues. All of agriculture has been bred and modified to make it more palatable to humans. This is why you eat the Cavendish banana. To claim that modern genetic manipulation is significantly different from natural breeding and mutation is disingenuous at best. If anything, we rely on random chance and nature less, and make changes we want to see with scalpel like precision.

            The problems with GMOs start and end with patent law, and predatory companies like Monsanto. No significant health concerns exist, except in hypochondriacs and nocebo cases.

          • Why do you insist on equating cut-and-paste genetic engineering with artificial selection? The two are not even remotely similar, and your dishonesty is appalling.

            There is about as much precision in genetic engineering as there is in trying to make toothpick models with oven mitts.

            DNA has been found to be highly dynamic, and the cut-and-paste static model of genetics hasn’t been accepted since the 1950’s, even though genetic engineering still behaves as if this is the case.


            “it suggested that an organism’s genome is not a stationary entity, but rather is subject to alteration and rearrangement-a concept that was met with criticism from the scientific community at the time. However, the role of transposons eventually became widely appreciated, and McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 in recognition of this and her many other contributions to the field of genetics. ”

            At least with selective breeding you rely on the process of evolution, and any genetic abnormality can be weeded out.

            Genetic engineering however does not account for this, and instead throws a half-baked science experiment into the wild because it works “good enough”

          • Desmond Duval

            If you want to claim GMOs are a half baked and dangerous science, I would refer you to a 2013 metastudy, looking at the results of 1,783 papers on genetically modified crops and food published over the previous ten years. They found no plausible evidence of danger to humans or animals.

            I’ll let science do my arguing for me. Here’s the PDF if you want to read it.

          • “I’ll let science do my arguing for me.”

            Replace “science” with “financially-invested opinion” and you have a great point, because science is just a method. Not an institution.

            The Informa company who published this so-called “scientific” PDF has published plenty of PRs for Monsanto, one of the largest GM “research” financiers and pushers of GM seeds and foodcrops for consumer agriculture.

            Of course they’d find no “plausible evidence.” Or at least they wouldn’t publish any such thing. It’s only $cience.

            Although it’s not as if their bottom line would be impacted or anything if someone truly independent found evidence to contradict the findings their own people found about their product. Right?

          • Andrew_notPorC

            Mid 90s was 20 years ago.

  • T J K

    Good gravy, Rob, enough with the brilliant ideas. You’re making the rest of us mortals look bad! D:

    • Brian Alexander

      Could we also fist-bump or high 5?

  • But why would a cashier want to touch customers?
    You make some good points about the inefficiencies of how payments are done. But people need to not-demand a fulfilling emotional experience from people in the service industry, unless those people are therapists or prostitutes. Imagine being required to touch the hand of every disgusting “person” that decides to do business with you. Ew. If you want something to feel bad about, forget about the “technology-driven separation” at the counter and look into how your consumer goods are being manufactured.

  • DeS

    Love the concept. But I imagine the concept stumbling on social norms in some regions, or even businesses. Physical contact is avoided in a (growing?) number of areas.

  • gilahacker

    I worked at an OfficeMax in Phoenix, AZ several years ago and the management had the bright idea of forcing the employees to greet every customer on their way in the door and shake their hand. Being a bit of a germaphobe myself, I was not very keen on the idea. Neither were the customers. Most people did *not* want to shake hands. Considering the lack of personal hygiene of the average human (I believe it’s one in three men do not wash their hands after using the restroom), I don’t think this idea could, or even should, take off.

    • aaronmhamilton

      Urine, of course, is essentially sterile.

      • gilahacker

        I can’t even count the number of guys that come out of the bathroom stall at my current job* and head out the door without washing their hands. Statistically speaking, most of them are not just peeing. Also, in the Arizona heat, a guy’s downstairs is about the equivalent of a sweaty armpit. It’s really not the urine that worries me.

        *Call center environment. People share desks, phones, keyboards, mice, etc. When one person gets sick it spreads pretty quickly.

  • Jeanie Conner

    I like the idea of making paying for things easier.. but also would not like to shake strangers’ unwashed hands. This kind of reminds me of the exxon/mobil speedpass. That doesn’t increase the humanity of the transaction, but honestly, I think that’s something people feel pretty disparately about. And.. if it’s you, when you’re shaking someone’s hand aren’t you always Rob-ing them? 😛

  • Fantastic post!

  • Juelz

    I just read your interview with Vice on Soylent. I admire the idea of cost and time efficiency with a well rounded, meal-replacement, health product. However as a foodie I could see this getting boring.

    The idea of a chip inserted in a ring or a watch does leave the possibility of theft, however I think you’re onto something with the insertion of a micro-chip payment system under the skin. The thought crossed my mind the other day. I would be all for the freedom of not having to carry around the cards, cash and wallet holding the method of payments. It would decrease lost possessions and the time spent finding them. Heck we could even wire the lock systems of our homes and alleviate the need for keys!

  • I like the idea. The watch could detect the pressure change when you shake the hand to authorize the payment. Kind of how MYO works.

  • Charles

    I’m with Jeanie Conner, not interested in shaking hands anymore, driven a big truck for years, started paying attention to hand washing a few years ago, my guess, less than 25% wash, yuck.
    Howie Mandel has a point.

  • Matthew Anderson

    wow, I read this a little late, but I like the ideas on here. And I bet all of the people below touch doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, and cash regularly.

  • Doctor__Awesome

    Meh Why have the hand shake at all??
    Also an automatic 20% on any restaurant bill is a completely ridiculous thought. Why not then just work the 20% into the total cost of each item on the menu and not have servers get tips at all. The whole point of tipping is that it is dependent on the level of service you receive an, in theory, is an incentive to provide better service

  • Yang Lin

    Pfizer R & D line and added two varieties of antibiotics

    Pfizer announced on June 16 , Pfizer and Vicuron signed a merger agreement to acquire .Posaconazole hydrate, Vicuron is a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the development community for the anti- hospital infections and infections innovative anti-infectives .

    Pfizer to obtain the Vicuron ‘s drug development projects. Vicuron company currently has two products NDA application subject to review at the FDA : antifungal anidulafungin and anti- Gram-positive cocci infection antibiotic dalbavancin. Recently , Vicuron announced the results of anidulafungin Phase III clinical trials , the results in Table Minge Kniffen net than fluconazole (Fluconazole) is more suitable for invasive candidiasis.Terbinafine , Anidulafungin potential product features will include anti- Aspergillus niger and Candida fungal infections most broad-spectrum activity. The product is expected to once a day medication period of up to one month.

    Dalbavancin good results in Phase III complicated skin and soft tissue infections and bloodstream research study catheter-related infections in the second period displayed . The product once-weekly dosing .Fluconazole , Vicuron recently announced that the company ‘s NDA application for dalbavancin to get a three-month priority review extended period. FDA ‘s review is expected to be completed by September 21, 2005 . Observers have predicted its annual sales will peak over 200 million U.S. dollars , Fluconazole hydrate,which is specifically designed to improve the widely used version of Pfizer’s antibiotic vancomycin .

    Pfizer’s president, said : ” By acquiring Vicuron, we can help to bring two very important new medicines Pfizer Global Patient transaction in respect of anti-infective products more abundant,Fluconazole mesylate , but also demonstrates our commitment to strengthen and through acquisitions. expand our scope of business . ”

    Medchemexpress Can provide the above product,its website:

  • Mr robert l schliff

    have you considered sending soylent to Darfar refugees etc It would be great PR and very helpful

  • AnthonyBarker

    Problems: 1. Germs. Clerks would start wearing rubber gloves for their own protection. 2. There’s no mechanism that informs the seller that the transaction occurred. 3. This would change the meaning of a handshake to be an impersonal interaction that occurs endlessly between strangers. The rest of society would probably resort to some other ritual to replace the now impersonal handshake. 4. A public paranoia would emerge around anyone getting within 20cm of a watch hand comparable to the way we attend to wallets and purses. 5. This will actually decrease human interactions since touching hands will become the new body language for demanding money. 6. If banks and equipment feel weird, unstable digital currency, wearable RF ID and all that will also feel weird. 7. This would probably be slower than paying with a card. The buyer would have to manually enter the amount, and possibly disable the security payment maximum. 8. The buyer and seller have to trust each other enough to touch. This makes it impossible to have a glass wall in between the two when security is required. 9. A separate system would be required for online sales, increasing the complexity of payment for buyers. 10. People don’t want to touch strangers all the time. In fact most people insistently avoid it. If people wanted contact they would shake hands after each sale anyway just for the joy of it. Solving the lack of human interaction will require changing something else.
    Other impediments: 1. A major change in infrastructure, which would include rebuilding sales counters to allow the buyer and seller to be close enough to shake hands comfortably. 2. The instability of bitcoin compared to major currencies like the USD (possibly solvable in the future). 3. It would probably still feel pretty impersonal if the buyer had to break eye contact and mess with the watch just before shaking hands.
    Benefits: 1. Small extra profit margin form not using the banking system which could otherwise be gained by charging customers extra for using a card. 2. A fleeting period of extra human contact before people got used to it. 3. One more reason to get a smart watch, which could be gained by non-handshake wireless readers.
    Still, it’s nice to think about how to make the world a better place.

  • Debra Floyd

    No, I would NOT rob someone after shaking their hand or after the partaking of one’s goods and/or services. I LOVE this idea. Now, how would one use it for online or overseas transactions?

  • Uguu!

    Alternate title: “Not Enough People Get The Flu”

    You do know that the handshake came about as a way to test peoples’ sleeves for hidden weapons, because of a LACK of trust, right?

  • bvocal

    I reckon verification should take the form of some sort of soul handshake… a fist-bump, high five, one down low, a spin and another down low followed by and elbow to elbow tap and a final two hands high five. If nothing else the check-out line is gonna be a great spectacle of dance….

  • Swami Arun

    does anyone know that 95% of soya production is GMO ?