Max Levchin on How AI Will—and Won’t—Shape the Way You Pay

We sat down with the CEO of Affirm to talk about the “buy now, pay later” model and just what makes him an “unabashed techno-utopian.”
A portrait of Max Lechin from Affirm.

On this week’s episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode talk to Max Levchin, the CEO of the buy now, pay later company Affirm, about the future of paying for things. But they also discuss the perils and pitfalls of socialism, biohacking, and so much more.

Show Notes

Read Lauren’s previous interview with Max Levchin and learn more about buy now, pay later apps

Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Gideon Lichfield is @glichfield. Bling the main hotline at @WIRED.

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Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Lauren: All right, I'm ready if you guys are. Should we get started? 

Gideon: Let's get started. 

Lauren: Let's do it. OK. Hi, I'm Lauren Goode.

Gideon: And I'm Gideon Lichfield. This is Have a Nice Future, a show about how fast everything is changing. 

Lauren: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious ideas about the future, and we ask, is this the future we want?

Gideon: This week, our guest is Max Levchin, the CEO of lending company Affirm.

Max (audioclip): The elbow of our development of species is upon us, and probably in our lifetime we'll see just unbelievable things.

Lauren: OK, so our goal with this podcast is to talk a lot about our scary, complicated feelings about the future, but I was reminded in taping this episode that there are people in Silicon Valley who are just eternal  optimists, and Max Levchin is one of them. He even called himself an unabashed techno-utopian.

Gideon: What? What did he even mean by that?

Lauren: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, here's just one example. One of the things he said to me right out the gate was that he thinks in just 30 years we’ll all be part cyborg—that we're gonna be paying for things through some kind of chip in our body.

Max (audioclip): Something like contacts that have been enhanced with electronics beyond kind of the basic optic value, um, that you can actually take out and rid yourself of the, uh, of the enhancements if you, if you want it to be a pure human again.

Lauren: And that, you know, humans are on the precipice of some great global advancement brought about by tech.

Gideon: So we're all going to be part human, part machine, kind of Six Million Dollar Man type of thing.

Archival audioclip: Gentlemen, we can rebuild. We have the technology.

Lauren: Yeah, exactly. Between that and a combination of AI, it was just, we're gonna be totally automated as human beings. And Levchin acknowledged, by the way, that this is an ethically complicated vision, but at the same time, this kind of enthused prediction feels right now, like it's from, I don't know, the 2010s. 

Gideon: I think more like from the 1970s.

[Six Million Dollar Man theme song

Lauren: Right, right, to keep with the Six Million Dollar Man theme. And so in the context of buy now, pay later, it's maybe not so surprising that he's pitching Affirm, his company as a kind of tech solution to credit cards. Have you ever used a buy now, pay later service? 

Gideon: I actually never have.

Lauren: So I have, twice. They’re basically short-term loans with a fixed number of payments.

Gideon: Isn’t that what a credit card is?

Lauren: Yes, but different, because with a credit card you can just kind of carry that balance from month to month, and there tend to be higher interest rates. Affirm is different because they say most of their loans have actually no fees or interest rates, but also they’re encouraging you to pay something off in, like, let's say, four payments over six weeks.

Gideon: So how do they make their money?

Lauren: Ah, that’s a good question. They do service some longer-term loans, and those will have some interest attached. But also they get paid by the merchants that they work with. So let's say you buy a Peloton off of Affirm. Peloton pays Affirm a fee for basically providing that loan.

Gideon: OK, so it's in Affirm’s interest for you to just buy things?

Lauren: Yes, and I've asked Max before and asked him again on this podcast what society looks like in the future if his, you know, buy now, pay later fever dream comes true, and people start using buy now, pay later—not just for things like Pelotons, right, but things like groceries or gas.

Gideon: I have to say, to me, it feels kind of dark to live in a society where you have to take out a loan just to, you know, buy your basic household goods.

Lauren: Yeah, there's already a bit of a meme on Twitter of buy now, pay later in order to buy a sandwich. Right. And you pay it off like $4 over each installment or something, depending on how expensive your sandwich is. 

Gideon: Well, have you seen the price of sandwiches today?

Lauren: Yeah. Depends on where you are, but there's some pretty darn expensive sandwiches out there. But anyway, I feel pretty convinced of Max Levchin as an entrepreneur. He's been really successful in the past; I mean, he cofounded PayPal. He's generally thoughtful in the conversations that we’ve had. I'm still not totally convinced of buy now, pay later as a service, but that's all I'm gonna say for now because you're gonna have to listen to the interview and then we'll come back and talk more about it afterwards.

Gideon: That conversation with Max Levchin is coming up right after the break.


Lauren: Max, it's great to see you again. Thanks for joining me on Have a Nice Future.

Max Levchin: Thanks for having me.

Lauren: We're obviously gonna talk a lot about Affirm and buy now, pay later today. But before we get into Affirm, I wanted to zoom into that future. I wanted to ask you, 30 years from now, how are we paying for things? What's your vision for that?

Max: I think by then we may finally be paying with some sort of a device that's embedded in our bodies in some safe and reasonable way. I think we, we're on this very long journey to go from cash to something that's innately us.

Lauren: Where in the body will this chip be, this payment chip?

Max: Uh, there's a million ethical and safety concerns with that. So I, I don't, I don't dismiss those lightly, but maybe the—kinda the safe alternative is something like contacts that have been enhanced with electronics beyond kind of the basic optic value, um, that you can actually take out and rid yourself of the, uh, of the enhancements if you, if you wanted to be a pure human again. But I do think that we're headed for the world of enhancements for our bodies that will make us just get access to data quicker, give us some amount of superpowers, maybe cure us by having nanobots that hang out in our bloodstream and just take care of things that try to poison us or, or hurt us. So I think there, there's a lot of opportunities to improve the human body. Again, we, we'll, we'll probably get there very slowly. Maybe 30 years is not a, uh, not a long enough period. But at some point, I, for one, would like to live in the world where something is sloshing around my body and says, oh, wait a second, that looks like a cancerous cell. Let's, uh, let's fix that for you. 

Lauren: To bring it back to payments, though …

Max: (laughs)

Lauren: Mm-hmm. Why are you doing this with Affirm? What kind of future are you pushing for?

Max: So, I'm a big believer that capitalism, when done right, is the only driver of human improvement. I grew up in socialism. I don't believe for a second that that will help us and make us better. Personal experience teaches me that blanketed redistribution of wealth just makes the redistributors wealthier, and everybody else suffers. And using company creation and entrepreneurship as a vehicle to change the world for the better is kind of who I am. And it's profoundly important to me, and I've been doing that my entire life and intend to do it for as long as I can.

Lauren: And for those who don't know much about your background, when you say you grew up under socialism, talk about that a little bit.

Max: I was born in the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union, uh, what is now the territory of Ukraine, uh, in Kiev. And, uh, managed to, uh, leave with my family six weeks before the Soviet Union collapsed as a country. And so I, I left with a Soviet passport, which was no longer a thing, uh, just six weeks later. 

Lauren: And what was it like growing up under socialism that now informs your belief that there's some good form of capitalism out there that is a driver of a successful economy and a successful nation? 

Max: So the ideals are amazing. The notion of total equality and mutual support and care for the individual and all the good things that we think about when we talk about socialist ideals imbues you with a sense that it's your responsibility to change the world. There is the right and the wrong. There are good people and people that need to be improved. My upbringing was reading these wonderful books and imagining a better future. And as you get older and a little bit more cynical, you realize that this idea of we will have a benevolent central government that takes from everyone a little bit and give to those that need it the most to, to make sure that everyone's gonna be OK in the end is a total lie because in the center there are humans and they're corruptible, and sometimes they're scared and sometimes they're greedy, and sometimes just bad things happen to good people. And ultimately, those that ran government-owned-and-operated grocery stores somehow were always very overweight because they stole food that was supposed to be sold to the masses. And, uh, the masses frequently starved. So the ideas of socialism are wonderful, but the practical implementations are horrific, and I really do mean horrific. You sort of look back to the history of Eastern Europe under socialist regimes, and inevitably all these things end up violent. And so I grew up initially thinking, wow, what a wonderful world I'm in. And by the time I was a teenager, absolutely sure that this is not the way at all. And uh, when my family had the, uh, foresight to, uh, move to the United States, I saw that in particular, through entrepreneurship, you can change the world in these amazing non-linear ways. All you have to do is have imagination and, uh, a little bit of luck and a little bit of access to capital.

Lauren: And for you, that wasn't specifically just entrepreneurship. It was, it was also payments. 

Max: Yes. So as a, uh, college student, I got into cryptography, you used to be able to say crypto, but these days it means something else

Lauren: Right. The actual enigma is what you studied. 

Max: Yes, exactly. So I got quite into cryptography and instead of becoming a spy, which I was really hoping to become, but a lack of citizenship put a bit of a stoppage to it. I ended up getting into payments, which is a close second in my mind. And, helped start PayPal and meandered through lots of other payments projects over the years. And finally ended up thinking that the structure under payments, when we hand our card to someone, we don't really think too hard what's gonna happen next, but underneath you're either drawing it from a bank account if it's a debit card or drawing it on a line if it's a credit card. And a credit card is not the best structure for consumers at all. If you actually look at how corporations borrow money with their armies of lawyers, you never hear about companies going out of business because, oops, they didn't realize they owed as much money or accrued too much interest or had too many late fees. Consumers get into trouble, and by that I mean bankruptcies are worse all the time when they borrow money. Like the disconnect is profound. 

Lauren: Real people, consumers are using buy now, pay later for groceries. And I asked you last year when we spoke, I said, what does society look like? What does it mean when we become a society that has people using buy now, pay later for gas or for food? And some new data suggests that particularly in the first couple months of 2023, that groceries are in fact a big driver. They're becoming a big driver for buy now, pay later. I know that your answer is going to be better that than credit cards, but I'm just wondering like, is this the future that we want? Is this a good future where people do have to use buy now, pay later to buy a sandwich? 

Max: Well, you're right. I will answer better that than credit cards. I think the thing that credit cards have successfully done—it's an amazing magic trick—is they've convinced people that creating this debt that just sits over there in a corner and we don't really talk about it because it's all commingled. Maybe it's a couch, maybe it's a bicycle, maybe it's a sandwich, maybe it's a carton of milk, but it's all one big number and then we slowly pay it down and it's OK. But the idea of “I just borrowed money to buy a carton of milk” is somehow a gasp-inducing moment, “my goodness, you know, have you no shame.” We are borrowing money every time we swipe a credit card. Full stop. Now, those of us who live on the coasts and make excellent salaries probably just pay it off at the end of the month, and credit cards for us feel like this thing where, well, I'm not actually in debt. I'll, I'll be done in 15 days on average. But for the vast majority of Americans, it goes into this big bucket and most of them—something like two-thirds of the country—is revolving on seven-and-a-half thousand dollars. A lot of those seven-and-a-half thousand dollars are groceries and milk and all the various things that we have to buy to feed our families. I think the idea that, well, it's a little bit less embarrassing that we're in debt over food because it's all commingled, is a silly idea that we allowed ourselves to be fooled by. A much better model is when you know. You will be done paying off all of your debt, whether it's for bicycles or couches or milk by a certain date. That should give you a sense of certainty and sense of control. And those are the two words by the way that our consumers use all the time when they write us back.

Lauren: Certainty and control. 

Max: Yeah.

Lauren: What I'm hearing you say is that you do think this is less predatory. That people are going to have to borrow money, and they might as well do the less predatory version of it. Aren't some of these futuristic visions though, whether we're talking about payment devices implanted in our bodies in 30 years, or just easy access to credit with low to no interest—aren't these ideas of the future predicated on the idea that they're only going to be used for good? Don't some of those innovations around low transaction costs also have downsides baked in? 

Max: I think there's a hundred percent risk attached to the vast majority of innovative ideas. Like as a species we hope the appropriate amount of risk in order to improve or to reinvent ourselves with a better future. There's absolutely a dark side to every idea. We're all terrified of AI to one degree or another—not because AI has nothing good to offer. It's because in the quest for making us super intelligent, we're also running the risk of unleashing something that we don't necessarily understand how to control.

Lauren: Are you using generative AI chatbots right now? 

Max: Uh, we're looking at them quite intently, all over Affirm in all sorts of interesting places. Nothing yet that is in production. Obviously the world we live in is very, very tightly regulated and before you let AI make decisions or even so much as print statements onto a screen, you have to make sure that you don't run afoul of many of the regulations that, um, that were subject to incidentally, um, sort of looping back on my anti-socialist capitalist agenda while being a card-carrying American capitalist, I'm a big believer in regulation. I think free markets with no regulation at all are almost as likely to harm their participants as the centrally-managed socialist version of the world. So don't mistake me for someone who thinks that we need to have sort of the absolute zero regulatory attention—quite the opposite. I think markets do correct themselves over time, but the process of correction sometimes takes too long and harms too many people in the process. So intelligent regulation is actually quite an important thing to make sure the markets stay within the confines of what's good today versus what might be good in the future.

Lauren: And so you believe that these kinds of AI tools should fall under some kind of regulatory scrutiny? 

Max: Absolutely. I think it's essential. 

Lauren: So when I think about a company like Affirm using generative AI, ChatGPT—two examples come to mind, and one is like really low stakes, right? Customer service chatbots. And the other is potentially using that kind of technology for credit decisioning, running vast amounts of information about someone's credit score, someone's credit history through an AI tool, and then spitting out a, a lending decision for them, how much they should be loaned if they should be given money at all. That seems really worrisome to me, and maybe there's some other tools or some ways of using these tools that you're envisioning that I'm not, but that seems like a cause for concern at this point. 

Max: So for the avoidance of doubt, generative AI does not make any underwriting or lending decisions for Affirm right now, and I don't really see how it might in the future. We use lots and lots of machine learning, which sometimes gets lumped into the overall AI umbrella, but it's very different. We model out what do what we believe to be a good estimate of your personal cash flow, and then ask the question, can you afford to borrow money? And what have we seen in the history of your repayment that indicates whether you're going to be willing to pay us back or not? And we use lots and lots and lots of machine learning to weed out things like fraud where people come in and say they're Max Levchin, but they're not, and they're trying to borrow money in my name, et cetera. And so that a lot of that is done, or all that really these days is done using machine learning at Affirm with lots of human checks and balances, both before and after these things occur. But there's no generative AI. That part is very far and away in the future. Maybe not in the future at all. 

Lauren: Back when we spoke in November of 2022, I asked you about the belt tightening that was going on around Silicon Valley. You said at the time you thought there were a couple projects you'd have to put off that you were, you know, putting a squeeze on hiring, but turns out early February, you had to lay off 19 percent of Affirm’s staff, and you wrote in your letter to staff that this was entirely your fault, but you also mentioned interest rates going up and how that has affected the broader economy. I'm wondering why it was particularly for a financial company that is looking so closely at all the data and you in particular are following it so closely why that happened—why you were slow to realize that actually this was, this was going to be the outcome. 

Max: I think there are a couple of different reasons why something like this happens to companies. The most important one is as you were scaling and you see opportunity everywhere, you realize that you have to bring on more people and invest in various areas. That may not be profitable or may not drive any revenue for years, possibly ever. You're, you're essentially taking risks. You could argue that as the rates went up fairly rapidly, we could have done better at predicting that they will continue going up rapidly. But I think at the time, very few of us did. Ultimately, we were in, what I would argue, pretty good company with lots of other companies having to deal with a slowdown and, uh, in many, many cases reduce their workforce. It was not at all an easy call, and, uh, probably the hardest decision I've done in my 30 years of doing this. 

Lauren: You've been through boom and bust before in Silicon Valley. Is this time any different?

Max: You know, it's too early to tell what the entire curve looks like. We, we are at the moment still in some ways are acting as if the bust isn't real. Maybe this bust is just a little temporary, couple of quarters worth of, uh, slow down and we're, we're back off to the races. If it doesn't quite pan out and we have a hard landing or whatever the current jargon is, you know, 2001 was brutal. I remember, uh, during the early days of PayPal, I would sometimes crawl out of my dimly lit office and go to my favorite coffee shop and find that it's closed down permanently since the last time I've been there. So Palo Alto in ’01 was a pretty dark place. 

Lauren: That feels a little bit like San Francisco now, to be honest. Our, our favorite coffee shop across the street from WIRED has shut down too. I mean it’s new stuff like that, discovering every day empty retail spaces and empty office spaces. Related or unrelated to your work specifically, what do you lose sleep over right now? 

Max: You know, I actually tend to sleep really well

Lauren: Metaphorically speaking.

Max: I work myself hard enough where by the time my, my head hits a pillow, it, it's not long before I doze. Um, I worry about people and ultimately the, the only thing worth worrying about in the world is people. So I worry about people that work at Affirm. I want to make sure that they're, they're happy, they're, they feel secure. Obviously we went through some rough times just a couple months ago, so I want to make sure that they're settled. I worry about people in my former homeland of Ukraine that have it significantly harder than any of us in Silicon Valley do. What keeps me up at night is any number of human issues that, uh, that I care about as a human.

Lauren: And how do you navigate that?

Max: As an entrepreneur? I try to think about solutions. 

Lauren: What is a solution though? 

Max: Well, I think we, uh, we jousted a little bit over this one, but I do think the solution to, uh, US economic troubles is a more intelligent access to consumer credit or access to more intelligent consumer credit.

Lauren: What I hear you say though is that you have a very interesting set of solutions, a very techno-optimist set of solutions for the people you worry about. And I think some people would say that that's like a very uniquely Silicon Valley thing to look to technology to solve those problems.

Max: I am an unabashed techo-utopian—a hundred percent.

Lauren: So what makes you most optimistic these days? Or what are you most optimistic about these days? 

Max: Oh my goodness. I am, I think we live in this age where software is not eating the world. I think it's a terrible metaphor. It's enhancing the world so quickly now that anything we can look at will probably benefit from some really amazing software. I think we can be scared of AI all we like, but odds are really good now that in the next 10 years some AI-driven system will ensure that no surgery ever ends with accidental patient death and some different probably AI system will help us find a complete cure for cancer and all the terrible things that humanity currently just scared of and can't really do all that much about beyond our relatively primitive analog tech will be enhanced by software. And maybe it's AI, maybe it's something else, but we are building ourselves much bigger brains and that's what got us from, you know, being, uh, less intelligent mammals into cave people into, uh, into Homo sapiens. And so I think the elbow of our development of species is upon us and probably in our lifetime we'll see just unbelievable things. 

Lauren: Thank you so much, Max, for joining me on a Have a Nice Future. I hope you have a nice future. 

Max: Thank you for having me. I hope we all have a nice future.


Lauren: What I'm learning from these first couple of podcast episodes, Gideon, is that everyone on Have a Nice Future is sleeping really well at night. Like, I don't know what their secret is, but Mayor London Breed said it. Now Max Levchin is saying it. Everyone sleeps well. 

Gideon: I know, I, I feel like I have much less on my shoulders than they do, and I sleep terribly. You know, are we, are we the only ones losing sleep?

Lauren: Apparently! Although I, I tend to drink coffee after 3 pm, so maybe that's my problem. 

Gideon: There you go.

Lauren: Uh, I have to say some of the things that Max talked about, I was noodling on them for a while afterwards. Like I had that feeling that you get sometimes after these kinds of conversations where you could feel like, oh, that person that maybe they proposed a solution or they said something kind of interesting, and then you go back and listen again and I am not sure how I feel about that actually. What about you? I mean, what did you make of this conversation?

Gideon: Uh, first of all, I didn't feel like I got a complete answer to the question, what makes buy now, pay later—at least in theory—less predatory or less likely to make people take on unmanageable debt than credit cards?

Lauren: That's a really good question, and I think it's something that consumer protection agencies are carefully considering too, because it does seem like in the short term, these are just clearly better loans, right? No fees. Zero percent interest. If you can pay something off in a short amount of time, why wouldn't you do this? And Max and other people within the buy now, pay later industry will say that a lot of it comes down to how their credit decisioning works. That they're going to be really careful about the size of the loans that they approve, who they approve the loans for. You know, Apple has just launched their version of buy now, pay later and they’ve even said that if you default on their pay later service, like one time you just get cut off so you don't get to use it again. But that means you also can't, you know, bury yourself in debt. So it's, it's still lending, there's still loans. It's that there's— 

Gideon: But there's machine learning in it. There's AI and that will help you avoid taking on debt you can't afford. 

Lauren: Right. AI is gonna solve everything, didn't you know? I don't know if you've heard that. Have you heard that yet? 

Gideon:  I think someone told me this at the bar the other day. 

Lauren: Breaking News. Yeah. 

Gideon: Wait, so if you had the choice between two different forms of payment, how would you decide whether to use a credit card or buy now, pay later?  

Lauren: Yeah, that's interesting. Um, because I have used buy now, pay later and it felt like I used them in very sort of controlled scenarios. Like I was sitting at my laptop, I was looking at, you know, a rug I wanted to buy for my bedroom. I saw the buy now, pay later options at checkout. I did some quick calculations, you know, clicked a button, got approved and there it was. Whereas, you know, I don't know, this past weekend I had family in town and like we went out to dinner and the bill comes and the first thing you do is just take out your credit card, right? Like, it's like, I'm not like, oh, excuse me, do you accept, uh, Affirm or Klarna or Afterpay at this sushi restaurant? Like it's just not part of my everyday pay routine yet.

Gideon: It seems to me if you've got a good grasp on your finances, you could make informed decisions about which one to use. So let's say you're buying, I don't know, a leather jacket, and you say, this jacket is a chunk of money, but I could pay that off over six weeks, then I could do that at zero interest with buy now, pay later versus if I put it on a credit card and some of that money rolls over to the next month, and then I have to pay interest. So in that case, I'm using buy now, pay later to save myself a little bit of money. Now that's if I can keep everything in my head of all my purchases—

Lauren: Right.

Gideon: And when they're coming, when the payments are coming due and where the interest is building up. and I question how many people will be able to keep track of all of that. 

Lauren: Yeah, it's a lot to keep track of. There are some consumers who are just using various buy now, pay later apps for like all different kinds of purchases. And then they just have these payments on like a rolling basis and you know, Apple Pay Later and Affirm, they have these calendars in their apps where you can actually look at a calendar of your month and see when your various payments are due, which sure, that's, that's a great part of financial literacy, I suppose. But I think you're right in that sometimes technologists give things a UI that makes something so easy to use that your usage of it can sort of snowball. And in this case we're talking about debt. 

Gideon: I found it interesting that part of Max's story about why he started Affirm is, you know, tied up to his background in the Soviet Union. I lived in Moscow for a while. I met people like Max who were these fanatics about the problems with socialism because of what they had lived through. And real, real believers in the free market. And it feels like Affirm is a company that he started with a story about why capitalism is better than socialism, because  Affirm is a way for people, more people, to enjoy the benefits of capitalism. And I love the fact that you asked him why he thought capitalism was better than socialism. And his answer was, the ideals are amazing, but they are, and this was his quote, a total lie because in the center there are humans and they're corruptible, and sometimes they're scared and sometimes they're greedy, and sometimes just bad things happen to good people. I thought you could say the same thing about capitalism. 

Lauren: Right.

Gideon:  I'm not, I, I do, I do actually believe free markets are a better system than centrally planned economies, but without the right controls, they can go completely awry as we have been seeing. And as Max actually acknowledged, to be fair in the interview, he said without regulation, uh, they can be just as harmful as centrally planned economies.

Lauren: Right, right. That part actually surprised me a little bit. Um, I was like, oh, max is pro-regulation, or if not pro-regulation at least acknowledges some need for it. Um, and for what it's worth, he has said that line before too. Like, this seems to be very much the framework through which he sees the world and how it operates. Um, and it's interesting that he has applied that framework so specifically to payments companies, not just once, but twice. 

Gideon: He talked about being a techno-utopian. And it's perhaps not surprising that he's a techno-utopian, cuz he, he kind of lucked out when he got to the US right? He fell into one of the most successful startups and IPOs in early tech history, which was PayPal.

Lauren: Right, he met a guy who turned out to be Peter Thiel, and it was incredibly auspicious for him, and it's really easy to be a techno-utopian when you are coming from a position of privilege and power. You know, at the same time, you know the people who build these successful companies in Silicon Valley like to see themselves as wealth generators and job creators, and that's certainly the case on some level too. 

Gideon: Coming back to some of his other techno-utopian ideas like paying with implants or with contact lenses, do those feel scary to you or is it something you'd welcome? 

Lauren: This is not exactly the same thing, but there's, there's this saying I use every time there's a new subscription service attached to something that was not previously a subscription service, which is, I like to say we are frogs boiling in subscription water.

Gideon: (laughs)

Lauren: And sometimes I feel like we're also frogs boiling in surveillance water. So I think that what Max is envisioning is not totally outlandish like it could happen and it feels uncomfortable. It really does. Like, I don't, I don't feel great about the idea of having a, a chip implanted in my body or even wearing contact lenses that have my payment information, but I think that there is some portion of that, that is probably prescient, that could end up being true, and, and maybe we'll be the olds at that point and saying like, oh, this is way too creepy, we're not doing this. And younger generations will adopt it. Or maybe by then there will be some kind of regulatory framework around that that makes that somehow safer. But now I'm sounding like an optimist. I mean, really that's like, it's practically, you know, Pollyanna-ish.

Gideon: I think payments made with something embedded in your body are inevitable and something that we will completely get used to. And the discomfort that we have is around the idea that, uh, it makes it impossible to pay for something without being tracked, but it's already essentially impossible to pay for something without being tracked unless you use cash, because credit cards— 

Lauren: Or Bitcoin

Gideon: Uh, also not true, but as our colleague Andy Greenberg has written extensively, Bitcoin payments can now be deanonymized and tracked through global cryptocurrency criminal networks. Read Andy's book Tracers in the Dark

Lauren: That's true. I was just trying to shill for GoodeCoin—my coin.

Gideon: I'm trying to shill for Andy's book, but why has this problem arisen? It used to be that cash was an object that you owned. You gave someone cash. It did not matter how you had come by the cash. The fact that it was in your hands when you made the payment was all that was necessary for the payment to happen. Then we moved into an era where money was held in bank accounts, and we needed to prove that we were the owners of that bank account without actually carrying the bank around with us. Therefore we developed all of these things that require us to identify ourselves in order to pay. And so to me what, you know, paying with an implant in your body is just literally the natural extension of that. Uh, and I think we will be very comfortable with that, and not even think about it. 

Lauren: OK. So it's the year 2053. You go up to the counter to buy a $72 sandwich. There is a—

Gideon:  On buy now, pay later.

Lauren: Right, there are a plethora of buy now, pay later services in front of you, and all you have to do is just look into a little kiosk that's in front of you. There, of course, is no cashier at this point. We've all been replaced by robots, and you grab your $72 sandwich and life is grand.

Gideon:  And you blink. And you blink once for Affirm and twice for Klarna and three times for whatever other buy now, pay later service. The only thing I disagree with you about this is, it's not gonna be 2053. I think it's going to be 2033. 

Lauren: Do you think we're still hosting this podcast by then?

Gideon: Uh, somebody called Lauren Goode and Gideon Lichfield are. And maybe they're AI bots.

Lauren: Digital twins.

Gideon: Yes! 

Lauren: All right. Let's, let's save it for another episode.

Gideon: That's our show for today. Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren: And me, Lauren Goode. 

Gideon: If you like the show, please leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts, and follow us to hear more episodes. 

Lauren: And we want to hear from you. You can email us at Tell us what you're worried about, what excites you, any question you have about the future, and we'll ask our guests that question. 

Gideon: Have a Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt and Lena Richards from Prologue Projects Produce the show. 

Lauren: See you back here next Wednesday and, until then, have a nice future.