Greece: upcycle your ATMs

by Kwame Ferreira

This post was spurred by recent events in Greece. We saw ATM machines stop working, banks rationing money. Our first gut reaction: society needs more imagination, more creative solutions to help visualise and solve a multifaceted problem. A problem where monetary policy (or lack thereof) is at the core and one we don’t foresee fixing with more money.

We were experimenting with local community empowerment and in the process got our very own Lisa Winter to hack an ATM machine (she is usually battling bots), plug it into the impossible sharing network and get some learnings. Here they are.

There are thousands of ATM machines in every city. They are primarily used to withdraw local currency and depending on the country, these tend to offer a context savvy array of services, from paying utility bills to purchasing a fishing license. What they don’t do is connect the local community to itself. In contexts of low digital illiteracy, ageing populations, and a failing economy, it makes perfect sense to up-cycle the ATM machine as it taps into an existing and abundant resource, already widely used by the community.

Great, so printed money is on its way out, we have thousands of these machines, why not hack them. We had to, because banking institutions haven’t shown any openness to including community help into their ATM user experience. This is how we did so.


Take the useless/deprecated ATM machine home or to your garage. You may need some help. These babies tend to be overweight. Try and acquire these legally. Just because society is finding banks increasingly useless does not mean you can just get a few friends together and go and play Bonnie and Clyde.

Yes, the carpet is visually striking, don’t let that distract you.

Source an old receipt printer and install it so it can print through the money slit. If we were partnering up with a bank we wouldn’t need to do so as they are already serving up receipts. But we couldn’t find one that would integrate impossible into their user experience.

We then proceeded to paint the ATM white. Unnecessary you may argue. Artsy fartsies… but aesthetics play an important role in community building if embedded with purpose. The purpose here is visibility and brand differentiation. Stunning.

We replaced the original display with a cheap android tablet and connected the tablet to’s API.

And voilá, it works and we started printing…

Citizens using these impossible machines are able to post something they need help with and print out a post from someone else asking for help — thereby trading without money being the mediator of the trade. In return for helping others users get ‘thanks’ : an abundant currency which works extremely well in environments where other currencies are scarcer.

Currency is identity

Currency is intimately connected to identity, as the euro shows and every kingdom before it. Where taxes go, which values are upheld by the ones in power… The problem with an identity that speaks cash is that it speaks an outdated language of acquisition and consumption. We find that currencies can also play a role in asserting a different kind of identity, a more balanced one that puts as much emphasis on giving as it already does on taking.

We are seeing how the blockchain will play an integral part in reputation engines of the 21st century. Your reputation will not only be defined by what you can acquire or have consumed but also by what you have given. A healthier mix of social and economical transactions will start to shape our civil DNA. Presently the reward mechanisms we derive most pleasure from celebrate the spectacle of consumption. Hopefully these will be balanced by more local, decentralised economies of value. This is where hacking ATM machines makes perfect sense. The Portuguese, Spanish, Greeks… should all do it. The infrastructure is in place, all it requires is plugging into a more balanced set of values.