January 10, 2018


Fortune-telling on the Blockchain

A suite of smart contracts, to be used as a permanent, immutable record underlying any act of fortune-telling.

During an act of fortune-telling, users can rate their Tellings as Good or Bad Luck, and as Accurate or Inaccurate. In this way, individual tokens of Fortune will accrue both Luck and Accuracy, creating a permanent Superstition in the blockchain.

“Don’t believe in fortune but don’t live without fortune.”

 — Turkish Proverb

I have recently been designing Teller, a blockchain system that can be used as a permanent, immutable record underlying any act of fortune-telling.

Here are some example implementations of Teller:


During a residency with Queen Mary University of London focussed on developing concepts of fortune-telling robotics, we looked at the Turkish practice of reading coffee grounds. As the proverb above indicates the question of belief in such practices is a complex one. The excellent short film Coffee Futures explores this practice. Here is a quote from the director Zeynep Devrim Gürsel:

The widespread custom of coffee fortune telling in Turkey is an everyday communication tool. Coffee fortunes are a way of dealing with hopes, fears and worries, as well as a method of indirectly voicing matters usually left unspoken. Like any language, this narrative form has its protocols, rules and tropes; yet each fortune bears distinct marks of the teller’s personal style and the individual fortune seeker’s condition.

Prufrock is an implementation of Teller that uses live coffee purchasing data from cafés across a city to generate Tellings. When you purchase a coffee you inform the Prufrock dapp of the transaction and a unique Telling occurs. Prufrock is a distributed ledger of the individual and communal act of measuring our lives in coffee spoons.

It would be interesting to link the tills in cafes to Prufrock.

‍Photo credit Ebru Karaca


In Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde recounts how to receive a fortune from Hermes, the trickster god of commerce, whose shrine is in the marketplace.

After giving an offering to Hermes, you ask your question then cover your ears and walk away. When you uncover your ears, the first words you hear are the gift from Hermes. It is considered especially fortunate if these words come from a child or an imbecile.

Hermes is a Teller implementation. A questionable value exchange that plays in the busy traffic between magical thinking, fintech, currency, and fortune. Hermes converts the noisy marketplace of speculation and disruption into a fungible Fortune.

Using Hermes, one can make transactions of Fortunes. In return, they receive personal Tellings based on the noises of the global marketplace. These Tellings are informed by Oracle data harvesting and interpreted by a Cold Reading microservice.

For each Telling, an Oracle is randomly selected to represent the voices in the marketplace of Hermes. Oracles may be databases of psychometrics, consumer data, Facebook likes, or weather patterns. If a database of the patterns of entrails were to become available it would be used. Data from the Oracles will be analysed by a Cold Reading algorithm that uses techniques gathered from the literature of divinatory practices including but not limited to Tarot and palm reading, phrenology, tea leaf and coffee ground reading, iChing, IQ testing, scapulimancy, horoscope, brontomancy, Myers-Briggs, and Zoltar.


Teller excavates blockchain to unearth a deep archeology of magical thinking and divinatory practices, combining acts of sortilege, the manipulation of fortunes, tellers of both bank and fortune, Oracles that act as gatekeepers to knowledge, offerings and giftings, trades and hoards, prediction and hope, commerce and coin.

Originally considered The Internet of Money, Blockchain is more fundamental than lien currency. Until Blockchain, money was the most complex faith-based technology. Blockchain is an elegant representation of belief built for a no- trust era. It is a truth-telling technology.

The most fundamental fungible tradable good is Fortune. Other goods — coins, loyalty points, gold certificates, IOUs, in-game items, etc — are simply representations of Fortune. All contracts are negotiations of Fortune.


Teller implementations will be created as decentralised applications (“dapp”) on the Ethereum platform, and consumed via a W3-enabled web browser (Google Chrome & Metamask recommended).

Teller operates on unique ERC-20 tokens called Fortunes. At every transaction of Fortune Teller consults the relevant Oracles and a Telling occurs. The Telling will be scored on a scale of Bad to Good. Successive Tellings create a permanent Superstition in the blockchain.

The Teller dapp and its associated token/contract ecosystem is being developed here at The Institute of Unknown Purpose and will contribute towards the longer-term development of Cazh: a digital platform for Universal Leisure, large-scale field trials of which are due to begin in Autumn 2018.

Stuart Nolan

Research Magician and Mystery Consultant