Google wants to patent splitting the restaurant bill

It's one of the great social difficulties of our time. Now Google would like to offer (and own) an allegedly equitable solution.

This is piece of sushi from Jiro's restaurant in Tokyo. To me, it looks like a man lying on his back laughing, after getting a free meal from his friends. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's easy to forget sometimes, but Google exists to make you happy.

In the pecking order, you do come slightly behind its own engineers, for whom many of its products are truly designed. But you're still in the company's thoughts somewhere.

Clearly, though, some of its engineers (and, by extrapolation, Google assumes you too) have been having difficulties in restaurants.

It's not so much that they've been leaving phone prototypes in them. It's that they've been going out for group dinners and then one or two Googlies have guzzled beyond the norm, leaving the splitting of the bill in an unbalanced state.

"Jason had 7 kir royales. Marina had 6 margaritas and Azielina must have knocked back 14 glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. So, um, dividing the total by, um, 7 and multiplying it by, oh, whatever, I'm drunk anyway."

Days later, though, the person who feels they've paid too much of the whole feels wholly resentful.

This resentment has now been turned, as all resentments should, into a patent application. For Google has applied for a patent on restaurant bill splitting.

I am two Kirs grateful to Geekwire for spotting that just three days ago, a Google application titled "Tracking And Managing Group Expenditures" was made public.

The precision of the language in the application is quite beautiful.

For example:

A group including plurality of users is established. A transaction record is maintained for the group that includes a plurality of payment transactions. Each of the plurality of payment transactions involves at least one user of the group. Additionally, a balance is maintained that indicates an amount owed by a first user of the group to a second user of the group based on one or more of the plurality of payment transactions. When a settling event occurs, the balance is settled by initiating a transfer of funds between the first user and the second user.

Immediately, I am thinking about people at dinner tables behaving exactly like restaurant staff, pushing at their screens after every order to ensure perfect justice.

My embodiment struggles with reading patent applications, as phrases such as "in one embodiment" keep on being repeated.

However, here's a practical example, as described by the Googlies:

For example, continuing with the example of FIG. 4, assume that Users A-C have drinks at a bar and User B pays a bill of $45 for the drinks User B adds the payment transaction as an expenditure of the group and allocates $15 of the transaction to User A, $20 to User B, $10 to User C. In this example, the balance module 308 would update the individual balances of Users A-C to indicate that User B now owes $115 to User A ($130-$15) and User C owes $10 to User B ($0+$10).

There will be those who marvel at this ingenuity. They will feel relief that finally justice will be done. Yet the system still seems to expect behavior from others that is entirely unnatural. Which is what many of Google inventions often aspire to.

Moreover, please imagine clever technical types hacking the system, so that they secure free trips to Cancun, financed by their alleged friends.

I tend to think of the splitting-the-bill problem a little differently.

Like golf, it is one of those life experiences that tend to show the true character of your friends. Those who have a sense of justice and decency go out of their way to ensure that they haven't taken advantage.

The moochers simply mooch. Once they do, you make sure you don't go out in a group with them again.

Isn't that approach a little simpler? Or am I just not scientific enough?

 

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