A Quantum Bank Comes to New York

Conceptual art to create "nearly infinite" cash via quantum superposition

2 min read
A Quantum Bank Comes to New York

Conceptual artist and self-described experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats has previously snapped up San Francisco real estate in extra dimensions, exhibited paintings based on the average color of the universe (beige, in case you were wondering), and created television programming for plants.

Next week, he will install what could (very very arguably) be called the world's first quantum ATM. It will be available from 1:00 pm EST on June 11 through June 14 at the Engineer's Office Gallerya tiny alcove in the basement of 20 Rockefeller Plaza that once housed a water fountain. According to Keats' press release for the project, the concept has the potential to "fix the world economy by bolstering finance with quantum physics." This quantum bank, it continues, "will be the first financial institution with the technological means to make money quantum, resulting in a nearly infinite proliferation of wealth."

How would it do that? The ATM consists of two areas - one for deposits and one for withdrawals (which, Keats says, will be stocked with bills bearing the word "quantum" on them). These will sit near an enclosure containing a small sphere of uranium, which will periodically emit an alpha particle. These particles can in principle hit any one of 7 billion boxes—corresponding to 7 billion accounts—that have been inscribed on a plastic cylinder surrounding the sphere. Like Schrödinger's Cat, so long as the ATM remains insulated from the outside world, the deposit exists in a superposition of many possible states: it is effectively credited to all seven billion accounts at once. 

In reality, of course, this is a conceptual piece. Deposits don't trigger anything in the ATM (the uranium will keep spitting out particles quite happily even if no one deposits any money) and even if the ATM were recording deposits and alpha particle hits in some way, if you went so far as to open up the box and measure what's inside, you'd find only as much money as had been put in (the delicate superposition of states would collapse). 

But I like this project. It's another way to think about the abstraction of money and a reminder of how modern currency has diverged from physical measures of wealth, such as gold. It's also a nice, macroscopic way to think about the fundamental strangeness of quantum mechanics. And it might be the closest we get to real, uncounterfeitable quantum money for a while yet.

The Conversation (0)
Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

Keep Reading ↓Show less