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Quantum Banking Comes To New York

At 1:00pm on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York NY.
Basement Level.
20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
Image Credit: Brad Holt

The Quantum Bank will open for business.

The installation is the brainchild of the conceptual artist Jonathon Keats. For Keats, whose previous work includes: copyrighting his brain and auctioning futures contracts on his 6 billion neurons; a stint in extra-dimensional real estate -- in one day he sold 172 extra-dimensional Bay Area plots in the multidimensional space-time proposed by string theory; photosynthetic gastronomy that looks more like a plant watching television;  and an attempt to engineer God (or, rather, something more God-like) starting with cyanobacteria and the fruit fly -- the quantum bank plays the market with the science of uncertainty.

Keats's theoretical foundation for quantum banking comes from Schrödinger's cat.

In 1935, Edwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment to illustrate the apparent conflict he saw in the theory quantum mechanical superposition.  In his famous thought experiment, Schrödinger proposes a cat is trapped in a steel box with a vial of poison and a tiny sample of radioactive material. If an atom of radioactive material decays (a quantum mechanical process), the poison will be released and the cat dies. One could assume that if no radioactive atom decays, the cat is still alive.

The quantum theory of superposition stipulates that quantum events have definite values only when they are observed. Schrödinger argued that if at any moment it were equally probable that an atom had decayed and had not decayed, then the cat too would be in a superposition of alive and dead so long as the box remained closed.

Jonathon Keats's quantum banking extrapolates Schrödinger's cat to Schrödinger cash.

Accessed by the Quantum ATM, the Quantum Bank will open with seven billion accounts. One for every person on the planet, according to Keats. Anyone will be able to deposit any amount of any currency in the Quantum Bank.

Inside the Quantum ATM, a tiny uranium glass sphere is imbedded in a grid of seven billion boxes. Each box corresponds to one of seven billion quantum bank accounts uniquely identified by their coordinates.

When one dollar is deposited, the uranium will emit an alpha particle. The dollar is deposited into whichever box the alpha particle passes through and there is now one dollar in that account at the Quantum Bank.

However, Keats isn't planning on counting his pennies. Much like putting the cat in a metal box, Keats is encasing the ATM in metal and preventing any measurements. If no measurement is made as to which box the alpha particle passes through, the quantum regime prevails: the particle will pass through all seven billion boxes. All seven billion accounts will be credited -- in a quantum superposition of cash, and no-cash.

As Keats writes, "Anyone will be able to claim a free account, sharing as much of their wealth as they wish or simply living off others' quantum deposits."

Bam. Free money.

Of course, all withdrawals will be in quantum banknotes -- a currency that can be used anywhere, provided they are accepted.

 "Crucially," Keats writes, "[the Quantum Bank] will be a paragon of ethical business. Unlike most banks which are backed by faith, the Quantum Bank will be backed by physics. And the new economy that the Quantum Bank facilitates will subsist in a quantum-economic superposition."

Though Keats's installation may not be an economy to bank on, his project provokes current ideological economic questions.

Seated in the heart of the financial industry, the Quantum Bank will be open to the public until June 14th asking those who dare deposit, what is the reality of the dollar in our post-recession bitcoin-banking world?

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Quark Twain would like to thank her colleagues at APS and Physics Central for a lovely tenure writing for the Physics Buzz Blog. For more, follow Quark Twain's tweets!


  1. Should be "vial" of poison, although it could be a vial of vile poison.

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