Quantitative easing, Bitcoin, Camel Cash: these monetary innovations all involve a one-to-one relationship between currency and value. A dollar from the ATM equals a dollar in your bank account equals approximately 1/120th of a Bitcoin, etc. On June 11, Jonathon Keats will unveil new technology that he believes explodes this seemingly fundamental economic principle: A quantum ATM.
Every time you deposit a dollar into the ATM, an alpha particle is released from a uranium composite into a chamber containing 7 billion microscopic boxes, each corresponding to a different bank account. "That’s one for every person on the planet," Keats says.
Using an ordinary ("Newtonian") model, you might expect the alpha particles to sit, like tiny gold bars, in the account of its corresponding depositor. But because the account chamber is concealed from observation, Keats theorizes that each particle will actually be in a "quantum superposition," existing in all its possible states at once. Much as Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and dead, each particle will simultaneously exist in every single one of those 7 billion boxes; each deposit made goes to all 7 billion account holders.
The construction of the prototype ATM, which will be located in a basement nook at Rockefeller Center in New York City, is a bit more low-tech than the quantum computers that you have heard about. "Around $40, maybe $45 is my total budget on this project," Keats says. The chamber is concealed with aluminum foil, and the radioactive source material is a uranium-glass marble, which he purchased on EBay. "The uranium was actually the cheapest part," he says.
To keep track of how many dollars have been deposited, he will have a self-serve paper and pencil ledger. "Basically, it will be simple addition," Keats says. "But when there’s as much money as we’re talking about—a couple million there, a couple billion there: it doesn’t make much difference. An accounting error is nothing too tragic."
While Keats is an artist and an experimental philosopher, not a quantum physicist, this is not his first foray into the field. In the past he has attempted to replace marriage with quantum entanglement and to sell real estate in alternate, string-theory-predicted dimensions. "I have found that quantum physics is a realm that is ripe for exploitation for more practical things than theoretical physics might lead you to believe," he says.
There are many questions to think about here. For instance: What about inflation? "We know that hyperinflation takes place in Newtonian systems. This has been proven by many South American countries," says Keats. "Yet none of those countries has ever attempted a quantum system. In the true spirit of science, I would say we don’t know."
Keats has considered answers to all the objections I could think of, but he is also—in the spirit of science—happy to be proven wrong. "I would invite economists or quantum physicists to weigh in on this," he says.
So please, physicists, economists and physicist/economists, let us know what you think.
And if you are in New York City and want to acquire some quantum cash for yourself, Keats will demonstrate the system at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11th at the Engineer’s Office Gallery in the Rockefeller Center basement, where the prototype will be available for four days.