Minnie's Bank Account

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Minnie awoke with a start and a sense of purpose, aware that her short afternoon nap had morphed into extended sleep. It was almost banking time! Wasn't it amazing that something so new-fangled as a quantum computer could become part of her life, joining the range of contraptions that she used with only the faintest degree of technical mastery.
So what if she didn't understand the quantum concepts that underlay quantum banking? It was a family thing, and she well understood family, all those people who lived nearby until the wanderlust drove them to move elsewhere. Now everyone from Uncle Mo to Aunt Selma joined to form a living group that pooled extra money into a quantum banking account. Wasn't it a pip how nickels and dimes fed into a balance of thousands, fed by interest and marketing bonuses?
That's not the really exciting thing, thought Minnie as she pressed the button on her coffee machine. It wasn't just that they shared the money, which could change by deposits and (she hated to admit) withdrawals. No, the exciting thing was the quantum connection that validated itself each time she tuned in her balance. It was almost as if the computer had a soul, a mind of its own, and a stubborn, inscrutable personality. How else to explain the constant shifting of money from one account in the family to another? She hadn't laughed when Aunt Selma's account went up and hers went down, but it had lifted her spirits when the opposite occurred yesterday. Was the computer conducting a giant experiment, roping them all in as subjects? Yes, that had to be it.
It was all a harmless thing, Minnie reminded herself. They weren't gambling. It wasn't a slot machine. All the money stayed within the family. It was like watching the readout from the stock market. You expected changing figures. Of course, this was a bit different. The accounts were interlocked so that, technically speaking, anyone savvy enough could withdraw money from another account. What did that matter? Thriving families were based on trust, after all.
Granddaughter Elena said that the variable figures in their accounts were due to quantum fluctuations built into the system. "The money is not incorporated into any individual's account", she said. "Instead, the money travels instantaneously along its electronic route from one subset to another. It is free to follow all possibilities inherent in the system. Numbers assume a transitory existence, mere probabilities that often cancel each other out as a matter of course. It all mimics the quantum world, the world on the smallest scale possible. Things become traditional when transactions are made, but in the meantime possibilities run rampant. We are sharing the balance in the way we share the biosphere. Quantum computers are the technology of the future, a promising idea dating back to the great Richard Feynman."
Minnie dismissed all the explanations from her mind. She hated the uncertainty as much as she was attracted to it. In her day you knew to a letter how poor or rich you were. Of course, you could always hope for help from a relative or finding that the trinkets in the closet were worth thousands of dollars.
Every time Minnie and Saul went to the bank, they knew without a doubt where they were. Saul would say they were on a detour from the road to poverty. They worried about expenses, never guessing the wide array of expenses that would decimate their financial security forever. There was never anything exciting about those visits. All they could do was to hold their breaths and leave as quickly as possible.
Watching the screen light up, Minnie felt her spirits rising. There were so many scientists in her family. They were bright kids, always enthusiastic about the future. They didn't care if you didn't understand half of what they said. They had so many ideas, and they were so friendly! They were the ones, after all, who embraced quantum banks and convinced almost everyone in their family to join in. "Security, speed, satisfaction", the watchwords of the system, seemed infinitely appealing when matched by the glow in their faces.
Minnie paid attention as the figure on the screen appeared. It wasn't remarkable, and neither were its fluctuations. Up a bit, down a bit. Like a roller coaster for kids. Nothing to get excited about. Maybe she should cut short today's banking time and take a walk. She had been in the apartment all day and needed some things at the store.
Suddenly the figure on the screen changed in an unthinkable way. First it blinked the words "transaction in progress: please hold". Then it became zero, flanked by the boldfaced words "account closed". Minnie looked at the indication of nothing and tried to take it all in. She waited for a fluctuation to change the zero into a higher number, but it didn't happen.
It wasn't hard to figure out that someone had withdrawn all the money. Someone probably needed it. Someone might even be in trouble, but there was no indication who that someone might be. It was all so impersonal. With no clues, Minnie was left with a cold feeling. She shivered and reached for her sweater.
Minnie was about to send an electronic message when she stopped short and picked up her tattered telephone address book. Starting with the "A"s, she called everyone in it. The afternoon passed swiftly as she caught up with the latest news and chatted about the demise of the family's quantum banking account.

About the Author: 
Gloria Halper holds undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Library Science. She has a passion for physics and math.

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Quantum Theories

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!