"And here is our solid matter encryptor."

The bank tour is almost over. Vaughn, an electronics technician posing as himself but with several orders of magnitude more means than he truly has, has been trying to conceal his anticipation. He is almost certain that his cover is leaking, that the polite businesswoman who has shown him the bank's facilities can see directly through the figurative mask, that this is all stalling for time until the police arrive. He feels a drop of sweat roll down one knuckle. He's carrying a heavy briefcase.

"This, ah solid matter encryption... is rather new to me," Vaughn lies.

It's very new technology, extremely fancy. It's been used for military purposes, but only a few of the wealthiest banks have access to the technology and provide it to customers. The bank operative, Platt, beams at the question, and launches into the pitch.

"Solid matter encryption is an optional service you may use as part of purchasing a safe deposit box with us. It provides an extra layer of physical security over the top of gates, doors and locks and keys. If you have a moment, I'd be delighted to provide you with a full demonstration."

Vaughn agrees.

"When a customer comes through to access a safe deposit box, we of course provide them with complete privacy. Let's imagine you're a customer and this... hah, fake example passport was something you wanted to deposit. Ordinarily, the system works as follows. I unlock the numbered metal box which you have access to. I provide you with the unlocked box, and give you privacy. You open the box, put your passport in the box, close it again, and give it back to me. I lock the box and return it to the rack of lock boxes."

"I'm familiar with that procedure," Vaughn says.

"With solid matter encryption, you don't put your passport in the box. Instead you put it into the hopper of our solid matter encryptor, here. This is large enough to accommodate a short stack of A4 paper. You enter a encryption key... or, if you wish, we can generate a cryptographically secure key for you, or we can scan a printed code, if your key is too long to type out yourself. You seal the hopper, and the machine encrypts all of the matter in place..."

There is a high-pitched whine, and a blast of violet light, and some quantum mechanical magic happens. Platt opens the hopper again, revealing an ugly black block of dense nonsense. The block appears complex, as if made from densely packed particles or fractals, and from different angles it displays weird colours, but predominantly it is a simple matte black lump. Platt takes the lump out — it seems to have the density of some heavy stone. It has exactly the dimensions of the smallest standard safe deposit box. She slides the block into the box and locks it.

"Now the matter is encrypted. This is an advanced, proprietary state of matter called CryptoMatter. Now, even if someone were to steal your deposit box, and successfully pick the lock, they'd still have nothing. The only way to recover your original passport would be to know your key. Which only you know. Additionally, they would need access to a matter encryptor. These things are very expensive, very highly regulated, and require immense quantities of power to operate. We have twin dedicated high-voltage lines. Here, see? And of course you noticed the high energy warning signs. There is a premium for this service, because of the amount of energy drawn in each encryption or decryption operation. If you decide to open an account with us, you'll be allowed to use the machine only twice on each visit to your safe deposit box."

Vaughn loves the machine. It's an impressive device, with some impressive engineering going into it. "And to restore my documents?"

Platt unlocks the box again. "We use the same encryption key, like so." She decrypts the passport, and hands it to Vaughn for inspection. There is a faint whiff of ozone, but from a brief flip through its pages, it appears to be precisely the same document.

"The CryptoMatter was a lot heavier than this," Vaughn observes. "Where'd the extra m— excuse me, weight come from?"

Platt shakes her head. "We can set up a meeting with our engineer if you wish. We have some leaflets... but the specific technical details of the encryptor are highly confidential for security reasons, I'm sorry."

"No, that's fine, thank you." Vaughn flipped through one of those leaflets in the waiting room. They're written for a very simple audience.

"It's a different phase of matter entirely," Platt says. "It's not a conventional solid. It doesn't have atoms and molecules. It's something else again. It's also almost indestructible."

"It had better be," Vaughn says. "A slight modification to the brick would constitute data corruption, and the original matter couldn't be recovered. Ms. Platt, I'm sold. I would be delighted to make use of your bank's services. I'd like to make use of an encrypted safe deposit box right away."

Platt beams again.

There follows a trip to an office, and the better part of an hour of paperwork.

Finally, Vaughn has his chance. He's alone with an unlocked safe deposit box and the unattended cryptomatter machine.

He doesn't bother to load anything into the hopper. He pulls up an extremely complex code on his phone and presents it to the machine's reader. It whines into life, drawing down an unusually large amount of power.

"It's not an encryptor," he says. "And proprietary CryptoMatter is an extremely dumb first pass at the technology. It's just an encoder. It just permutes the quantum information in the hopper space. In a totally predictable way. It's going to be a real problem if this ever gets popular..."

Now he has a slab of CryptoMatter. He enters a different code for the decryption, or rather decoding, step. Not the same code as before. And the CryptoMatter doesn't decode to a chunk of fresh hopper air. It decodes to a solid slab of platinum.

"That's the stuff," Vaughn says. He goes to lift the platinum out.

He can't.

It's too heavy. He can't even get his fingers around it. The slab won't budge a millimetre. It must weigh a tonne. Or rather, more than fifty kilograms. Even if he can lift it, how is he going to get it out of here without looking suspicious?


He's used up his two uses of the machine, so there's no way to turn it back into lightweight cryptomatter.

He thinks for a while.

He goes to the door. "Ms. Platt?"

She is waiting patiently. "Can I help?"

"Yes. I... seem to have... hit a technical problem while trying to encrypt my slab of platinum. And I've used up both my uses of the machine. Could you help me?"

Platt uses her discretionary authority to give him a third attempt. He puts the CryptoMatter in the safe deposit box, thanks Platt, and leaves.

And spends a long time trying to think of another way to do this.

Next: Urbane In Urbana

Discussion (18)

2020-11-28 22:15:15 by qntm:

1,310 words. Running total is 53,044 words. Eh... I wanted to do some more serious exploration of this cryptomatter concept but I think this doesn't get far enough into it. My feeling is that it might actually be broken as a concept because it rather breaks the universe.

2020-11-28 22:32:09 by skztr:

the additional weight could be caused via padding the input to specific widths; We can assume that there is a source of "random information" in order to fill out that space. So I'm not seeing anything that violates basic laws of physics here, given how unspecified everything involved is. At least, no more than a standard "transporter beam", in terms of shifting information around and doing maths to it. The only part that doesn't work for me is "random guy off the street figures out what this technology could be used for, and uses it without anyone else having already done so to the point of invalidating the economy before this device gets this close to the consumer level". This one would fit well in the same universe as the "Matter Multiplier" that stole the Statue of Liberty.

2020-11-28 22:37:12 by rictic:

For anyone else wondering how much the platinum bar would weigh, I found (3 inches * 5 inches * 12 inches) as dimensions of a small safe deposit box, and 21.45 g cm^-3 for the density of platinum, giving a weight of 63kg or 139 lbs. Definitely not easy to carry! Worth about $2 million. Wolfram Alpha knows price and density, so this is the query to repro that result: (3 inches * 5 inches * 12 inches) * (platinum density) * (price of platinum)

2020-11-29 00:00:47 by ontploffing:

It looks like this is an arbitrary energy-matter converter with math as a third component to the transaction, so if you have a source of good math, you have post-scarcity as long as you have access to Folding at Home or as long as you can pay your AWS bill.

2020-11-29 00:23:54 by John F:

Now, the thing is, I don't know what Vaughn is afraid of, law-wise. He isn't STEALING anything! Now, his scheme won't be of any practical use once the word gets out. It is an interesting spin in that it's a way to turn electricity into money, profitably, until enough competitors come in that it turns into a competition of who can set more stuff on fire, more efficiently. EXACTLY like cryptocurrency.

2020-11-29 01:16:04 by John F:

I also wonder if he just failed to understand his leverage. The bald-faced bold move would be to just say, "Hey, I need help getting my huge block of platinum back out of here", and daring them to accuse him of it not being his, when they have such very careful controls to ensure the bidirectional client-property invariant. And they would play along! I mean, if you've ever read Pratchett's Making Money, he makes the explicit theme that banks are a shared illusion, and they will do ANYTHING to support that suspension of disbelief. They would bend over backwards to help him get his $2 million chunk of platinum dealt with, possibly even directly accepting it as a deposit for a fee, leaving him free with a cool $1.95 million in his new deposit account. Just make sure to pay the taxes! It might be just a matter of time before word gets out, but hey, with a good chunk of seed capital like that, one could make a killing in the commodities markets if one knew that kind of supply glut was imminent. Or even better, sign a nice quiet agreement to NOT crash the commodities markets, and walk off with even MORE money and not even have to figure out how to get the production scaled up!

2020-11-29 01:31:33 by Luna:

Ooh, I rather like this. I'm getting vibes of your "Free Light Stations" draft from 2010, did you draw any inspiration from that?

2020-11-29 03:58:52 by Hakurei06:

At first I misread platinum as plutonium and thought things were going to get thaumonuclear. in most banks, it's typically listed in your lease that you are not to put items of unusual value (i.e exceeding 10,000 usd) in your safety deposit box, this is for both liability reasons and as an anti-money laundering measure. Even if the bank permits the deposit, they will almost certainly have to report the transaction to FinCen, and if they seize the slab through civil forfeiture, Vaughn will have no real means to reclaim it, especially since he pulled it out of literal thin air.

2020-11-29 13:37:44 by jzr:

The thing breaks conservation of energy, so it could trivially be used to build a perpetual motion machine. Even if it didn't break it, that would arguably be worse, since the mass differential would mean enough waste heat emitted in a couple of seconds to vaporize a large chunk of the planet.

2020-11-29 14:52:50 by Donald:

We can figure out what is actually going on here by analysing the physics. The energy use is quite a lot, but not a huge amount. It doesn't vaporize the bank. This sounds like chemical energy scales, not nuclear. The crypto-matter blocks have a different mass. Therefore atoms are being added or removed. The cryptomatter machine has to have a hopper full of each element. (Or at least a hopper that gets filled up as people encrypt an element, and empties as it is decrypted. ) The encoded blocks don't contain the actual atoms, at most they contain information about how to rearrange the atoms. The man isn't conjuring platinum out of nowhere, he is steeling it from the bank, which is why platinum is still valuable in this world.

2020-11-29 23:24:08 by lxgr:

Ooh, I like this one! Not sure if regolith is shimmery, but for a second I thought that this was going for a "space exchange" type teleporter, with the key being transformed into spatial coordinates indexing some anonymous chunk inside the moon. The punchline could be finding a way to refer to earth coordinates instead.

2020-12-02 12:45:19 by ryankrage77:

50kg (or even 63kg, as calculated by rictic) is not all that difficult to carry. It's about the weight of a large CRT monitor. With a little more planning, Vaughn could have created a slab with a handle at one end, pulled it out & put it into a rucksack or briefcase. I find it hard to believe he can calculate a collision to decrypt random matter into platinum, but can't think of how to transport it.

2020-12-04 17:33:21 by Ratherdashing:

The way I read this was that the machine has a store of platinum which it uses as some sort of “encoding medium.” So I didn’t think that he created platinum, he stole it. The machine has a separate store of platinum that it uses to combine with the matter that is input.

2020-12-21 20:05:24 by Felipe:

I don't see why the machine would need to have a store of platinum. All it needs for conservation of mass (if that is even a concern) is to have some hydrogen to reconfigure into platinum.

2021-01-09 03:33:49 by D:

Maybe it has a supply of bismuth, iron, and hydrogen, so that it can produce most normal elements by using quantities of the above to match the target element's energy per nucleon. That way it also can't make plutonium.

2021-02-01 22:43:03 by David:

Remember: "It's a different phase of matter entirely," Platt says. "It's not a conventional solid. It doesn't have atoms and molecules. It's something else again. It's also almost indestructible." So no, the bank doesn't have 63kg of platinum behind the machine somewhere, although it might have dirt, water, or hazardous waste (google "cheapest material by weight"). Since it's doing direct alchemy (otherwise it couldn't get to-from the CryptoMatter state) it only needs raw mass.

2021-02-19 18:21:33 by Matt:

I love the concept of CryptoMatter. I see it as essentially an extension of the Star Trek Replicator. So, maybe it should exist in a world where that kind of thing already exists. I was also thinking... it would be interesting to think of other things that could be encrypted, maybe not just items but maybe people as well! Imagine a world where criminals, political prisoners, etc are not "imprisoned" as such but are "encrypted" by the state. So that the only possibility of their freedom is knowledge of their encrypted code. Perhaps a story where imprisoned people's code is being destroyed, and their transformation into CryptoMatter becomes a retroactive death sentence. I could see a personal narrative in which a son/daughter is trying to navigate the court system to save their imprisoned father/mother's code. The dialogue between the protagonist and the state officials could serve as a vehicle for the philosophical implications of the system, which could reflect the way we feel about imprisoned people in our own society. Then, you could end the story with the protagonist's victory, the code is about to be printed to a piece of paper and handed to them, only for a large solar flare to wipe out the memory banks of the system, effectively killing everyone in the system. That's just a first run at it, but it's an exciting idea! Seems macabre, but my old writing instructor used to say, "If you love your characters, make them suffer!" --Matt

2022-11-08 19:06:47 by qntm:

Randomly discovered a day or two ago that actually this isn't a totally original idea of mine. I got it from an old episode of Blake's 7 called "Gold". In the episode, the gold is turned into a useless black substance for shipping, which makes it pointless to try to steal it in transit, because only the recipient can turn it back to normal. I interpreted this as a form of "encrypted matter", but didn't make a careful enough note of the idea's origin. This story doesn't take the idea all that much further, though.

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