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It is a jewel-encrusted black box, seemingly made out of a dark exotic wood, a mere few inches across, so it can be held rather comfortably in one hand, although it certainly feels a little bit heavy for its size.

At first glance, it might even seem a bit cheap. However, there is something remarkable about this box: the top panel can be opened and items placed inside; Once it is closed again a turning-gear sound is heard and the top panel locks and becomes inaccessible; After about 7 hours, the top lock reopens and a previously invisible lower panel also pops open, with whatever items were placed in the top panel perfectly duplicated in the bottom panel, as far as you can tell.

Rynn's Jewlery Box

You gained control of the box seemingly by accident. Someone you met briefly seems to have left it behind. Come to think of it, you don't remember the night very clearly. You do recall her name was Rynn and she had an easy laugh and eyes so green you could almost swear they had an inner glow of their own. Much of the rest was a blur. A wonderful blur.

What is the best way to use the box? You've considered placing money, diamonds, or LSD inside. However, you're just a regular person living somewhere in the Western world. You wouldn't even know where to buy LSD from if you wanted to. You're not a drug dealer or a diamond merchant, and you don't want drug lords, or worse, the government, or for that matter anyone else taking it away. It's not (just) greed: you're still holding on to the hope that Rynn might return one day for her box.

*EDIT: In response to the perhaps predictable cries for clarification, I refuse to engage in a definition of what "good" is (as I see it, an exercise best left for philosophy.stackexchange.com) but rather reaffirm the initial goals. The goal is to use the box, while incurring only a trivially small chance of getting discovered, in a way that would seem rational and reasonable to a moderately socially-apt, moderately ethical, moderately-well educated and moderately financially savvy Westerner.

EDIT 2: Ok, What is an efficient way to use the box to get obscenely rich and/or do the most helpful deeds towards bettering the state of mankind (according to your best judgement) while ensuring that your use of the box remains undetected and the box stays in your possession?

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    $\begingroup$ Now if I could just find that bottle labeled "drink me," the real fun could begin! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 '15 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon, I do think that's a different Alice! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Oct 3 '15 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ "Best" is highly subjective... I suggest you narrow down what exactly you're trying to acheive with the box so that the answers aren't all over the place. (As it stands, the criteria for choosing an answer might range from 'does the most good,' 'maximizes personal gain,' or even 'most amusing.') $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Oct 4 '15 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for a cool question, but I have to vote to close. @2012rcampion is right; "best" could refer to anything. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 4 '15 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ Put in a camera that's running. Whatever comes out will probably be very interesting to look back over (on both of the disks). $\endgroup$ – Erik Oct 4 '15 at 7:31

10 Answers 10

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Economics works well for you whether your goals are purely humanitarian or totally opportunistic.

Regardless of your final goal, you need to take advantage of economies of scale. Making currency won't work long term because of the serial numbers, so you'll have to go down to the local pawn shop and get a few pieces of ordinary gold jewelry. Duplicate them several times and sell them until you can afford a more serious gemstone, and build a website. Start shipping the gems out to those who will buy it without a certificate. Get progressively more and more expensive materials - tanzanite and so on.

The box plays a less and less important role after a time. You now have a significant amount of capital which you may invest however you like. At some point you'll need to hire someone to handle your money. Do everything through shell companies and try to keep it separate from the surprising amount of diamonds and tanzanite you produced. Now you're buying and selling ideas, companies, patents and factories.

From here, you will be guided strictly by whatever moral code moves you most. For myself, I like to think I would purchase patents on the most expensive medications in the world and free release them, while turning around and funding the research that those fees were paying for. This will save far more lives than duplicating or purchasing the medications themselves could. It will also give you a global platform on which to solicit charitable gifts for more good deeds.

If evil and greed are your thing, pick your targets and watch them fall to the power of simply going bankrupt. If that isn't as much fun, buying "accidents" shouldn't set you back much, unless the target is very high profile.

What's interesting is that the above two scenarios aren't actually mutually exclusive - nothing actually stops you from saving the masses and killing the few. It just all depends on what flavor of self-aggrandizement you are into.

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    $\begingroup$ And if you're thinking of duplicating diamonds, be very careful it isn't one of those with a serial number engraved on the girdle. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Oct 3 '15 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ Cut diamonds in general are going to be a bad idea. Two or more identical cut diamonds (down to the imperfections) is extremely unlikely. Maybe all diamonds look alike to us, but an actual jewel merchant sees them as distinct. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Oct 4 '15 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Brythan, I totally agree. Raw precious ores will be the easiest to get away with. But if you build a strong network to fence your items, and if the jewels themselves aren't unique enough that they wind up with names, and they are spread far enough apart, the pieces being sold could become pretty seriously valuable. Just don't go duplicating the Pink Panther or anything - getting too greedy will get you discovered, and probably shot. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Oct 4 '15 at 5:16
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The best thing you can do is stay small. That's not to say poor, mind you, just small.

As has been indicated, cash is not a good idea, due to serial numbers. Neither, oddly enough, are gemstones. Since you want to stay inconspicuous, providing a stream of gems which are exactly identical, to .01 carat, will sooner or later catch the curiosity of somebody.

I assume you can afford $1200.

That will get you a Gold Eagle nowadays: one ounce of gold and the most commonly sold (in the US) bullion coin around. And bullion coins are what you want, since basically nobody cares about anything except weight. You have not specified the exact inner dimensions of The Box, but let's start with 1" x 3" x 4". If this were filled with a custom ingot, it would weigh about 3.6 kg, or 117 troy ounces. At 1200 per ounce, that's about 141k. Since we're talking coins rather than a full ingot, you can only fit 48 gold eagles in this space (8 layers of 6 coins), for a total value (at 1200) of 57.6k. A day's work (3 duplications) will get you 172.8k.

Nice work if you can get it.

Staying small is a good thing in this case. Pay taxes on your gold sales, and maybe set yourself up with a small coin store as a laundering device. Run the box once a year.

As an alternative format, get a few ounces of gold dust. Then move up to Alaska and buy a nice big tract of land which has a river which seems a good prospect for panning. Then start duplicating your gold dust, and if anyone asks, you hit the most outrageous lode in the river. Nobody is likely to raise alarm flags. Plus, as a bonus, when you decide to move on, you'll be able to sell the land at very good price to anybody who wants to see if you missed anything.

Now, if you've got ambitions, you can find an outlet for all the gold you can produce. How much is that? Since a custom ingot seems reasonable in this case, your total gold production is about 105 million per year, assuming 3 duplications per day, working 5 days per week and taking 2 weeks vacation per year. This, while rather better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, is too much to hide, but too small to provide the corruption required to get the feds to overlook it. You might do well to move to a less-developed country, with all the problems (particularly security) which that entails.

As a security measure, run up a few loads of gold and cache them in various locations, just in case. And start collecting cheap jewelry boxes. Everybody needs a hobby, and the Purloined Letter approach seems quite reasonable. In the real box, insert a wooden spacer in the box, then run the box. The result, until you remove the original and duplicate spacers, will be a box which is too small for your custom ingots - just in case someone decides to check.

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    $\begingroup$ It's somehow depressing to see that even if you keep duplicating big lumps of gold out of thin air, 24/7, all year round you'll not even come near the range of income of any large company... $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Apr 7 '16 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ Eventually buy some land in a likely place and switch to rare earths. They can give a bigger bang for the volume. They also help spur high tech development. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jul 10 '18 at 21:28
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Again, you haven't defined the starting conditions.

Many people in the Western world have savings and/or credit.

If you can get your hands on enough liquid funds, you can move directly into reproducing something of value (instead of counterfeiting): perfect flawless rubies (there are stores that sell them) (diamonds are over-rated), platinum coins, etc.

If you can afford platinum to start, that's what I'd start with - as there are less hassles. Otherwise, get gold (couple thousand dollars).

After you've got a couple duplicates of that, and you're filling your volume completely (melt and mold until you have maxed out the volume), you should move to rare-earths (this will take some time and money to get shipped to you; they don't have local stores for that). Those run on the $10,000+ per ounce/scale. Make sure you're optimizing your 7hr increments. Then, perhaps onto high-end complex microchips or complex drugs (legal ones - AIDs drugs come to mind, but there are others that are also difficult to produce); after you've created an appropriate shell company to sell them. Learning where to get these things (or how to optimize them for size) is merely a problem of applying money. If you've got the money, you can get anything you want - you can even have someone else figure out where to get it, if you can pay them.

Also, consider duplicating rare species' eggs and zygotes, if the preservation stuff for the IVF can be made to fit in the box; it's only got to keep it cold for 7ish hours. And, maybe you can run the box at a super-chilled temperature (does it generate heat when working?), then you just need the gloves and you can pack that stuff in.

You should also do some tests to find out if it's generating mass, or if it's converting already existing mass. If it is creating mass then you should consider going to space, as you have the best nano-factory in existence. Long-term, getting something serious and stable set up in space is what will best help the Earth as a whole.

Anyways, money/capital allows you do to lots of things. Hire engineers, develop new products, fix the things that're broken in the world.

Also, making the assumption that taking it apart and/or destructive testing is out of the question.

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  • $\begingroup$ Platinum is actually presently cheaper than gold, by about 20%, per unit weight. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 5 '15 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Why is platnum less hassle? There are places that buy and sell gold at market "spot" price. I think platnum would be harder to move anonymously. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 5 '15 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't require ballast to be added too, so where would it get existing mass? If it pumped in air that would be noticable. It could be obtaining elements from our universe nonlocally and you would not know. (See Wil McCarthy's collapsium network: this box is a tiny and slow "fax" terminal). $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 5 '15 at 22:13
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Go to a friendly suburban coin shop and pick up some common but pricey gold coins. Being common and below the notice of the super-fine-art people, you can sell copies on ebay and other more specialized sites.

An ounce of gold or platinum costs thousands of dollars, but are easy to buy and sell. Collectible coins are more valuable than bullion for the same mass.

Does the mass of the object make a difference to the cycle time or some kind of side effect?

Does it work magically on the quantum level? Duplicating quantum states in violation of the no cloning theorem would allow you to break quantum encryption and other related things like get information back out of zero-knowledge proofs.

Since it lets you violate the uncertainty principle (find the exact momentum and position, for example) it could potentially be amplified to violate physics on a larger scale. That is, a little bit of magic confined to a single app could be bootstrapped into fully general magical abilities.

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  • $\begingroup$ As long as it fits in the box, we're good, as far as I can tell so far. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Oct 3 '15 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ An ounce of gold (with gold being the currently most expensive of the regular precious metals: gold, silver, platinum, palladium) fetches a bit more than $1000 at present. Hardly "thousands of dollars". You really do want to stay away from precious metal bars, though, as those tend to come with serial numbers and certificates that can be checked. 1800s gold coins might be a good choice there; they come in different sizes (from a few grams of gold and up), don't attract a lot of attention, and for all intents and purposes can be considered unmarked, mass produced items. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 5 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ I have (modern) gold bullion coins issued by a variety of countries; they don't have serial numbers. Non-government rounds and bars will have their artwork and/or hallmark, and don't generally have serial numbers in this size. Re "thousands": well, it was higher, but I was referring to the order of magnitude: 4 digits. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 5 '15 at 22:06
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Sure, you can use €500 notes, buy gold coins, tinker with selling diamonds, but really, you don't want to get caught or to attract attention (plus how much money do you really need, when you know you can generate more on demand?)

However, it'd be a pity to leave this gift unused, since I'm assuming it's not going to 'run out' or anything, being sufficiently-advanced-as-to-be-undistinguishable-from-magic nanotech. What you want to do is to replicate and give away anonymously to those who need it the most expensive and rare medicine.

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Since you're so clearly hoping to find Rynn again, the best use of the box is as an attractant to help you find Rynn.

Forget making millions, or ruling the world, destroying it, or being the worlds most powerful person. In almost any scheme that uses the box to duplicate valuables and help you make money, you will quickly attract unwanted attention, which puts your box at risk; what if someone spies on you and sees how the box works and decides to take it for himself? What if he decides to kill you in the process? What if the government decides that it wants to study it? (After all, if used properly it could potentially be the key to a perpetual motion machine)

Instead, you should put a picture of it on social media/ebay/craigslist or something, asking to sell it/return it to owner, and wait for Rynn to show up so you can give it back to her as a token of friendship, and perhaps you'll be able to spark a new relationship or something like that.

In the meantime, you can save yourself some money on sustenance by duplicating canned goods and instant ramen/water bottles until Rynn returns.

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You can do all of the above, you have a freaking magic box.

(I would probably suggest NOT searching "Magic Box" from work btw...)

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First, when trying to be sneaky and hide the movement of things you "shouldn't" have it never hurts to be obscenely wealthy and have companies under your control.

So, step one simply put, make yourself rich. If you want to keep the box a hidden secret you're going to have to take your time otherwise pesky economic watchdogs may start to notice you pulling money out of your ass (metaphorically of course).

So pick whatever you want to duplicate...cash seems like the obvious and relatively painless option considering you don't want people to find out about the box not to mention you don't then have to try and sell goods that you have no right to sell.

The more rare and expensive and obscure item you copy the more difficult it will be to move those items...copying diamonds would get challenging in any significant number, same goes for most relatively rare items. Stick with cash and use different kinds, not just Euros or Dollars. Hide it and gradually start investing it and saving it...PAY YOUR TAXES, don't be Al Capone. Precious metals may be an even better option, just your standard, gold/silver/platinum...no serial numbers...

Second, now that you are crazy wealthy, invest that money into places to make more money, buy companies, preferably in the areas you plan to manipulate later with your wizard box. You are essentially creating a cover for your secret.

Third, well now its time to do your good. You could buy pharma companies and distribute drugs to anyone that needs them, some drugs can cost Seven Figures..., you could create global education programs for the impoverished (though that doesn't directly utilize the box), you could destroy the diamond market to eliminate those conflicts, hrmm what else...the options in this section are only limited to the items that will actually fit into the box.

You can't fix the middle east...that whole oil thing, the box won't really help on that, but you can support renewable energy research with your box begotten goods so that wouldn't hurt.


There is an option 2 however...

Sometimes the "greatest" good is in the smallest deeds. Simply wander the planet helping people you meet. Copy some food for the hungry living on the street, a dose of expensive medicine for a sick child, 50 bucks for someone to make rent that keeps them from sliding into poverty and losing hope...

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the industrial-scale helping better. Helping a little here helps ... a little. Fish today and all that jazz. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Oct 5 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa yeah option 2 is a little more the butterfly effect approach, you know the whole, we don't know how far the ripples of our actions will go. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 5 '15 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Duplicating cash will get the Secret Service on your case for counterfeiting. $\endgroup$ – glyphin Oct 7 '15 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @glyphin only if they actually start comparing serial numbers...which is not easy to do. And like I said start slow and amass wealth gradually. Comparing the serial numbers of two 20 dollars bills that are in active circulations is nearly impossible. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 9 '15 at 14:46
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Considering the two edits i realize that

  1. the question basically boils down to: What is has a volume of 10x8x5 cm³ / 2 (the duplicate also has to fit) and has the most potential of benefit for me and mankind (ruling out gold and other elements) but
  2. since Rynn seemes to have forgotten to attach safety instructions or a manual it is unsafe to use the box at all when you care about morals at all because
    • you do not know where the matter for the duplicated object(s) comes from. The people you're trying to help may be the ones the box takes from in the first place. Think AIDS meds... you don't want to take them away from someone to give them to someone else
    • You seem to love Rynn because of the way you describe the night and how wonderful and mesmerizing it was. You are very likely in love and you don't want to be judged by her upon her return
    • you should be afraid of causing market inbalances that cause a fatal chain reaction for economy and thus be harmful to mankind as a whole

Leaving all that beside the box is not large enough to make a big difference, especially since the duplication interval is 7 hours (your first batch should be caffeine pills). If you really want to to something useful with that box then something like slowly repopulating the seas with fish would be an excellent idea. But 7 hours in a box is way too long for a fish even if you fill the box with salt water.

Sooner or later you'll probably realize that the best way to help someone at all is to duplicate something of great value (gold, diamonds, art) and sell the stuff to the super rich thus making enough money to spend it for the goal of helping mankind.

Again, if you consider the possible consequences of your actions you would not use the box at all and instead try to help the world without it. You can take it along as an emergency fallback for, let's say you get stranded in a desert and you need to replicate your water reserves. Apart from that there is no need or place for this magical box in this world at all.

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As long as you are careful it's very unlikely that duplicating currency will be noticed. Yes, the serial numbers are going to match but who is going to compare serial numbers to bills that aren't together?

Get money from the bank, duplicate it, deposit it in another bank. Spend the duplicated money.

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  • $\begingroup$ You want to be careful counterfeiting. They have currency scanners nowadays. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Oct 4 '15 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user3082 But what is a currency scanner going to see? The money is legit by every possible test. The only way it can be exposed is if someone sees both the original and the duplicate and so long as they are far apart the odds of that happening are remote. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 4 '15 at 22:31
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You don't need to be a diamond dealer to buy diamonds, the diamond industry has convinced millions of people to buy diamond engagement rings every year. So you can buy diamonds and other gems - emeralds, rubies, pearls, sapphires, etc. - and (ordinary) jewelry using those gems, make copies, and sell the copies for less than you bought the originals to make a profit.

Keep bank deposit boxes and stashes full of gems in case of emergency.

You could buy model soldiers and figurines, the more expensive kinds that sell for tens of dollars apiece, check for serial numbers, etc., and if they don't have serial numbers hand paint them if necessary and duplicate them. Assemble sets of many from the same era (Roman empire, Cavalry vs Indians, WWII, etc.) and from different manufacturers and then offer them online as sets assembled by a user.

Buy rolls of coins from banks, duplicate them, and get cash for the duplicate coins and/or rolls at other banks or coin machines. Use duplicated coins to buy stuff from coin operated vending machines and duplicate that stuff so you never have to buy any more again.

Buy sets of batteries, duplicate them, and sell sets of batteries.

Buy collectible coins, but relatively cheap and common ones, so that nobody will wonder where the 13th Coin X suddenly appeared from. Duplicate and sell them. Buy sets of relatively cheap coins like state quarters from all 50 US states and duplicate and sell them. Also old, collectible paper money.

Buy collectible stamps, but not too expensive or rare. Assemble them into several sets with different stamps, and duplicate the various sets. Sell sets of assorted stamps.

If you have tools, duplicate the ones small enough to fit inside the magic box and sell sets of small tools. Buy kits for nail care, for example, and sell them.

Buy packages of nails and screws, etc., duplicate them, and sell them.

Buy relatively common and cheap autographs and signatures, duplicate them, and sell the duplicates.

Buy historic letters and other documents, but not too rare, important, or unique, and duplicate. Sell duplicate historical documents, but not too many duplicates of a specific one.

Buy all the merchandise from dollar stores that is small enough to fit in your copying machine and duplicate, and open a dollar store selling those duplicates plus larger dollar priced stuff that you actually have to gasp! shudder! buy.

Assemble wads of cash from bills that are used enough so the serial numbers will be non consecutive and duplicate them. Spends those wads of cash or deposit them in different banks.

If you can acquire nuclear fuel pellets you can duplicate and sell them. If you can acquire uranium ore you can duplicated the uranium ore. If you duplicate enough uranium ore and fuel pellets (but store it safely to avoid incidents) you can provide enough clean energy to power the world with greatly reduced use of fossil fuels.

I think that you should be able to make tens, then hundreds, then thousands of dollars per day via duplication. If you duplicate stuff you need so you don't have to pay for it you can save some money every day. If you invest all that extra money you should be able to become reasonably rich rather fast.

Then you would have to figure out how to go from reasonably rich to super rich - a difficult process, but one which thousands of billionaires have accomplished without the help of your magic box.

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