Teleportation for the [Atomic] Masses


There are a few of articles out today touting the creation of a new, better form of teleportation down in Australia (and if anyone needs it, they do). But in all of the "Beam be up, Scotty" articles I found, they always seemed to skip the details and just ask "So how long until I can beam myself from New York to Los Angeles?"

I would have thought that people who got excited about the science fictional potential of teleportation would also get a kick from the real science, but perhaps not.

Here’s the best article I could find thus far, for those of you who want some better details. And then lets get into the meat of the issue.

Now, what’s so cool about this is that they didn’t have to use quantum entanglement at all. Entanglement, for practical human teleportation, was a dead end because it requires us to start with a pool of entangled particles for both sender and receiver, meaning the "receiver" pool still has to be physically transported to the destination, wait there, and then somehow "become" the object we wanted to send, which btw, was made up of those other entangled particles and they get used up each time — not entirely practical for sending people, let alone faxes. However, there are still some properties of entanglement that might be useful for faster-than-light communication down the road, which is still currently considered "impossible" for various reasons.

This new method uses a Bose-Einstein Condensate (a super cold pool of atoms) on both ends. It’s still not even close to practical for objects or people, but at least there’s no requirement that the source and destination pools ever physically meet. That’s a huge plus.

Unfortunately, the quantum properties being sent will, as far as I can tell, only survive while the matter is in BEC form, at close to absolute zero temperature. And there is still no method for scanning the quantum properties of common matter, only the original BEC, which has such magical properties to begin with.

But regardless, let’s imagine this technology a few (million) steps down the road, and see if any of this hoopla even makes sense.

Imagine we have some Star Trek quality quantum scanning technology, some way to store all that information in a signal, and a receiver pad that can turn that information back into living matter (forget about beaming down to a planet’s surface — ain’t gonna happen).

In any reasonable scenario, the technology would scan an original, beam the information, create a copy, and then destroy the original, once the signal was confirmed. [short aside: an apocryphal story from the early days of faxing had someone receive the same fax 20 times. He called to ask why, and the clueless secretary on the other end replied, "I tried to send it, but it kept coming back…"]

The question Star Trek asked once or twice, but which I’d ask every time, is "what happens to the original me?" Clearly, if the transporter never destroys the original, then the transporter is more of a matter duplicator, like the replicator. You could easily make a million copies of me (and that’s a bad idea for many reasons).

Even if you don’t think consciousness is anything more than the states of neurons in the brain, and all of those incredibly dynamic states can be captured in an instant and recreated perfectly, it’s still a new copy of me. The copy would think it was me, would even remember stepping onto into teleporter machine. But the original me would also have the experience of being killed. And since I’m the original me, I might not like that. If I wasn’t killed, I might think of my copy as a clone at best — and ask yourself this: if you created a clone of yourself, would you willing die so that your clone could live? I think not.

It gets even worse if you believe in the soul, since we’d then need a way to teleport that too, assuming it exists in normal space and time.

Now, what Star Trek purists might claim is that the machine actually "turns you into energy." It’s not really destroying the original, but rather transforming it, sending it as "pure energy," and reforming it into matter on the other end.

To that, I say, if I turn you into any other form, even if I say, cut you in half, you will likely cease to be alive. Turning you into pure energy and still keeping you alive seems a bit harder to pull off.

On the other hand, faxing inanimate objects would still be quite useful. But more importantly for the future, the replicator and holodeck technologies are the ones we really want. Forget teleportation. I mean, why would we ever need to teleport anywhere if we can faithfully recreate the remote destination where we are? Why travel at all, if you can bring the remote location to you?

Not that Star Trek has to make, you know, sense, but I never understood why the protocol wasn’t to send virtual surrogates for themselves — sensors and actuators (e.g., robots) that perhaps even looked a bit like them — down to hostile planets, while the real, vulnerable people stayed safely in the holodeck, virtually experiencing what their surrogates see and controlling what they do.

If the Holodeck is so good, there would seem to be no difference to the "landing party," except perhaps that no one (red shirt or not) would get killed. Of course, it’s much less dramatic that way…

 

  1. #1 by Daniel on July 12, 2007 - 8:59 am

    Something tells me that it might not feel pleasant going through what might be the process of spaghettification, in the process of teleporting my matter to another location. Ouch.

  2. #2 by avi on July 12, 2007 - 9:09 am

    Something tells me you wouldn’t feel anything, as your neurons wouldn’t exist during the process. But to the original you being killed, depending on the method (or not), I think you might not enjoy the experience.

  3. #3 by Daniel on July 13, 2007 - 8:06 am

    Good point. I suppose if it’s instantaneous enough anyway — the nervous system wouldn’t have enough time to react as well. Much like if one blows-up in a bomb explosion, they don’t actually feel anything in the instant they’re being ripped apart.

  4. #4 by Frank L. Quednau on July 14, 2007 - 11:22 am

    Hi,
    I had to look up ‘apocrophal’ (funny word) and was delighted to see tat Google knew how it’s really written: ‘apocryphal’. Pedantic? Heck, no, only always keen to learn a new word! :)

  5. #5 by avi on August 5, 2007 - 12:17 pm

    Thanks, Frank. Maybe I should just publish the blog Wiki style and let everyone fix my typos for me :)

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