BEAM ME UP - LOSE THE FLAB WHILST YOUR AT IT, SCOTTIE
...What of genuine problems? Unfortunately this is a biggie.
Transference- Now you see it, now you see it again.
Star Trek, of course. The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, a little.
Blakes 7, if you must. The Fly, ugh. Aah the dream of all
slightly overweight science fiction fans (its OK, Im
one too) - travelling without any physical effort, save perhaps
a peremptory command to the computer.
Recent claims were made for the teleportation of photons from one
end of a lab to the other. Mmm
look thats the
same piece light over in the corner that was over here before. Wow!
Breakthrough, because light cant move on its own
wait, its the fastest thing in the Universe. Hmm, perhaps
this experiment isnt quite as amazing as we thought
There are problems with the whole idea of matter transference, real and
imagined. Lets start with imagined good quality imagined,
though, viz. Douglas Adams:
I teleported home one night
With Ron and Sid and Meg;
Ron stole Meggie's heart away
And I got Sidney's leg.
Ancient Sirian folk song
Plus, of course, lets not forget the scene in the first Star Trek
movie that you dont quite see. Inside-out, thats going to
mark your velour jump suit.
But lets get heavy. The word teleport comes from the Greek telos
- end and the Latin portare-to carry. So teleportation means
to carry to the end. Lets face it, that definition does
not require a molecular dissolution and re-assembly. You could be carried
to your car and effectively youve been teleported. Not an exciting
viewpoint, but etymologically accurate.
What of genuine problems? Unfortunately this is a biggie. The amount of
energy needed to breakdown a physical object of billions of atoms would
be equivalent to the energy output of a limited thermonuclear war. Plus,
putting those atoms (many of them positioned rather importantly for life)
back in the right places, in the right order is a huge logistical task
in itself. Have you ever tried building a tower out of those brightly
coloured wooden blocks that kids have? After youve exhausted the
possibilities of an Aztec temple and a Roman colonnade then you go for
sheer height. It only takes thirty blocks and the whole structure is distinctly
wobbly and future blocks are resistant to the idea of staying put. Now
multiply that scenario by billions and substitute slippery cells for blocks.
But what if we just transmit the information? Youre probably aware
that the word quantum is marching with ill-advised optimism
in the direction of this page. Quantum physics, the physics of the incredibly
small and the extremely weird, requires that you cannot say for definite
the position and velocity of any single particle. Thus the scanning, plotting,
disintegrating and reintegrating implied by teleportation becomes an intractable
puzzle. Some physicists think that this problem, Heisenbergs Uncertainty
Principle, would not have enough of an effect to completely rule out matter
transference. However I say: remember the inside-out guy
There are forms of teleportation that are possible, but these have to
do with two particles that are entangled at the quantum level (yawn) and
practical applications of this phenomenon seem restricted to super fast
transference of data (nodding off). Isnt ISDN good enough for you
Typical, take a beautiful idea and make it dull.
One other consideration: teleportation can be seen as a form of photocopying.
Now, whilst what is being suggested would not be the smudgy grey degradation
of a multiple photocopy, any teleportation technology would have the drawback
that as the perfect copy is being compiled the original would be being
destroyed. Mmm, Ill wait for Version 2.0.
Any other downsides?
In an increasingly litigious society any potential technological developments
tend to have an automatic downside. How rich would our fictional matter
transference corporation have to be to cope with the kind of lawsuits
that would ensue from our friend the soiled velour jump suit?
On the other hand they may be able to afford it. Particularly if they
could target a certain predetermined safe percentage of fat cells and
destroy them in transit. Any organisation that can guarantee instant weight
loss will have a license to print money. Sure, your skin will be a little
saggy afterwards but a bit of toning, and a nip and tuck
Suddenly we can envisage a society that, due to marvellous technology,
can behave as in a medieval court, whilst avoiding the emetic side. Gorge
on delicious food for a couple of months, through the fat destruction
beam, a weeks toning
gorge on delicious food for a couple of months,
through the fat destruction beam but you get the point.
Still, remove some brain cells by mistake and lawsuits ahoy! Then again,
perhaps the removal of some brain cells is a prerequisite.
Lets stick with the beautiful dreams, the reality may be unpalatable.
© Brian Runciman,2001
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