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BEAM ME UP - LOSE THE FLAB WHILST YOUR AT IT, SCOTTIE
Brian Runciman
...What of genuine problems? Unfortunately this is a biggie.


Matter Transference- Now you see it, now you see it again.
Star Trek, of course. The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, a little. Blake’s 7, if you must. The Fly, ugh. Aah the dream of all slightly overweight science fiction fans (it’s OK, I’m 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 that’s the same piece light over in the corner that was over here before. Wow! Breakthrough, because light can’t move on its own…no, wait, it’s the fastest thing in the Universe. Hmm, perhaps this experiment isn’t quite as amazing as we thought…’

There are problems with the whole idea of matter transference, real and imagined. Let’s 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, let’s not forget the scene in the first Star Trek movie that you don’t quite see. Inside-out, that’s going to mark your velour jump suit.

But let’s 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’. Let’s face it, that definition does not require a molecular dissolution and re-assembly. You could be carried to your car and effectively you’ve 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 you’ve 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? You’re 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, Heisenberg’s 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). Isn’t ISDN good enough for you people?
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, I’ll 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.
Let’s stick with the beautiful dreams, the reality may be unpalatable.

© Brian Runciman,2001
email: brunciman@hq.bcs.org.uk

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