Thursday, October 19, 2006


Teleportation involves dematerializing an object at one point, and sending the details of that object's precise atomic configuration to another location, where it will be reconstructed. What this means is that time and space could be eliminated from travel -- we could be transported to any location instantly, without actually crossing a physical distance.

In 1993, the idea of teleportation moved out of the realm of science fiction and into the world of theoretical possibility. It was then that physicist Charles Bennett and a team of researchers at IBM confirmed that quantum teleportation was possible, but only if the original object being teleported was destroyed. This revelation, first announced by Bennett at an annual meeting of the American Physical Society in March 1993, was followed by a report on his findings in the March 29, 1993 issue of Physical Review Letters. Since that time, experiments using photons have proven that quantum teleportation is in fact possible.

For a person to be transported, a machine would have to be built that can pinpoint and analyze all of the 1028 atoms that make up the human body. That's more than a trillion trillion atoms. This machine would then have to send this information to another location, where the person's body would be reconstructed with exact precision. Molecules couldn't be even a millimeter out of place, lest the person arrive with some severe neurological or physiological defect.

In the Star Trek episodes, and the spin-off series that followed it, teleportation was performed by a machine called a transporter. This was basically a platform that the characters stood on, while Scotty adjusted switches on the transporter room control boards. The transporter machine then locked onto each atom of each person on the platform, and used a transporter carrier wave to transmit those molecules to wherever the crew wanted to go. Viewers watching at home witnessed Captain Kirk and his crew dissolving into a shiny glitter before disappearing, rematerializing instantly on some distant planet.

If such a machine were possible, it's unlikely that the person being transported would actually be "transported." It would work more like a fax machine -- a duplicate of the person would be made at the receiving end, but with much greater precision than a fax machine. But what would happen to the original? One theory suggests that teleportation would combine genetic cloning with digitization.

In this biodigital cloning, tele-travelers would have to die, in a sense. Their original mind and body would no longer exist. Instead, their atomic structure would be recreated in another location, and digitization would recreate the travelers' memories, emotions, hopes and dreams. So the travelers would still exist, but they would do so in a new body, of the same atomic structure as the original body, programmed with the same information.

But like all technologies, scientists are sure to continue to improve upon the ideas of teleportation, to the point that we may one day be able to avoid such harsh methods. One day, one of your descendents could finish up a work day at a space office above some far away planet in a galaxy many light years from Earth, tell his or her wristwatch that it's time to beam home for dinner on planet X below and sit down at the dinner table as soon as the words leave his mouth.


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