Has IBM discovered a way to teleport objects?

Cecil’s 1996 column on teleportation, back on the front page of the Straight Dope: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2553/has-ibm-discovered-a-way-to-teleport-objects

Some interesting research since then:

The answer is “no.”

I am reminded of John Weldon’s cartoon, “To Be.”


Cecil raises an interesting point at the end of that column. The teleported version might believe himself to be me and to all intents and purposes would be me, but is he me or a copy?

The answer is of course that the me at the other end would be certainly a copy as the IBM teleporter does not teleport particles but simply information about particles. It will use that information to construct an exact copy of every particle sent, resulting (hopefully) in something with my memories until the moment of teleportation and a precise reproduction of my body, my brain and the synaptic processes within it at the split-second before the information is sent.

These future devices will operate in one of two ways. They will gather and transmit the information and destroy the original, although the very process might destroy it anyway. Or the original will be preserved and left to its own devices, perhaps with a warning never to go within 10 light years of its clone.

Now come the problems. Good luck getting people to use a device which ends up with them being dead while their clone is left to have all the fun.

OK, let’s say the TP doesn’t kill you. You go home and suddenly realize what a chump you are. You left yourself broke paying for this trip yet you’re still here and the guy having the time of his life in Alpha Centauri is You No 2. And more, if No 2 decides to take another trip, suddenly there will be a No 3. Then a 4, then a 5 and so on. With perhaps billions using TPs it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that pretty soon the universe will be packed tightly with people squeezed up against each other who even if they could get to a TP would have nowhere to go with it that didn’t look just the same as where they already are.

And I haven’t even mentioned the problem of religion. A lot of people believe they have souls. They might wonder how the soul will be transmitted, how something that doesn’t consist of particles or in fact any information whatsoever will be copied. And if the body is destroyed does the soul vanish with it? Will a new one magically appear at the other end? It’s even trickier if we envisage the TP that preserves the original. Will each clone have a soul or will they all share the same one?

Enough. Beam me up, Scotty, and make sure you beam my soul up too!

I got up this morning and walked out of my bedroom. How do I know that my soul didn’t stay in bed when I did so? And if you drive somewhere, does the car move your soul, too?

And if the person who steps out of the teleporter has all of your memories, in what sense is it not “you”? Can you define “you” in any way that would exclude the person who steps out of the teleporter?

Is it even supposed to be possible to “clone” a particle without destroying the original? Who was suggesting that?

In the famous SF story Think Like A Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly the teleporter malfunctions and while the person is successfully transported the original is not destroyed. The dilemma presented by this was present in my mind while I wrote the post. Rather than a malfunction I imagined a teleporter which operated like that, although thinking about it it would be no way to run a TP system!

I highly recommend the story BTW, it’s very moving. In fact I think it’s been made into a film or at least an episode of a TV series.

Heh. I remember that exact question in the essay portion of the 1993 application for admission to the University of Chicago (along with a couple other oddball philosophical questions.) At any rate, it worked, as it self-selected me out.

Did the application also perchance ask how high a priority you place on on-campus parking?

Not sure if that’s a serious question, or if I’m completely being whooshed (I’m assuming the latter), but I don’t recall the other questions, except that the essay questions were similarly way too philosophical for my liking as a high school senior. These days, I’d probably find it cool, but back then, as nerdy as I could be, it was too much for me. It was also a year where they had a crazy high acceptance rate (something like 75%–so perhaps there were a lot of kids like me who just looked at those questions and said, nah, I’ll try another school). It’s currently at 8%.

So did you read James Blish’s Spock Must Die when you were a kid, like I did?

It opens with notorious transporterphobe Dr. McCoy fretting over this very issue. McCoy (1) claims that the transporter doesn’t “transport” anything—it creates a duplicate and destroys the original, and (2) is worried that the person who materializes at the other end does not have a soul. Scotty insists that McCoy is oversimplifying how transporters work; Kirk is intrigued but unconcerned. Later, Spock weighs in and says that these questions are untestable and therefore meaningless.

My 13-year-old self found this a bit creepy. :eek: I vowed never to step into a transporter, if it was invented during my lifetime.

I did read a lot of Blish when young but I missed that one. I shall certainly seek it out now though, this is just the sort of ideas SF that I’ve always loved.

In the first Star Trek movie, McCoy complained about not wanting to have his atoms spread across the universe. In this conception of teleportation, it still suggests the ideas of moving matter rather than just disassembling it in one place and re-assembling it in another.

What i dislike about this teleportation claim is that it really means a transfer of state rather than mass. A good analogy would be if I call up a friend and have him fill a glass with water while I empty one at the same time. Have I really teleported a glass of water? The Fedex comparison at least describes a transfer of the original object.

But the transfer of state is the important part. Mass is mass, and you’re constantly transferring mass between yourself and your environment anyway.

IIRC you need to set up an entangled quantum state (as well as transmit some classical information). So you are Fedexing something. Moreover the target particle ends up in an identical state to the original particle; that is kind of the point.

(Unless you are talking about Star Trek and similar fiction— teleportation there is powered by wizards and invisible demons, so conservation of mass and unitary evolution are not a problem. Idem for the simpler type of teleportation via straight miracles.)

Of course, it’s later established that the “duplicate” can coexist with the “original,” which is worrying (I’m of the opinion that it pretty much confirms McCoy’s suspicions).

This on top of the danger of being sent to the goatee universe or getting all Jekyll-and-Hyded up.

Schlock Mercenary has both types of teleportation, in a quantum sort of sense.

Wormgates would rip a hole in space-time large enough to send a ship through.

Teraports “reduce the subject to standing gravitic waves, and then transport them, and itself, through billions of nanoscopic wormholes to the destination. Picture yourself squeezing soggy pasta through the holes in a colander.”

The latter pretty much replaced the former* because wormgates required a gate at the other end and there were only a hundred thousand of them in our galaxy, requiring travel time from an available gate to a location that did not have one.

Also,It turns out that the mysterious gatekeepers were creating a copy of the ship and personnel at another location, extracting information from the crew with harsh interrogation methods, then destroying all the evidence.
*Not without some problems, like several wars.

Actually, one of the discoveries Kevyn made in the process of inventing the teraports is that the wormgates did not rip a hole large enough to send a ship through. They were, in fact, doing the exact same thing as the teraports were, with some window-dressing to make it look like they were making impossibly-big holes, so as to maintain the Gatekeepers’ monopoly on interstellar travel: Nobody would be able to figure out how the Gatekeepers managed to make such big wormholes, because that’s not what they were doing.