“There would be no Star Trek unless there were transporter malfunctions.” -LeVar Burton

Since way before even Star Trek, the idea of teleportation was featured in Shakespeare, The Arabian Nights, and even the Jewish Talmud. To disappear at one location and reappear at another has long been a science-fiction dream of humanity, but science has, thus far, declared it to be impossible. Nevertheless, there are some quantum technologies that are progressing that may, at least, enable the teleportation of the information encoding any system.

If two particles are entangled, they have complementary wavefunction properties, and measuring one determines properties of the other. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user David Koryagin.

This phenomenon, of quantum teleportation, isn’t science fiction, but rather is science itself. For the very first time, an entangled pair of particles have been separated with one remaining on Earth and the other uplinking to a satellite in space, hundreds of kilometers above the planetary surface. If we can use that information to encode an entire human being, could teleporting people be next?

GPS satellites, like the Block II-F shown here, are indispensable in daily life, from mapping services to location tracking to being able to find your nearest Pokemon. Adding quantum teleportation to a network of satellites could create the first quantum global internet. Image credit: NASA.

The science of a sci-fi technology that might become real is too exciting to pass up!

Comments

  1. #1 CFT
    July 12, 2017

    @Ethan,
    The transmission of DATA by any means you wish to fantasize is not teleportation. As to moving people about in strange and useless ways, I can already put you through a meat grinder and using Fed Ex send each microgram to another location where upon we could get all the kings horses and all the kings men and um…..oh wait a second, Oh yeah, chopping people up into countless little pieces kills them… Who knew. You aren’t made of digital DATA Ethan, you are made up of actual atoms in a very particular arrangement that if disturbed more than just a little, you die. On the absurd physics side of things…why don’t you discuss the sheer heat involved in fusing atoms together, like the carbon that makes up much of your body? Takes the power of stars dying to do that. You want to do something like that in a human body, well, you will be more than ‘well done’ when someone takes you out of that ‘transporter’ easy bake oven.
    .
    On a side note, anyone who uses the start trek analogy of the transporter of being a good way to travel should be seriously bitch slapped with a red herring and have their Nerd certification revoked. Do you even know your own goddamn Trekology? Even according the Star Trek, the transporter is a glorified suicide chamber. To make you ‘beam’ to another location, the original object, or YOU is COPIED, additional energy and instructions of how to reassemble the energy back into matter in the same pattern is sent to another location and magically creates a DUPLICATE, while the original actual you is then quietly and conveniently disintegrated as to avoid the pesky problem of having two versions of you wandering about the place asking vapid questions online, collecting social security, and making family holidays very awkward. It’s a disgusting and morally repugnant consequence of the ‘beaming’ technology concept that even the writers of Star Trek have usually decided to gloss over except in such unfortunate episodes as STTNG: “Second Chances”. A Xerox of you is not you, not even in plot device laden Star Trek episodes.

  2. #2 rich r
    July 12, 2017

    CFT, please read the article. Ethan even states that human teleportation is as far off as it ever been but also mentions that this might be a step forward in quantum computing.

  3. #3 @CFT
    Omaha,NE
    July 12, 2017

    @CFT,
    No-cloning theorem means a (quantum) teleporter cannot create copies. (I don’t think teleporter tech will ever become real though.)

  4. #4 Frank
    Omaha,NE
    July 12, 2017

    I typed name wrong.

  5. #5 Axil
    July 12, 2017

    https://phys.org/news/2017-07-physicists-retrocausal-quantum-theory-future.html

    Retrocausality as a replacement for “spooky action at a distance” makes sense where a future event can affect an event that has happened in the past.

  6. #6 CFT
    July 12, 2017

    Um…folks, I was talking about how the ‘transporter’ on star trek is said to operate. Never said anything about the silly quantum teleportation thing being the same thing, however both are fiction. There really wasn’t any teleportation of anything given that no information was actually sent faster than light. The whole transporter as physics shtick was done a long time ago, look up “The physics of Star Trek” by Lawrence M. Krauss published in 1995. Ethan is kind of late to the party already.

  7. #7 eric
    July 12, 2017

    you are made up of actual atoms in a very particular arrangement that if disturbed more than just a little, you die.

    Depends on how you disturb them. Remember, you probably “disturb” and reorganize a pound or two of the matter that makes up your body every day, just by eating, drinking and excreting.

    A Xerox of you is not you,

    That’s a philosophical position, not a scientific one. Albeit it’s a popular position, but it relies on a sort of hidden vitalism or essentialism.

    In truth, our atoms change every day. The arrangement of atoms in our brains also change every day. And the pattern of neural activity that is mind also changes every day. There is nothing “essential” that needs to be preserved for you to go to sleep, and wake up still “you” 8 hours later with some different atoms in your brain, some slightly different brain structure, and a slightly different neural pattern. As long as the duplication is as accurate as the changes that occur when you sleep, then the person exiting a duplication machine can be considered “you” just as much as the person waking up in your bed tomorrow. The difference is merely a question of rate of exchange – the duplication exchanges all of your atoms, not just a couple pounds a day – but the outcome is physically and materially the same.

  8. #8 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    July 12, 2017

    #1:

    Do you even know your own goddamn Trekology?

    Yes. Transporters break the subject down and beam its atoms along with a reference pattern to the destination, where the original is put back together. The process is spelled out in chapter 9 of the TNG tech manual in excruciating detail. Where you came up with your version is anyone’s guess.

    A Xerox of you is not you

    The Xerox of you would disagree.

  9. #9 CFT
    July 13, 2017

    @Naked Bunny with a Whip,
    No, You really don’t know your Trekology. The transporter takes your atomic pattern, not you, and recreates a copy using that pattern as a blueprint (think fax machine, not teleportation). They often techno babble (much like Ethan) about ‘pattern buffers’ and ‘Heisenberg uncertainty compensators’, but at the end of the day, they are talking about tearing the transporter victim apart with an sub atomic scale meat grinder. Sorry luv, but what you read was for the squeamish ninnies who didn’t feel comfortable with the conceptual science and how the actual concept is laid out in pretty much cannon ST and ST:TNG. To avoid the existential angst of how a transporter theoretically could work, they actually had to come up with ridiculous excuses about why they can’t keep a full copy of people lying around in several of the technical manuals, and they ignore this fake limitation whenever the plot requires it. In any case, I take great relief in the FACT that such an atomic disassembly and reassembly process would require more energy than sanely possible to generate and control (many many many megatons worth), and produce so much heat that there would be less than baryonic ash left from any maroon who decided to give it a whirl, kind of like the added benefit of a built in Darwin Award for stupidity.
    .
    As for your Xerox comment,
    It is one of the main reasons I utterly despise trans-humanists.
    It doesn’t matter if the Xerox copy of you agrees or not, it’s still a copy, it still isn’t you, it’s now another copy of you floating around vying for the same space, emotional and psychological connections and support the original had, like parents friends, lovers, employment, etc. It is a VERY BAD IDEA ethically, morally, psychologically, economically, on any level as it also creates the delusion in people such as yourself that a copy is interchangeable with the original, like a spare tire or a light bulb, software, or any other mass produced replaceable part, this leads to the complete and utter disposable commodification of human existence. Please check out The Clone Wars series from the Star Wars genre if you haven’t seen it, it follows this idea Xeroxed humanity to it’s natural conclusion, endless conflict and war without concern for casualties. You kill the original, or the copy, no worries, no crime, who cares, whip up another, hell, how about a few million others. It does not matter if this is achieved by magical cloning, or magical matter replication, the implications would be the same.
    .
    I would add that if you truly were a thoughtful STNG fan, and considered the series besides a cursory ‘cool!’ and ‘gee whiz!’ you would know this aspect of the technology dehumanization dilemma was also addressed with the android Data. An engineer admirer of Dr. Soong (Data’s creator) had a great idea, lets tear Data apart to examine his secrets and make countless copies to do all the dangerous dirty work…think of how efficient it would be. Picard was even going along with this marvelous idea until Guinan pointed out this would in effect be creating an entire disposable slave race (made even more poignant by the fact that Guinan, who was played by Whoopi Goldberg, is black) that humanity could use to hide from the consequences of exploration and discovery.

  10. #10 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    July 13, 2017

    No, You really don’t know your Trekology

    *shrugs* I cited my source. Others can decide how authoritative it is and how well the canon supports it, if they care enough.

    Sorry luv

    Well, bless your heart.

    but what you read was for the squeamish ninnies who didn’t feel comfortable with the conceptual science

    Oh, sure, man. I mean, a fictional universe with FTL travel, time warps, telepathy, and species that naturally evolve into pure energy can’t possibly be operating on different physical laws than the real one. Star Trek teleportation has got to work just like it would in real life, the same way Star Trek genetics does. (I hope our descendants get past that “allergic to water” phase quickly.)

    Anyway, it’s no fun chatting with someone who insults people for disagreeing with his headcanon, so I’m out. Enjoy your endorphin rush. Remember, it only counts if you’re the original, so here’s hoping!

  11. #11 CFT
    July 14, 2017

    @eric #7
    Lazy argument. No, a copy being presented as an original is not a philosophical, or a metaphysical question of debate, It’s already a serious problem of fact called fraud. Science is also used to discern fraud all the time, it’s a big business and has many legal ramifications that impact everyone. Let me know how much a ‘copy’ of the Mona Lisa or any other great work of art would be valued at, or how much value they would have if there was no way to discern the difference. Let me know how much someone ‘copying’ your digital identity is appreciated so they can just ‘pretend’ to be you in financial transactions. Merely copying someone’s financial information can be a serious crime because of the damage it can inflict, what do you think the results of copying an entire actual person would be?
    .
    When you consider and treat people like indiscernible, interchangeable particles, you have already lost your own humanity even as you endeavor to relieve others of theirs.
    Consider ‘should’ more and ‘could’ less.

  12. #12 Sean T
    July 14, 2017

    CFT,

    Good to hear that you’ve solved that pesky mind/body problem that has had philosophers confounded for all these centuries! Good job!

    Or perhaps, the problem is that you are oversimplifying things. Don’t get me wrong; I would agree with you that actually cloning humans is probably not a good idea. But for the sake of argument, consider the possibility.

    You used the argument that a copy of a work of art such as the Mona Lisa would not be the same. It would be less valuable. Why is that? It is precisely because the copy is DIFFERENT in some way from the original. Art experts can always find some difference between the original Mona Lisa and the copy, so they devalue the copy. What if there exists a copy, though, that has no differences? Given these two exact copies, how do the art experts determine which is the original? Which one is cheap and which one is priceless? (Like all analogies, this one breaks when stretched too far; obviously, were this possible, the value of BOTH the original and any copy would decrease because of the increased supply).

    In similar vein, suppose an exact copy of you were made, down to the atom and quantum state of each atom. That precise copy would undoubtedly claim to be the real you. You would argue that you just know you are the real you and that the other one is the copy. The problem is that the copy would make exactly the same argument. By what objective criterion can we determine which of the “yous” is the real you?

    Heck, you can even go a step further: how do you know that you are NOT an exact copy of an earlier version of you? Have you never gone to sleep? Have you never been unconscious? How can you prove that the “real you” has not been replaced by an exact copy, and that you are not just that copy? I would reject that claim due to lack of evidence, but you cannot provide positive proof that I am correct to do so; that’s the point of this.

    It really does boil down to the old philosophical problem of mind and body. What exactly is it that makes us conscious? Is it simply the physical structure of the brain, or is there some other non-material entity that provides consciousness? If it really is just the physical structure of the brain, then it’s hard to see how an exact copy of you is not really you. If it’s something else, then what is it? How does a non-material entity interact with the material entity that is your body? These questions are still the topic of lively philosophical debate. Your rejection of the idea that there is anything to debate at all seems ill-informed and simplistic.

  13. #13 CFT
    July 14, 2017

    @Sean T #12,
    ‘ill formed and simplistic’? Not quite. I’ve already put in more than my fair share of semesters of study and worry time on this issue. Not all questions lead to useful answers, and some just lead to pointless ruin.
    When you say “the value of BOTH the original and any copy would decrease because of the increased supply”, you hit the psychological, economical, sociological problem right on the head, which is, ‘what happens when you do something like ‘copy people’?’. The answer is, you devalue the original (and by extension the copies) in the eyes of society and destroy the basis of self worth for everyone. We aren’t rocks or islands existing in isolation, we are people, and we live in societies where we shape and are shaped by the treatment of other people. The entire enterprise of even trying to precisely copy a person leads to nothing of improvement, value or worth of that individual, just the opposite, you destroy the concept of the worth of a unique individual in society and replace it with “who cares, I can make another one exactly just like you”. Congratulations, you have achieved the ideal of a pure nihilist utopia.
    Please stop asking silly hypothetical questions posed as intelligent Socratic introspection about what my worth would be if you could copy me exactly by whatever means, because, My dear Glaucon, you already know the answer. My value to society, and by reflection to myself, would be next to nothing, and I would have no personal self left, I would become a public WE not a personal ME. To even ponder such drivel is akin to asking, “If I were to intentionally destroy my unique self and self worth, how would I feel about it?”. The easy answer is ‘REALLY BAD’. Ok? This is why I reject existential nihilism dressed up as curious scientific inquiry, it’s just intellectual suicide and it literally does not lead to anything useful.
    .
    As to the whole mind body question, It’s actually not that hard as long as we are not granting ourselves an absolute knowledge or certainty of what we can not measure. As much as we can measure, There is no mind without a body. For a mind to exist, there first must be a body to sustain a brain it can develop inside of, which is apparent to any parent watching their children grow up. While your brain contains/sustains the processes of your mind, it must rely upon the body to sustain it and feed it input from the surrounding world in order to interact, or it will die. Experiments with sensory deprivation tanks take a pretty grim turn when the person is cut off from sensory perception for too long. Minds do not function sanely for very long in an absence of input, or when the input can not be shut off at intervals (sleeping). In many ways, your mind is your brain, AND your body interacting in a continuous feedback loop with your environment, as it really can not be isolated from it any more than your heart from your body without detrimental consequences. If there is no environment, then there is no body, then there is no brain, then no mind. There is no running without a runner and a surface to run on. That is the causal dependency we can observe.
    If you know of any minds floating around without brains or bodies….and can measure this…or basically ‘show me’ your Boltzmann brain, I’ll listen, but I’m not interested in banding hypotheticals until that bar is first met.
    .
    What you are doing in your false mind body dichotomy is confusing two different kinds of things. You are confusing the existence of material objects (nouns) with the actions of objects (verbs). Running is an action, it never takes place without a subject running. You will never observe running without someone doing the running. Likewise, Thinking, or mind, is the action, it never takes place without a subject with a brain doing the thinking. This is what we can observe.
    .
    If you are asking or hinting about life after death, as all mind body arguments seem to devolve into, I have my own opinions, but these perspectives are purely subjective and not scientifically debatable on a physics blog.

  14. #14 Frank
    Omaha,NE
    July 15, 2017

    IMHO a mind is a set of mental machinery/tools driven by free will. I think free will is real and beyond physics/math. (And that is why I don’t think human-like AI is really possible.)

  15. #15 Sinisa Lazarek
    July 15, 2017

    @ frank

    IMO free will and intellect are two separate things.. free will doesn’t make us human. All animals have free will. Our surroundings and communication and socialization with other humans is what makes us “human”.

    Take for example the cases where young children were left in wilderness before they were able to learn language and other social skills, and managed to survive. Once they were re-discovered, there was almost nothing human about them other than apperance. And it took years if not decades for them to re-socialize and learn basic skills and language.

    On the other hand in 2014 a chat-bot managed to get a turing prize. Meaning a human couldn’t tell if he was speaking with a human or AI…

    I’m not cheering for AI, mind you. But human-like AI will arrive, not because it’s super smart.. but because things that make us human as very subtle and in general, learning, speaking, problem-solving can all be learned and copied. There are very few.. if any things that humans have that higher evolved animals don’t have. AI might not dream of electric sheep… but we are not on some un-reachable pedestal.

  16. #16 CFT
    July 15, 2017

    There is a great science fiction novel called “The Broken God” by David Zindell. In it, a character goes to a clinic for an examination. During the examination a real time brain activity hologram is produced, and the subject is warned ‘not to look’, of course just like Orpheus, he looks, and creates a feedback loop as when he glances at the hologram of the active neurons in his own brain, it causes more neurons to fire off in his awareness of this, which in turn creates more lights blinking in the hologram which in turn causes his own brain to become aware of them and fire off more neurons….they kind of have to shut the thing off before he gives himself an epileptic seizure. This is the problem and mystery of consciousness. How much can you really be aware of a process in your own mind. I suspect, much like trying to look at yourself, you will be able to catch glimpses, but never be aware of the whole picture.
    .

  17. #17 Frank
    Omaha,NE
    July 16, 2017

    More thoughts on the subject of mind if anyone interested:

    IMHO our minds are clearly working like a quantum computer.
    Realize that each of our minds keep making choices among an unlimited number of possibilities of topics to think about every moment.
    Even if you thinking a chain of thoughts, you can switch to some other thought anytime, and it always happens eventually to all kinds of thoughts.
    Making a choice among an unlimited number of possibilities is the main power of quantum computers.

  18. #18 Frank
    Omaha,NE
    July 16, 2017

    So nerve cells in our brains maybe working like qubits (or a register of N qubits) and our past experiences used like constraints of the quantum computer programs to do different mental tasks.