With most technologies, we can only guess what they will look like 1,000 years from now. We don't really even know what the "ultimate" video game or cellphone would even look like. We're waiting for the technology to show us. But everybody knows what the end point of transportation technology is: instantly being able to go anywhere, at any time. Just like Star Trek's transporters, where you can send a person from Point A to Point B just like sending an email.
So how far away are we from that? Well, it turns out that there are a few complications ...
#6. You're Carrying Trillions of Life Forms That Also Have to Be Transported
Of all the different types of teleportation that have been thought up in science fiction, they basically all involve disintegrating a human body, shooting it to another location as some kind of data signal and reintegrating it on the other side.
So that would imply that The Fly was onto something when it warned against stepping into a teleporter while something else is in there with you. Jeff Goldblum wound up in the pod with a single fly, but that was enough to confuse the machine, because it was only expecting Goldblum. Having to deal with two life forms instead of one, the system combined them, creating the horrifying human/fly monster.
Life finds a way.
But The Fly was playing it pretty conservative. If Goldblum tried out his machine in the real world, he would find his transporter trying to separate him not just from the fly, but from around 90 trillion other organisms. That's right, trillion. We don't even know how much that is.
Blauerauerhahn, Wikipedia Commons
These little guys have some prime real estate on your eyebrows.
That's because no matter how often you shower, your body is host to a ridiculous number of foreign organisms, from fungus that lives on your toes to viruses that live dormant in your system to mites that live on your eyelashes to the 300-cell-thick coat of bacteria on your teeth. And if you're thinking that all you need to do is develop some kind of better decontamination procedure, think again -- a lot of those microorganisms are your friends. You have bacteria in your gut that helps digest your meals. If you're a lady, your vagina is packed with little elves called vaginal flora that help protect you against yeast infections and other ladyborne diseases. All of that shit needs to make the teleporter trip with you, if you don't want to be extremely sick when you come out the other end.
Somehow, we expected vaginal flora to look more ... Smurfy.
We don't think it's a bad thing that The Fly didn't address these issues -- God knows we don't want to watch a film in which Jeff Goldblum turns into a giant vaginal flora or tinia fungus. The point is, a real process for breaking down a human and reassembling it at another location is way more complicated than it looks. Which brings us to the next problem ...
#5. The Computational Power Needed Is Mind-Boggling
If your transporter is going to break you down, beam you and reassemble you, then that means at the heart of the machine is a big computer that stores all that data, the exact arrangement of all of your molecules. So it's just like faxing someone across the country a picture of your naked ass, except that on this occasion you are faxing your actual ass.
"There has got to be a better way to perform a colonoscopy."
Of course, faxing (or emailing, or texting) a two-dimensional image is pretty simple. The data you're sending only needs to keep track of every pixel in the image and where it's located. Teleporting your actual body would work on basically the same principle, but with atoms instead of pixels. And that's where things start to bog down, because actual material objects in reality exist in much higher "resolution" than your typical iPhone camera.
According to Wired, if we can assume that all the data we need to record the location of a single atom in your body, along with all the relevant information about that atom, can all fit on a single page of a document, then the amount of data required to catalog your entire body would be around 909 petabytes (one petabyte = one million gigabytes). Most new computers come with hard drives around 500 GB, so it'd take two million of your hard drives to store you. If you used every single gigabyte on every one of the 15 million iPads that Apple sold last year, you still wouldn't have enough capacity to store one dumb ass.
We really need to stop signing off on all that mescaline for the Image Department.
Or, think of it this way. Facebook has 800 million users, and all of their billions of photos, videos and status updates take up about 30 petabytes on their servers, which are housed in multiple massive million-square-foot data centers. The storage needed to transport one human would take all of Facebook's corporate resources ... 30 times over. You'd need something akin to the cooling system of a nuclear power plant to run it.
But on the plus side, inviting people to parties is way easier now.
But, hey, storage technology is always getting smaller, so maybe we're just a couple of decades away from that kind of storage being doable. But then we get down to the actual task of breaking you down, which becomes problematic when you consider ...
#4. The Energy in Your Body Can Blow Up the World
It's all well and dandy if you can record a blueprint of where all your body parts go, but you have to actually get your body over there, too, unless you want to spend the rest of your life on a computer (although, let's face it, you were probably going to do that anyway).
That guy is totally copping a feel.
Your typical Star Trek-style transporter will zap your body into energy, teleport it to its location and then put it back together again, hopefully in the right order. That seems like the easy part after we fix the data storage problem, right? The problem is, when you convert a human body into energy, what pops out is the equivalent of 1,000 hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time.
To make sense of that, consider the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. How much material inside that bomb do you think actually exploded? The answer is less than a gram. The amount of energy locked up inside solid matter is incomprehensibly enormous. If you converted the mass of an entire adult human directly into energy, your biggest problem would be how to avoid leveling an entire continent. Never mind teleportation -- if we found a way to convert matter into energy like that, we'd probably sooner use it to build a bomb that would blow up the solar system.
This is the human race. We weaponized dolphins. Doomsday devices are our specialty.
But let's continue to be optimistic. Let's say we find some way to safely harness and transport an apocalyptic amount of energy from one place to another. This task is far from finished, because you still have the problem of ...