6 Realities of Teleportation Star Trek Didn't Warn Us About

#3. Signal Interference

You know how, when a storm blows over, your television gets a little fuzzy and your cellphone reception isn't quite as good? It turns out that beaming a signal from one place to another isn't an exact science. For your television, it means the sound might stutter on one out of every seven jokes on The Big Bang Theory. For teleportation, it might mean that you reach your destination with your arms growing out of your eye sockets.

Or your unitard gets left floating in subspace.

Geo-orbit.org describes many of the myriad problems we have in trying to get a good signal from one point to another. The aforementioned problem is known as "rain fade," or what happens when you try to fire a signal horizontally through a bunch of shitty weather. It doesn't work out so well.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Even if you're teleporting through open space, the sun might decide to kick your ass thanks to solar flares, which is what happens when the sun gets drunk and vomits a wave of energy through the solar system, disrupting radio signals and ruining the day of anyone who is unwittingly teleporting through it.

Aaaaaand there goes the Class of 2498.

Even in deep space, you're not safe from the weather, so trying to zap yourself from spaceship to spaceship isn't much safer than beaming across a planet. Outside of our sun's territory, the universe is teeming with cosmic rays, ancient high-energy radiation that, you guessed it, messes up your radio signals. Again, this is fine if you're just broadcasting Lady Gaga's latest single. It's not so good if you're literally broadcasting Lady Gaga.

She could end up half pop star, half pink sperm thingy.

So what if you manage to somehow get 100 percent of all your 909 petabytes of data and your whole armageddon-scale energy packet to your destination? What then?

#2. Reassembly Costs a Ridiculous Amount of Energy

You made it! The last step is to take your disintegrated form and reassemble it into a healthy human being. The only thing you need to do now is find more energy than you can possibly imagine.

This might be enough juice to move a kneecap.

It turns out that converting matter into energy is the easy part, notwithstanding the whole "everyone might die horribly" thing. Going back to Einstein's theory, turning energy back into you requires you to input a much more stupid amount of power. If you don't understand why, think of the difference between the effort needed to build a skyscraper starting from raw materials (years of effort from hundreds of workers) versus the effort needed to bring one down (one jackass with a big enough bomb). Taking things apart is always infinitely easier.

The good news is, scientists already know how to turn energy directly into matter. They've been doing it in particle accelerators for quite some time. So forget reassembling a human being -- let's say we start more simply and try to reassemble a cheeseburger. According to a scientist very aptly named Kirk McDonald:

"Of about 22,000 beams fired into the Stanford accelerator, just over 100 pairs of particles materialized. With the development of increasingly powerful lasers, McDonald estimates that in another five or 10 years this may be an efficient way to make small amounts of antimatter. But the technique will never generate a cheeseburger. For example, even if all the sun's power could be focused on one spot, there still wouldn't be enough energy, says McDonald, to make even an ounce of matter."

Above: A particle accelerator, totally not fetching us a cheeseburger.


Well, OK, we just need more suns. Let's say you weigh around 200 pounds. If we say that the full force of the sun could create a full ounce of matter, with 16 ounces in a pound, that just means you would need the combined energy of 3,200 suns to reassemble a human being.

Our sun couldn't power the growth of your pubic hair for an entire year.

But we can't predict the future. Maybe future technologies will find a way to harness an infinite amount of energy from, we don't know, ghosts or something. Shit, maybe Einstein was wrong. Even if we find some way to cross these hurdles, there's one more problem to consider ...

#1. What Comes Out Isn't You

We'll have to get a little philosophical here, but a movie analogy might help. In The Prestige, where Batman and Wolverine fought over a teleportation device invented by David Bowie, Wolverine wound up using it to perform magic tricks. But really, he was committing suicide every time and just creating a clone of himself, because magic is that important. Our transporter is going to do the same.

If someone has to die for our entertainment, we want it to be a magician.

Think of the fax machine analogy we used earlier. Our teleportation device is a fax machine that spits out a three-dimensional "document." But it is still a copy (or a facsimile -- that's what "fax" is short for, after all) of the original.

The original got destroyed.


So the question becomes, is what steps out the other end you, or just an exact copy of a now-dead you? How do you transport human consciousness from one point to another, and how do you know you're not just stepping into a murder machine so that some other jerk with your DNA and memories can take over your life? It's a difficult question to answer, because science doesn't really know what consciousness is yet.

"Alright, we've conclusively determined it isn't a Jell-O."

Some scientists think it will be possible someday to transfer your mind from one place to another, but even they admit that "consciousness" is a nebulous and ill-defined experience. If you're the religious type or just otherwise believe in the soul, at what stage is the soul getting transported? Is your ghost screaming through space along the beam of your disintegrated body? If you don't believe in the soul, then how are we keeping intact the chain of consciousness that links the person you are when you go to bed tonight with the person you will be when you wake up tomorrow? As common knowledge will tell you, when the brain stops, consciousness ends. So unless you find a way to keep that part of you on life support while you step into a machine that melts your brain into a ribbon of energy, then you're dead the moment you hit the switch.

If you say that it doesn't really matter, that this is all philosophical navel-gazing that can never have an answer ("Where IS human consciousness, anyway, man?" *bong noises*), then ask yourself what happens if they simply provide the machine with enough raw material to spit two of you out the other end (you know, like in that Star Trek: TNG episode with two Rikers). Or, what if the reassembly end of the transporter grabs the wrong instructions out of the database, like it accidentally grabs the blueprints of some other dude with a similar name, and accidentally puts you together as him (complete with his personality, his memories, etc.)? Or, what if a few brain cells get misplaced and suddenly you came out the other end an intolerable asshole?

To be honest, none of those other possibilities are as terrifying as the thought of two Rikers.

All we're saying is that the very first person who ever steps into one of these machines had better have some serious balls.

Check out Carlsen's photography, articles and other work here.

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