Teleportation: Not Such A Good Idea?

How often have you wished you could skip lines at the airport, or traffic on the roads, and instantaneously arrive at your destination?

Teleportation could be the answer.

It’s been an aspect of science fiction for as long as the genre has existed. The Fly showed us its potential horrors, and teleporters played a major role in space adventures like Star Trek.

Michael Crichton’s novel (and movie) Timeline sent its heroes through time using a sort of “fax machine,” which deconstructed their bodies and rebuilt them in the Middle Ages, a slightly different form of teleportation.

But it’s not that simple. Is it?

Even if we had the technology to teleport people (and, believe it or not, we have been able to teleport particles), it wouldn’t be quite as exciting as you may think.

Disregarding the more unfortunate outcomes of a botched teleportation (Grundle-fly says hello), there’s one small piece of information everyone needs to know before stepping into that curious teleportation pod.

You’re not really teleporting.

Theoretically, a teleporter would work like this:

You’d step into the teleportation chamber, and your entire body would be deconstructed down to its base parts — atoms. A chamber at another location would then receive information about your atomic structure, and would “reconstruct” your body at the new destination.

Teleporting would work in much the same way as a fax machine, or any other modern method of data transfer — nothing is ever actually, physically “transferred” to a new location, but rather copied.

This would, as far as human teleportation goes, have the unfortunate side-effect of killing the original you.

Many philosophical debates have been waged regarding this issue. Are the reconstructed atoms a clone? Is the initial deconstruction murder?

If the arrangement of atoms that appear on the other end of the chamber look and act as you do, and remember everything that you remember, is it really any different?

It would be, in a way, a “perfect illusion”: the new “copy,” as far as it knows, is you, as its memories are exactly as yours were when stepping into the machine. To it, the teleportation was seamless and successful. To everyone else, nothing has changed.

Then again, if a teleporter worked in such a manner, it would also be possible to scan the traveler without deconstructing him or her at all, effectively creating a clone out of thin air. But what good would that do?

If it ever comes to that — if we ever develop such teleportation technology — will you volunteer to step inside?


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.