The Problem With Teleportation

The Problem With Teleportation

Video: Teleportation is a safe, convenient mode of travel in the Star Trek universe. But what if the Star Trek transporter is essentially a "suicide box" instead? That's the unnerving conclusion of a new animated video from CGP Grey about the trouble with transporters. Think about it. All your atoms are scanned and destroyed in the process, because there's no cloning allowed in quantum mechanics. Then all that information about you is teleported to the new location, where a bunch of new atoms are used to build a whole new you, complete with memories, personality quirks and that oddly shaped birthmark on your left butt cheek. But is it really you in the truest sense of the word? How could you ever know for sure?

This is hardly the first time someone has pointed out that teleportation -- as depicted in Star Trek or otherwise -- comes with some serious adverse effects. But this video goes beyond the usual purely scientific discussion to delve into deeper metaphysical questions, like the philosophical puzzler known as the Ship of Theseus and the problem of consciousness. Check it out.

[Laughing Squid]


    For further reading by a great Australian sci fi author:

    "The Resurrected Man"
    Sean Williams

      I love this book! I always enjoy a story where they think about the full implications of a particular technology and come up with novel (pun intended) idea for a story.

    There was another book I read recently that discusses this in detail.. I think it was Brain Web by Douglas Richards.

    AFAIK Star-Trek style transporters are currently impossible due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - it's not possible to accurately measure both location and velocity of any single atom, let alone all the atoms in a body.

    I read an SF story a few years ago (can't recall the title)(*) where what amounts to a small AI is installed into everybody's head at a particular age, which is then monitored over several years for matching behaviour to the hosting human; after several years of flawless matches, control of the body is switched to the AI. The story tracks a person on the days surrounding the final switch... and the horror of the "meat" human the first time they try to do something but their AI clone (now controlling the body) chooses to do something different.

    (*) Although it's the sort of thing Greg Egan writes.

    So, trapped in somebody else's head, never able to take independent action or even protest... imprisoned and silently screaming for the remaining years of their natural life.

    It's enough to make "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" sound like a fairy story.

    Last edited 08/03/16 10:12 pm

      If you remember the title let me know, sounds like something I would read :) Thanks

    This is one part of Star Trek that can always be interesting. I personally like to think of it as the person who starts the strings of teleports dies, but the person that exists after the last teleport has existed since birth. Like repeatedly forking branches, from the perspective of the final twig, they have a long branch, and from the perspective of a knot, they ended before their time.

    The metaphysical issue will only be solved when we solve what happens to the (for want of a better non-religious word) soul, or the part of you that is in fact, sentient. Many may scoff here, but would you want to use a machine that virtually destroys and then reconstructs you elsewhere?

    If the machine scans you, destroys you and rebuilds you, then surely if you die on a planet doing your job, the teleporter that originally scanned you would have saved your details somewhere and then would be able to recreate you and save you from death. Theoretically, teleporters could make people live forever and if you got teleported all through your life, then you could choose what age you would like to be when you got teleported next.

      Since the snapshot would only have your memories at the time that you were snapshotted, your subjective lifetime would basically be normal.

      It would be useful as a form of insurance against mischance or accident. Snapshot yourself every morning, and if you're in a major accident just restore to backup...

      You would need a way of transferring memories from an older you to a younger you to get effective immortality.

    the main problem with this kind of teleportation is the fact that the target needs to be scanned, and assembled, instantaneously, in less than 1 planck unit,. This is not possible, and failing to build instantaneously means that you will not perfectly preserve the state of each fundamental sub-atomic particle. This is why teleporting, or even 3d printing, identical living beings will never be feasible.

    See, I don't understand how this is ambiguous.
    'Me' is self-referential.
    I'm me, there isn't another me by definition.
    Whether I've been annihilated or not, that re-created entity cannot be me, no matter how handsome, witty, and intelligent he may be.

    This is something I have actually thought about before, I didn't realise other people had this same perspective

    There is a manga called Aijin, in which a group of humans are born with infinite regenerative abilities, that recently tackled this issue as well. The characters had been healing and regrowing all kinds of organs and limbs, but recently the concern was raised about what would happen if it's the brain (the seat of consciousness) what is destroyed and regenerated.

    That said, I'm a bit disappointed that this video tackled the metaphysical issues of teleportation, instead of the physical ones. For example, no one ever asks what happens to the matter (even if it's just air molecules) pre-existing where the teleporter arrives.

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