We’ve been dreaming about teleportation for years. And although it has been a suggestive and exciting idea in science fiction, it has never stopped being a chimera. But little by little, in recent decades, we have gradually advanced our knowledge of the world and, above all, our theories of how to make teleportation a reality.
In recent years, we have even managed to do small experiments and teleport photons more than a hundred miles away. That is why we have wondered what all this was about and, most of all, how much longer to be able to say that “Teletranspult me, Scotty”.
Does it make sense to talk about teleportation or, really, do not need?
In 2013, 9.6 billion tonnes were moved by sea, about 10 billion tonnes by train and only moved more than 178 million tonnes by road. From Shanghai to Valencia, a cargo ship invests almost a month of travel. Little by little we realize: the added amount of time we invest in moving pots around the world is an outrage.
But let’s not be materialistic: Belgians lose 51 hours a year in traffic jams. The Dutch, 41 and the Germans, 39. They lose 24 hours per person and only in Mexico City they lose more than three million hours a day. Renfe moves about 500 million passengers each year compared to about 10 million national shipping.
We could go on, but I think the idea is understood: transport is one of today’s big bottlenecks. Autonomous cars, reusable rockets and the famous hyperloop, show that it is a sector in full effervescence. But what if we could retire all this?
What do we mean by teleportation?
Few people know that even in Star Trek they saw the subject of teleportation plausible. The initial idea was to show the takeoff and landing of the Enterprise on each planet, but the spending on special effects was so great that it had to be discarded. Plan b was, quite simply, never to leave the ship. But, as expected, the series became a bit boring.
That’s when Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, decided to rescue the idea of teleportation from La Fly a 1958 film. From that moment, Star Trek worked hard to make teleportation the safest method of transportation in the galaxy. It is worth that from time to time combined people (as in The Fly) or doubled, but in general thousands of people used it every day without major problem.
In fact, the biggest problem is that, well, it’s science fiction. Today is not that we are not close to getting it is that we are not even clear that we want to do it. As far as we know until now, there is only one thing greater than the technical problems that teleportation presents: the philosophical ones. But go step by step.
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The Quantum Teleportation
In 1993, a group of physicists theorized the only teleportation technology we have access to: quantum teleportation. This allows the transmission of the quantum state of certain particles to other different particles that are at a certain distance.
That is, information is transmitted, but not matter : simplifying a little, quantum teletransportation would not be able to send each atom of our body to another place. What we can command by this system is the quantum state; that is, they are the exact planes of our body. In this way, the atoms of which a human being is composed would have to be in the place of arrival and with this technology, we would order them to generate the original body.
To the initial disappointment, it must be added that it is not instantaneous either. The quantum teletransport protocol requires sending two classic bits for each cubit (the way we ‘find’ the quantum state information we want to transmit). To teleport two cubits it takes four bits and so on until we get together with an immense set of information. No matter where we are: to transport the quantum state of a person requires such a quantity of information that it would take longer to send it than to transport the person physically. The accounts are simple: in the book “The Physics of Star Trek”, Lawrence Krauss calculated that the informationof the state, the coordinates and energy levels that are occupying the electrons of each atom weighs about a kilobyte. If the human being is composed of 6.7 10 27 atoms, it is clear that the amount of information to be moved can not be transmitted in a few seconds, not several million years.
Because of all this, many have thought that, in reality, what we are talking about is a slow system of cloning. Something like that (and forgive the spoiler) like the machine of the final trick (the prestige). But I also have bad news here. In 1982, another group of physicists developed the non-cloning theorem. They realized that it is impossible to create an identical copy of a quantum state (those planes we talked about earlier) without destroying the original . That is, to teleport us they have to kill us and cut us down to leave us in the atoms. So the conclusion we end up with is that the teleportation machine is a ‘suicide booth’.
What are we? What do we want to be?
When we talk about “personal identity” in this area we do not talk about how we recognize or identify people. What we are trying to do is to identify what someone needs at one time and another at a time B to be the same person. If we look only at the appearance, for example, it would suffice with a little (or a lot) of cosmetic surgery to deceive us. And we will all agree that by changing the physical appearance of one person does not automatically become another person.
Shortly before we begin to think possible answers to the question of the section, we will see that it is tremendously difficult. We can say that it is to have the same body (but we are constantly losing and gaining cells) or have the same personality or memories (but we ourselves do not have exactly the same personality or memories that years ago).
The temptation is to resort to the concept of ‘mind’. But he also has a problem and fat: we have no idea what it is. Although there are scientists who are exploring how far our brain could survive teleportation, the truth is that we do not even know whether ‘mind’ is a quantum phenomenon. That is, we do not even know if the disintegrating body at the beginning could transfer its ‘consciousness’ to the resulting body at the end of the process.
So, what’s the teleportation?
In short, the truth. We have been able to do some experiments and teleport some tiny things. But, for now, it is totally unfeasible to teleport bigger things. Not only we can not do it, we have no idea how to do it. So despite the news that appears every year, teleportation is a very exotic thing that is useful to know better the peculiarities of the quantum world and to keep enterprising philosophers (and those who are interested in these issues).