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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beam Me Up Scotty!


I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved sci-fi. As a kid, I was fascinated by all the futuristic Tec and gadgets they would use. Especially on shows like “Doctor Who” & “Star Trek”. I grew up with such shows, and often wondered if the science fiction of the past would ever become the science fact of today.
Looking back, I can see how we’re gradually creeping closer to the sci-tec of "Star Trek" every day. Think about it. We now have things like ‘swishy doors’ and hypo sprays. If you think that’s great, Scientists are now announcing they've been able to teleport special bits of light from one place to another, in a "Beam me up, Scotty" fashion.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking about zapping people around the world...yet. But we might be starting to dip our toes in the pond! While I’ve been fortunate enough to gain some pretty decent qualifications in physics and astronomy myself, I’m not into big words. They send me to sleep! So, I’ll try to put this in a way that prevents an involuntary coma.


The scientist I referred to above were able to make use of some pretty quirky aspects of physics. The teleportation they’re referring to takes advantage of an oddity of quantum physics called ‘entanglement’. Basically, two particles can be bonded so that even when separated by large distances, they continue to communicate instantly. Thus–because of this quirky link–what happens to one particle, affects the other, despite the distance!
To teleport the light, researchers led by Noriyuki Lee of the University of Tokyo had to destroy it in one place, and re-create it in another. This mirrors the teleportation process employed on "Star Trek". Eg, where their futuristic transporters scan a person atom by atom, dismantle him, store his pattern in a buffer and then rebuild the person by configuring a different set of atoms in exactly the same pattern in another place.


Lee and his team accomplished this by linking a packet of light to one half of a pair of entangled particles mentioned above. They then destroyed the light packet and the particle it was linked to, leaving only the other half of the entangled pair. The remaining ‘half’ retained the link with its entangled partner, and ‘gained’ information about the light packet to which its partner had been linked. That enabled the researchers to rebuild the light in the exact configuration at the other location.
Super cool!
But it’s still a long way off “Star Trek”, because remember, quantum teleportation is not the same as the teleportation most of us know from science fiction, where a person in one place is “beamed up” to another place where a perfect copy is then replicated. In quantum teleportation two photons or ions (for example) are entangled in such a way that when the quantum state of one is changed the state of the other also changes, as if the two were still connected.
In effect, we’re still playing or learning to manage the quantum world. Transporting people is a long, long way off. BUT – it’s a step in the right direction. Only a few years ago these ‘new facts’ were just ideas! Now they are turning into experimental realities where other applications are helping physicists make the science fiction of today, the science fact of tomorrow.
Thankfully, we still have time, which is perhaps just as well. Why?
Consider the wider implications, or as I like to call them, the ‘what ifs’.
As technology advances, what might happen if continued experimentation raises philisophical issues as to whether destroying a person in one place and recreating a copy elsewhere provides sufficient 'experience of continuity' to class them as the same person.
What if society comes to view that reassembled human as a different entity entirely?
Okay, they have the same memories, characteristics and traits. But would they seek to place restrictions upon such an individual?
Would they class such a person as a clone, especially if an adaptation of the procedure might result in the constructing of, not just one, but several copies of the original? Would certain parties seek to look on a 'reproduction' as a source for spare parts?
How unique would each copy be, especially as current experiments use 'new' matter/atoms to reconstruct the pattern of the original.
Hurts the mind doesn't it? I'm glad I wouldn't be involved in having to work things out.
"It wasn't me, was him!"

Yes, I’ve always loved sci-fi. But, as our ever evolving world turns more and more fiction into fact, we’re going to have to tread carefully...and be careful not to do this...



  1. I have been thinking that with the advent of 3 d printing, we could, someday, have a 3 d printer on one end and we could then 'download or upload our own personality or 'operating system' to the new printed body for the duration of the trip or vacation or exploration, then, the upload back to our original body.

    1. Great concept! AND - Just think of the 'instant tan' we could download! UV friendly :)
      I'd never get 'hot head' syndrome again.