As we watch shows like Star Trek and marvel at the transporter, which teleports people across long distances and even between planets, it’s natural to wonder: Is teleportation possible?
The short answer is yes, technically, but the process is incredibly complicated, and it may not take the form of what we see in science fiction, especially with regard to teleporting humans.
Let’s explore what is currently known about the science of teleportation, and whether humans might one day be able to travel using this wonder of physics.
Why Is Teleportation Difficult To Achieve?
Science fiction might make teleportation look easy, but that much is certainly fiction. True teleportation would need to happen instantaneously — the second a person dematerialized, they would immediately appear at their destination. The problem with this is simple: According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, which means disappearing from one place and reappearing in a flash somewhere else simply isn’t possible.
But what about the next best thing? If we can’t send an actual person at the speed of light, can we at least send their information, effectively teleporting their biological makeup somewhere else?
To do this, a system would first have to scan the location of each atom in a person’s body and note what kind of atom it is. That information would then have to be transmitted from the location where the scan happens (presumably the departure location) to the receiving location almost instantaneously. Finally, the system at the receiving location would have to interpret that information and reassemble those atoms. Photons travel at the speed of light, so this could work. However, the idea of such a method poses some larger questions of ethics that would also need to be addressed.
The Problem with Human Teleportation
There is one overarching philosophical question that could complicate human teleportation: If all that transmits from one place to another is a person’s information, not their actual atoms, does that mean the human at the destination is the same person who was dematerialized at the starting point? Does the original person cease to exist, only to be replaced on the receiving end by a perfect replica of the original human? Has the teleported person effectively died? It’s important to consider whether any proposed method of teleporting humans would actually involve killing and then recreating the traveler, as many people would likely take issue with such an approach.
Another problem with teleportation relates to quantum theory. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that we can’t know everything about an atom and also pinpoint exactly where it will be, and we would need to do both to recreate the exact same person on the other end of the teleporter.
The Promise of Subatomic Teleportation
So is teleportation possible at all? Yes. Scientists have been able to achieve teleportation of a single particle.
In recent years, scientists and researchers have been able to teleport particles on the subatomic level through quantum entanglement, which occurs when the properties of one quantum particle affect another particle that’s located somewhere else. This is enabled by a third particle that “instantly ‘teleports’ its state to the two entangled particles,” according to the National Science Foundation. If you are a fan of Mass Effect, the long-distance Quantum Entanglement Communicator from the second and third games in the trilogy work in precisely this way.
We still have much to learn about the potential of teleportation, and quantum entanglement could revolutionize how we approach quantum computing. However, the fact that scientists have been able to teleport subatomic particles doesn’t mean human teleportation is a possibility. There’s no actual information being transported in this case, just observation of the state of these linked particles. Many scientists believe we may never be able to teleport a human, as it would likely require too much information that would be impossible to obtain and replicate with exactness. For now, it seems human teleportation will remain a matter of science fiction, not science fact.
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