Want a Star Trek Transporter?*

(*Some assembly required.)

by futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.

I woke up this morning with the realization that I could build a transporter, just like the ones they used (will use?) in Star Trek in the years following 2200. Well, almost like. Let’s put it this way: you could put something in the transporter at one end in one place, and have it appear somewhere else, thousands of miles away (or more!). Would that be good enough?

Here’s how: you hook a scanner, like a CAT or PET scanner, up to a radio, cellphone, or Internet connection, add some rudimentary software on one end, then hook a receiver for the transmitter, plus some rudimentary software and a 3D printer up to the other end. Voilà! A transporter! (For more on 3D printers, see “The Innovation Revolution”)

Well, not quite – but almost. For one thing, the object wouldn’t disappear at the transmitting end, although you could always just shred, crush, or otherwise dispose of it. For another thing, this would be the transporting of things, and the appearance (reproduction) of the thing at the other end would depend on how good a 3D printer you had. But since there are now prototypes of nano-3D printers that can print on the atomic or molecular levels, the reproduction could be pretty good. Of course, producing the item at the receiving end wouldn’t be anywhere near as fast as it seems on TV or in the movies, but then, this is only a prototype. By 2200 A.D., we’ll fix the speed right problem.

But could we transport living things, or even people? Well, that gets much trickier. Let’s assume, for the moment, that the scanner we had at the sending end could get down to the finest details at the molecular or even atomic levels. We could reproduce the physical aspects of an object just about exactly. And perhaps if we could get down to the sub-atomic and quantum levels of scanning, we might even be able to produce something so close to the original in physical terms as to be indistinguishable. But that still leaves two unanswered questions.

First, if we could make an exact duplicate in every respect, would we reproduce your mind if we transported you from A to B? Would the new you, at point B, have the same thoughts, memories, opinions, and beliefs as the original you at point A? Would the new you have a mind (as opposed to a brain) at all? We don’t know because we don’t really understand what a mind is.

And the second question would be: would you want to destroy the original you, back at point A? Would that be murder? Would we have created a duplicate you, and would both of you have the same rights and privileges? Who would own your car and your house, for instance? If you’re married, would only one of you still be married? In other words, would you both be you? We don’t have any good answers for that, either.

Clearly I wrote this blog out of a sense of whimsy. But now we come to the real question: Are we really that far from these developments? I can see a time when we will be able to make exact duplicates of things, including living organisms, through the mechanism I’ve so superficially described. (I can’t say whether we can create life or reproduce minds. That’s above my pay grade.) All the basics of the technology I’ve described already exist. All that waits is refinements for us to have a for-real Star Trek transporter.

So, live long and prosper!

© Copyright, IF Research, October 2012.

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One Response to Want a Star Trek Transporter?*

  1. Ray says:

    Some time in the 1890′s the head of the US patent office thought a good savings would be had by closing the patent office as all things conceivable had already been invented.. Whimsy, perhaps but closer to the truth than the current flop of economists that are predicting the end of growth in GDP.