The trouble with transporters

Amazingly, I think about this transporter dilemma a lot. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who went into the transporter in “Star Trek” died and was replaced with an exact copy.

Look at it this way: The transporter disassembles matter, then reassembles it. When you’re ripped apart, you die.

The fact that the being that is “transported” to a new location has your consciousness is just a computer function. Your consciousness is downloaded into a computer, then uploaded into the wetware (or brain) of the new being. The new being thinks it always has been you because it has all of your memories.

When the futurist Ray Kurzweil talks about the Singularity in “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” this is what he’s referring to. The expectation is that technology becomes so advanced, you won’t die because your consciousness can be downloaded into a new and improved container (or body).

Which is essentially the functionality of the transporter.

Of course, transportation is impossible. The book “The Physics of Star Trek” clearly points out that the amount of energy needed to disassemble your atoms then reassemble them at a distant location is more than the energy contained in the universe. Consider this (from Forbes):

Say we only care about the quantum information in the brain of the person to be teleported (since there are some claims that quantum processes play a role in the brain, though I’ve never personally found them all that convincing), and want to map that onto the brain of a copy body waiting at the other end. There are something like a hundred billion neurons in a human brain, and about a hundred trillion connections between them. That’s about 2100,000,000,000,000 possible states to worry about, or roughly 1030,000,000,000,000. That’s considerably more states than there are particles in the known universe, and if you need one entangled pair to teleport each of those (as a ballpark estimate), well, let’s just say the odds aren’t very good.

So if it takes this much effort to transport a brain, imagine how much energy it would take to transport the rest of your body. Can’t be done.

Which brings us back to what the transporter must really be doing.

I believe it’s a 3-D printer. It makes a copy of the body from other matter and includes functioning organs but no consciousness (Star Trek is in the 23rd century, so that’s totally doable if we don’t blow ourselves up before then). The consciousness is then downloaded from a computer (basic software functionality) and the result is a copy of the person that has been transported (I say “that” instead of “who” because that’s not the person who entered the chamber.)

Each time you’re transported, there is a new you. But each time you’re transported, the old you is destroyed. It might be a painful death, but the new you doesn’t know because that memory is conveniently erased.

I’d advise using a shuttle craft from now on.


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