Today, we teleport. The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
Teleportation is a captivating idea. Step
into a booth, push a button, and poof -- you're in Hong Kong. It would
certainly be worth the price of a coach class plane ticket.
Teleportation is a favorite topic of science fiction writers, and
with good reason. It instantly takes characters to exciting new places.
But the process of teleportation is just as alluring. David Page Mitchell's
1877 A Man Without a Body deals with teleportation gone haywire
as the machine fails mid-transmission. So does the The Fly, a short-story-
made-movie with the
simple message, "never teleport with a fly in your booth." Even Mike Teevee
discovers the perils of teleportation in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
as he travels via the experimental "Wonkavision."
It's easy to suspend disbelief, living in a world where we routinely send
information electronically. When I stand at the fax machine, I can
instantaneously send a document anywhere in the world. The process of
"document teleportation" is an engineering marvel, involving everything from
digital imaging technology to signal transmission through a worldwide
So will we one day develop a teleportation device that can take us to Hong Kong?
It'd be quite an engineering feat, but it's plausible. Isn't it? Let's think
The fax machine doesn't actually send my document, it sends a facsimile.
When the recipient sees my document, I still have the original. With teleportation,
the goal is to send the original. Think of it as a fax machine where my document
disappears as it's converted to energy. That energy is sent to the receiving
fax machine, which reconstructs the original right down to the last atom.
That's a pretty stiff requirement. Heisenberg's Uncertainly Principle
tells us it's impossible. It simply can't be done perfectly.
But here's a question. Is it absolutely necessary for a teleporter to send the original?
If I want to go to Hong Kong, why not send instructions on how to build a perfect
replica of me, just like the fax does. The receiving teleporter then builds me using
atoms found in Hong Kong.
That raises some interesting questions. Is the replica of me really "me?" And if
the new me is me, what do we do with the original? Sounds like more science fiction.
But that's exactly how quantum teleportation works.
In 1993, a group of scientists proposed a way to get around Heisenberg's principle.
They could get all the information they needed to make a perfect replica. And the
process destroys the original.
The theory works. In the last decade and a half, experimentation with subatomic
particles has proven that quantum teleportation is real. We're teleporting over
longer and longer distances. We're even thinking about how to use this new technology.
It's exciting, but don't expect to see teleportation booths any time soon. The human
body is just made up of too many particles. But that does not stop us from imagining
what might be. Alas, our craving for that teleportation booth is a great deal more
imaginable than it is achievable.
I'm Andy Boyd, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
See: Quantum Teleportation. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
or, Quantum Teleportation. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2008 by John H.