Today I am going to talk to you all about once again another popular science fiction topic: teleportation. Reducing travel times is something many people are working towards, whether it’s traveling across the world, or traveling across space. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just live in a universe where we can easily teleport ourselves to our preferred destinations? How possible would it even be to accomplish this? Well, it’s time to talk about the reality of teleportation.
So we define teleportation as instantaneously moving matter or energy from one point in space to another without necessarily traveling the distance between them. It’s very popular within science fiction and is where the idea originated. The first written instance of the idea was in an 1897 novel named “To Venus in Five Seconds” by Fred T. Jane, though novelist Charles Hoy Fort is generally credited with the coining of the term “teleportation”. It’s always fun to read about it, but can you expect to be teleporting places anytime soon? Let’s discuss that and also the different types of teleportation.
First up, let’s talk about regular teleportation or the most common method people think of when you think of it. As of now, perfect teleportation isn’t possible because it kind of violates the laws of physics, aka those laws that govern how the universe works and how we exist. It specifically comes into conflict with something called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which prevents perfectly measuring information from a particle. The idea is that you step into some sort of transporter machine, which translates your body into some sort of data that consists of your DNA and whatnot. Then this data is transmitted to another transporter machine at another point and makes a copy of you based on that data.
The thing with this regular form of teleportation is that it requires the old you to basically be killed, so you’re stepping into a death machine. The no-cloning theorem in quantum mechanics pretty much prevents two of you from walking due to the fact that in order to make an exact copy of yourself, you need to break down the arrangement of particles in your original body to extract all necessary information. So, some ethics come into play here.
There was a study done by students at the University of Leicester that looked at, in theory, how much energy and time it would take to transport one human. They specifically looked at the teleportation of someone from a regular point on Earth to a point in space right above it. They calculated how many bits of data a human being would equal, and it turns out around 2.6 x 1042 bits At a bandwidth of 25-30 GHz, based on their calculations it would take 4.85 x 1015 years to transfer an entire human. That is around 350,000 times longer than the length of our own universe, so it seems like teleportation wouldn’t be the most effective right now.
Another form of teleportation is something called beaming, which is used synonymously but is technically different since it doesn’t involve making a copy of yourself and is in the form of radiation. The idea is that you would step into some sort of transporter machine, and it would physically deconstruct you into basic components, send you over through a beam, and then reconstruct you at the other transporter machine. This seems even more impossible due to the fact that there isn’t any technology available that has the ability to break a piece of matter down into basic atoms yet. Also, the type of radiation we would use to transport a human is unknown since electromagnetic radiation can’t “transport” matter.
So, this all might seem a bit disheartening, but it turns out scientists have achieved some level of transportation, but not in the sense that you may think.
Quantum teleportation is something that has been done many times. It is more along the lines of communication since instead of transporting matter or energy, you’re teleporting quantum information, which is just the state of a particular quantum object.
Before we talk about how the process of quantum teleportation works, we have to first learn what quantum entanglement is. Imagine you have two particles, could be photons, electrons, etc. Say you somehow observe and look at the information of one of these particles and learn more about it, and then something about the other particle changes because of that. You now have what physicists call quantum entanglement. These particles are entangled in a way that an action on one of them has a huge effect on the other one and how we understand it. The cool thing is that once you observe one of the particles, the effect on the other one happens instantaneously, and the distance between these two particles does not matter whatsoever.
Now, let’s talk about how this ties into quantum teleportation. The idea is that you teleport information about one particle to another and use quantum entanglement as the transporter of information.
Let’s say you have a particle named Bob that is in a specific state here in Chicago, and you would like to transfer this state onto another particle named Joe that is on Jupiter. What happens is that you take a third particle named Anne that is in an entanglement with Joe who is on Jupiter. You bring Anne over to Chicago, and you get Anne kind of entangled with Bob as well. Now, you indirectly look at the entanglement between Anne and Bob, and you gain information about their states, but not enough to determine the exact state of either of the particles. But, what happens now is that based on the indirect information you received by looking at the Anne-Bob entanglement, the math works out that in the end, the original state of Bob in Chicago will be transferred to and reflected by Joe who is on Jupiter, so Joe is now the new Bob.
The thing is that now since Joe is in the state that Bob was once in and is now no longer Joe but instead the new Bob, the old Bob is no longer “Bob”. Old Bob is now just a completely random state since, in order to completely transfer the information, we had to break down Bob completely.
So, old Bob = ???, and Joe = new Bob = basically just Bob. Slightly confusing, but I can promise you that the math works out.
Back in 2017, Chinese physicists accomplished quantum teleportation at the greatest distance achieved by utilizing a satellite they launched named Micius, which has the ability to measure the quantum state of photons that are sent from the ground. So yeah, quantum teleportation is a regular thing that happens in our world. Pretty cool, right?
But, when will we see the transportation we always read about happen? Is it time to lose our hopes and get used to the regular means of transportation? Well, maybe. But, physicist Michio Kaku believes that teleportation will be possible within the next century. He believes that within the next decade, scientists will figure out how to transport a molecule of matter, soon with DNA following after that, and finally, full-fledged teleportation. He proposes using a combination of the beaming and quantum methods, using x-rays to beam our human data to space, and then to a quantum computer in another part of the world. He hasn’t made a comment on what would really happen to our original body during this entire process, but I think that’s a problem we’ll have to face once we get there.
If you’ve reached this far, I have a question for you: would you ever try out a teleportation machine?