Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


17.4.7  Teleportation and Transporter Beams

The first type of matter transfer system we’ll consider may be called the Teleportation Booth. To travel, the subject is seated in the transmission chamber. Complete data on the composition, position, and energy states of each atom in his body are read out by means of a sophisticated scanning device, and recorded in computer memory. The original may or may not be destroyed. The data is transmitted at the speed of light (radio waves) or faster (using tachyons) to a distant receiver, which picks up the data and places it in the memory banks of a second computer. A new human body, an exact duplicate right down to the last atom, is then reconstructed using the information taken from the original. The replica emerges from the booth, indistinguishable from the original in every way.*

If you think about this scheme, what has been accomplished here is not true matter transmission but rather transmission of information about matter. There is nothing fundamentally impossible about this process. In fact, in one dimension -- sound -- the problem may be regarded as solved by human technology. With the very finest audio equipment, duplicated sounds can no longer be distinguished from the original variations in air pressure that caused them. Further, these "replicas" can be transmitted over vast distances by radio waves.

Television represents the solution in two dimensions. In a typical system, a sophisticated TV vidicon scanner reads the information from the surface of, say, a human face, transmits the data to distant receivers, and the image is reproduced on the picture tube. Admittedly the visual reconstructions are far from perfect, but the electronics engineers are busily working to correct that defect.

The Teleportation Booth is the answer to information transfer concerning three dimensions. It operates in such a manner as to transmit a 3-D image through space. As with radio and television, the original goes nowhere.

It is entirely possible to imagine the construction of the Booth by making a direct extrapolation of currently-foreseeable human technology (Figure 17.7). Our present techniques of x-ray diffraction scanning, neutron-beam crystallography and field-ion microscopy easily permit resolutions at the atomic level (say, 1 Angstrom),419,2801 and subatomic scanning is already available using large cyclotrons and linear particle accelerators. Indeed, high energy neutrino beams have been used to examine details of subnuclear structure as small as 10-18 meter, or about 0.00000001 Angstroms.2825


Figure 17.7 Teleportation Booths: Precursor Technology on Earth
Image of an Optical Replica of the Human Body
Biostereometrics is a new scientific discipline which allows the three-dimensional measurement of living things using techniques similar to aerial mapping. The figure at LEFT is the result of a low-resolution computer-generated optical replica of a male human body. The data stored in the computer may be used to rotate the replica to any angle or position, or to "dissect" the figure and examine any single part in greater detail.2835

As for the present state-of-the-art in examining the insides of human bodies, the "CAT Scanner" is about the best there is. Essentially an automated x-ray machine, the Scanner looks at the body in very thin slices and can detect variations of only a few percent in transmitted intensity. The photos BELOW are a Scanner record of a human female across the chest area, showing the spine, aorta, and even a small pancreatic cyst just to the right of the spine and aorta.2835

At RIGHT are the first direct images of atoms of magnesium, oxygen and carbon in a section of crystal, using a technique called x-ray holography in conjunction with a digital computer system.2810


How about computer memory? Ten terabit (1013 bits) memories are already available for use in Booth construction.583 Will this be enough? The human body consists of roughly 3 x 1027 atoms, so at first blush we might expect that at least 1028 bits of information should be needed to completely specify the human transmittee. Fortunately, the vast majority of these data are redundant. Our genes, a considerably more compact specification or "blueprints" for our bodies, represent only about 1010 bits. Our brains, however, contain at least 1013 bits of information -- so this turns out to be the limiting factor.

According to Tim Quilici of Collins Telecommunications Systems Division of Rockwell International, a fairly new technique called electro-optical modulation may soon permit transmission rates through space of 1010 bits per second per channel.2779 The information detailing the construction of the human body thus could be completely transmitted, perhaps using a 1 mm infrared space-based laser beam, in just one second -- although it would require another twenty minutes for the subject’s entire brain-map to arrive, if only one data channel is utilized.

Once the information has been received, the subject could be physically reconstituted using an extended and more exact version of the present-day techniques of molecular beam epitaxy, electron beam microfabrication, or some similar process.2804 The living subject would probably have to be assembled cold, close to absolute zero dissociative and degenerative chemical reactions, and would later be warmed and reanimated. It would seem that the Teleportation Booth is a great way to scatter copies of one’s self throughout the universe or across a planet, but it is a lousy way to travel -- because you don’t go anywhere.**

Booth technology would also make possible a device which Arthur C. Clarke has called the Replicator.55 The Replicator has access to a vast library of information which specifies all known physical objects and consumer goods, and is able to reproduce any number of exact copies of them at will. If practical matter transmutation is also available (see Chapter 19), bags of sand could be dumped in at one end and Univacs and Mona Lisas would emerge from the other.

The second major class of matter transmission techniques is called the Transporter Beam. This system, familiar to viewers of the television series Star Trek, involves what computer specialists refer to as "destructive readout." The transmittee is somehow converted into patterned electromagnetic radiation which is fired across space, reassembling itself back to normal matter at a predetermined "focus." The original is destroyed during the conversion into photonic radiation. Only a transmitter is required and the subject is self-assembling at the destination without the assistance of a receiver mechanism.

Such a procedure, while seemingly improbable, is not wholly inconceivable in terms of modern science. We know that electrons can be converted into patterns of gamma rays by the addition of positrons. Furthermore, optics theory tells us that unsynchronized light waves give rise to regions of destructive and constructive interference. If the phase and frequency of electromagnetic radiation could be forced to enter into constructive interference in a compact volume of space, pair production might be initiated along with other related processes giving rise to structured matter. Or, if the theory held by a few physicists that mass consists of "standing light waves" has any plausibility, then it might be possible to induce the spontaneous conversion of energy into matter at remote points. The real trick would be to retain the complex structure of the living organism throughout the process of beamdown, and to handle the nearly 1019 joules of interconversion energy without mishap.

A third major class of teleportation technology, known as Matter Transposition, involves the passage of physical objects from point A to point B without traversing the intervening space (and without being destroyed or merely duplicated). In this case it is the original who completes the journey, unharmed. Similar in concept to the idea of space warps discussed earlier, transposition depends on the proposition that space is not only curved, as predicted by General Relativity, but is also wrinkled and discontinuous.

To make a trip, some mechanical or electronic device is used to render two points in space -- say, where the passenger is and where he wants to go -- contiguous. The subject is then fixed in the new position, and space allowed to snap back to its original configuration. As Donald Wollheim describes the process:

Two segments of space may be separated by thousands of light-years traveling along the visible three-dimensional continuum of space, yet may be touching each other like two pages of a book. The Gate then is merely an extradimensional means of cutting across this touching point and thereby avoiding the problem of having to travel those thousands of light-years inch by inch.984

If it turns out to be theoretically possible to selectively bend space-time locally by artificial means, the technological problems will be immense. For one thing, the energy required to adequately bend space would probably be prohibitive over distances of more than a few kilometers. A stellar-sized black hole, the best space-warper known to human science, has a mass-energy on the order of 1048 joules. This represents the entire power output of a mature Type III civilization for ten seconds, and yet the BH causes severe distortion of space-time over distances of less than 100 kilometers. Also, as Larry Niven has pointed out, the simultaneous operation of two or more Matter Transpositors in close proximity could prove embarrassing.2744 At best, space would be bent in some unanticipated way, causing transmittees to arrive at some arbitrary and unscheduled destination. At worst, passengers could wind up gravitationally collapsed.

Two other teleportation schemes also involve the idea of point-to-point transmission without crossing the intervening space. The first of these, and easiest to understand, is the Tunnel Transporter. This hypothetical device operates on the same principle of quantum mechanical tunneling discussed earlier in connection with tachyon starships. Explains Larry Niven:

Apparently physics students are now taught that a tunnel diode takes an electron here and puts it there without allowing it to occupy the intervening space. If you can do it with quantum physics, why not with larger masses? With people? The theory looks good, and it hasn’t been used much in science fiction.2744

The second teleportation scheme, called the Fourier Transporter, requires a bit more explanation.2780

In the early 19th century, a brilliant French mathematician and physicist by the name of Baron Jean Baptiste Fourier determined that almost any function of a real variable could be mathematically represented as a sum of sine waves, each of whose wavelengths are integral multiples of the variable. Any three-dimensional function can be transformed mathematically into "Fourier space," a coordinate system which uses inverse wavelength for the axes rather than spatial position.

An object sitting in space near Sol has a representation in Fourier space (say, S) that is distinctly different from the representation of that same object in orbit around the star Arcturus (say, X). Terrestrial electronics engineers already know how to build digital "filters" that will accept any input S and output any response X in one dimension. The Fourier Transporter works as follows.

A device near Sol transforms a passenger, by means unspecified, into Fourier space as S. A universal filter, driven by a computer which calculates what X must be in accordance with the traveler’s itinerary, almost instantly converts S into X. The device then performs a reverse Fourier transform on X-and the passenger is gone! He emerges from Fourier space to find himself in orbit around Arcturus.

The validity of Fourier transforms out to mathematical infinity is crucial to the successful operation of the Transporter. If, as some have suggested, Relativity only limits the velocity of transfer of mass-energy and not information, then it might be possible to transmit information very quickly without using any form of mass-energy to do it.2014 The Fourier Transporter would thus provide virtually instantaneous travel, at little or no cost in energy.


* Some of the natural philosophy and pragmatic aspects of matter transmission may be found in Cleaver,1167 Elliott,1162 Gooden,1165 Lawden,1170,1164 and Niven.2802 [Ed. Note: And the Saga of the Cuckoo.]

** There is an interesting side issue respecting the accuracy of transmission. It is well-known among radiation scientists that the random alteration of one out of every 108 atoms in the human body will produce death. That is, if more than one atom in every 100,000,000 transmitted by the Booth is erroneous, the passenger will get sick and probably die of symptoms resembling acute radiation poisoning.380 A Teleportation Booth with an error rate of 109 bits/error would allow people to make only ten successive trips through the machine before death ensued.


Last updated on 6 December 2008