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Beam me up? The paradoxes and potential of human teleportation
How close are we to human teleportation? Successes in quantum teleportation experiments abound.
- Teleporting humans presents technical and philosophical challenges.
- A recent experiment achieved tremendous accuracy in quantum teleportation over 27 miles.
- Human teleportation may be possible with advances in technology to process huge amounts of data.
How close are we to teleporting humans over distances? This staple of science fiction assumes the eventual existence of technical wizardry, whereby humans are scanned, disassembled, and then immediately reassembled particle by particle in a completely different location. An easy, hassle-free way to travel, assuming some crucial parts of you are not lost in the process.
Researchers have been making headway on making this happen, but on a very small scale, achieving successes in teleporting photons (particles of light) as well as atoms like cesium and rubidium. But how ready are we to get humans beamed up?
First of all, let's get one big philosophical issue with teleportation out of the way. What does it really mean to teleport someone? Let's say you're successful at building a device that can achieve sending a person from one location to another. But when that human being arrives at the second location, is that actually the same person? Wouldn't the person being teleported first have to be destroyed, atom by atom, and then a copy of him or her would re-created at the destination? As such, does teleportation necessitate what is essentially a murder on one end and rebirth of sorts on the other?
And that second person, even if they have all the exact same atoms and thoughts as the person they were before teleportation, are they really exactly the same or maybe more accurately – a clone of their former self? And if teleportation forces us to make clones of ourselves (potentially countless), then what does that really mean for the original human? They would essentially not exist after starting to use this technology. As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku said on this topic, if "you just saw the original die and if you believe in a soul that soul went to heaven or maybe the other place, but that person is dead, so who is this imposter over there?"
Michio Kaku: The Metaphysics of Teleportation
Of course, this conundrum describes one way of teleporting. While raising such great objections, Kaku actually thinks we will be able to overcome them within the next 100 years and potentially make human teleportation possible. So far, scientists have been able to mainly achieve quantum teleportation. This kind of teleportation concerns the very small and is about transferring informational properties between particles rather than actual matter. This technology can lead to uses like creation of the quantum internet — a next-generation internet with blazing speeds and tremendous accuracy and security.
In a late 2020 development, scientists were able to, for the first time, teleport quantum information over a fiber optic network of 27 miles at the accuracy of 90 percent. The information shared was in the form of photon qubits – two-state systems that are basic units of quantum information. They are shared across long distances via quantum entanglement, which links two or more particles to each other. Even if they are far apart, the encoded information in a pair of entangled particles gets teleported.
The research was carried out by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory affiliated with the University of Chicago, as well as AT&T, Caltech, Harvard University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and University of Calgary.
One of the paper's co-authors, Fermilab scientist Panagiotis Spentzouris, who heads the Fermilab quantum science program, explained the significance of the accomplishment.
"We're thrilled by these results," said Spentzouris. "This is a key achievement on the way to building a technology that will redefine how we conduct global communication."
High-fidelity quantum teleportation at the Fermilab Quantum Network was achieved by connecting fiber-optic cables to off-the-shelf devices (displayed above), as well as state-of-the-art R&D devices.
Photo credit: Fermilab.
If successful, quantum internet could lead to a communications revolution, transforming computing, data storage, and precision sensors.
Prior to this achievement, successful teleportation experiments included the 2019 attempt by Japanese researchers to send information within the lattices of a diamond. They managed to use a nitrogen nano magnet to transfer the polarization state of a photon to a carbon atom, essentially teleporting it.
In another long-distance feat, in 2017 Chinese scientists were able to teleport photons to a satellite over 500km above. For this experiment, they created an entangled pair of photons on the ground, then beamed one of paired photons up to the satellite while the other one stayed on the ground. To make sure they were still entangled, the researchers measured both photons. While millions of photons were sent that way, positive results were achieved in 911 cases, underscoring the fact that we'd certainly want a better success ratio when it comes to teleporting humans.
In fact, a fun 2013 study by physics students at the University of Leicester came up with useful numbers to show how complex it would be to teleport a person, even if we approached it as sending information that is used to re-create the person elsewhere. They reasoned that the transferable data for a human would consist of the DNA pairs that make up genomes in each cell. As such, the total data for each human cell would be approximately 1010 bits (b), while the data for a full human would come in at about 2.6 x 1042 b. Sending this gigantic amount of data would need the kind of computing technology we didn't invent yet. By 2013 tech standards the students used, transferring data for just one human (at the bandwidth of 29.5 to 30 GHz) would take up to 4.85x1015years, much longer than the age of the universe.
Certainly, better technology and new approaches are necessary for human teleportation to ever become a reality. If you're hopeful it may one day happen, you're not alone. Professor Ronald Hanson from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands said this in an interview, upon completing a successful quantum teleportation experiment in 2014:
"If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another," shared Hanson. "In practice it's extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous. I would not rule it out because there's no fundamental law of physics preventing it. If it ever does happen it will be far in the future."
How far that feature will be is up for debate. For reference, "Star Trek," the show that made teleportation famous, was set between the 22nd and 24th centuries. Let's see if our imagination can catch up to reality.
The Trouble with Transporters
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
To understand ourselves and our place in the universe, "we should have humility but also self-respect," Frank Wilczek writes in a new book.