The Transporter was one of the most salient aspects of Star Trek. A device that could take apart a person, beam them to another location, and reassemble them on the spot in working order, without even the need of a receiver. Most people know the story of how it was developed for the series. The shuttle craft prop wasn’t ready yet, and they needed something to move the people from ship to planet. Viola, the transporter. Teleporters have also figured in many other movies and books. Larry Niven had the Earth linked by transfer booths in one series, and the Puppeteers had stepping disks. Stargate’s Asgardians had teleporters. The most infamous teleporter was the one in the Fly, old and modern, and the sequels. In the original a fly was in the teleporter and the scientist came out the other end with a fly head and arm, which in reality would have resulted in severe protein shock and death. The newer one made more sense, and the genes of the fly were incorporated into the cells of the scientist and he changed over time. The moral was to make sure the chamber was clear before using the machine. Now I think that there are just too many things that could go wrong with a teleporter for me to put my precious self in it. Like Bones said on Star Trek, I wouldn’t trust something that scatters my atoms around and reassembled it. Too much chance for a disaster. But are teleporters even possible in the first place? At least to any technology we can imagine in the next two hundred to a thousand years. I think not, and this is why.
In classical science fiction a teleporter takes apart the target, whether it is a block of wood, a ham or a person, and converts the atoms to energy (which if you know anything about the power of total conversion means there is a crap load of energy involved, enough to level a continent). Now all of the information of each atom of the object is stored in a computer so the object can be put back together. Now there are trillions of cells in a human body, let’s say two trillion (though it’s probably a lot more). Each is made up of millions to billions of molecules (let’s say a billion) with dozens to thousands of atoms making up each molecule (let’s say a thousand since was are dealing with complex protein structures here. That’s 2 X 10 to the 24th atoms. Plus there is the information on where they all go. Now we could probably skip some of the coding on atoms, since there can only be about 50 or 60 different ones in a body. We could probably even skip coding every molecule, since there are only so many different types in the body. But even if we do that, we could have 10 to the 20th bits of information we have to store (which is a rough estimate that could be off, but not by more than three decimals in either direction I would think). Now this much information would take up 100,000,000 1 terabyte hard drives, which already makes it a problem of monumental proportions. Now we still have to process all that information, write it to drives, then bring it up into memory for the reassembly process. Can you say boring? Like wait a month or more to see whatever you sent materialize at the other end. Now what about if we take shortcuts, like code every cell of each type to be identical to every other cell of that type. This might even be advantageous, since every cell of whatever we transmitted would be prefect. This would really be fine for a block of wood or a ham, since an almost perfect representation would be more than good enough, and probably better than the real thing. But what about a person?
Not really a problem with most of their body. As long as the genetic structure of each cell was fine, what difference would it make if a heart, liver or kidney weren’t a perfect physical match for the original, as long as it was large enough and functioned perfectly. In fact this could spawn an industry where people are sent through a teleporter and reassembled younger, stronger, fitter, more of everything they want. The only real problem here is the central nervous system, the brain (the area I have studied the most). We really don’t know how the brain works, but we know it works well. Memories are the important part, as they make us, us. And memories may be connected with the way the brain is wired, the protein structures of individual cells, or other factors we know nothing about. One scientist even suggested that the brain is a quantum mechanical device and the microtubules that hold the cells together are the important structure. Whatever it is, it seems most likely that the brain would have to be reassembled exactly as it was before transmission for it to still be us. And there we are back at the too much data problem. Does this mean that we will never have teleporters? Maybe, maybe not. We might develop quantum computers that can store and crunch this much data instantaneously. I don’t think something like this will happen in the next thousand years, but some people seem to think it could be a lot sooner, and I may just be a pessimist. But we have some serious hurdles to overcome before we can say “beam me up, Scottie.”