These Physicists Say That Teleportation is Unworkable

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 4 2013 9:55 AM

Bad News, These Physicists Say That Teleportation is Unworkable

Stop trying to make human teleportation happen.

Wouldn't it be great to just be able to "beam up" and arrive nearly instantaneously someplace else? Teleportation technology seems like it would solve an awful lot of problems. But even though the technological challenges to turning a human person into pure information and then using information to reassemble a person are daunting, a 2012 paper in the Journal of Special Physics Topics says this only scratches the surface of the problems. According to D. Roberts, J. Nelms, D. Starkey, and S. Thomas bandwidth constraints and the information density of the typical human being mean it would take a surprisingly long time to teleport from the surface of the earth to a space station in geostationary orbit directly overhead.

There are 6x109 bits in a human genome and since humans are diploid that means 1.2x1010 bits per cell. One cell's worth of data should be enough to reconstruct a person, but there's also the state of the brain:

Mentally rebuilding a person is not as simple, as a full information transfer of the traveller’s brain is required. The Bekenstein Bound Theorem allows for the calculation of the maximum amount of data to recreate the human brain on a quantum level. The value given by this is ≈ 2.6x1042b. Unfortunately errors can occur when sending data due to interference from noise. When rebuilding a human, an error in the data could potentially lead to deadly consequences so error prevention must be taken seriously. The assumption for this paper is that the minimum effort that will prevent fatal errors is using a (7,4) Hamming code[3], which brings up the total data for the subject to 4.55x1042 b.

This is a ton of data. Even at the top of the Super-High Frequency Range using Quadrature Phase Shift Keying, moving all that data to the space station would take "would still require around 4.85x1015 years." Traditional transportation through physical means such as a rocket or space shuttle would be clearly superior. The energy requirements of teleportation also turn out to be daunting, amounting to something like "a required transmitter power of 1600W = 5.76MWhrs." All of which is to say that the apparently daunting task of dematerializing and rematerializing a complicated object is only the beginning of the challenges facing the teleportation of human beings. The big problem is bandwidth.

The good news is that the extremely high data requirement here is essentially a result of the need to reconstruct the human brain on a quantum level. If you're talking about teleporting an object that isn't a human person—a chair or a houseplant or some fish—it seems likely that we'd be less fussy about this particular aspect of the task and teleportation might be more feasible.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



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