Thursday, December 08, 2005

Warning: This post rated "N" for nerdity

I heard the phrase "quantum teleportation" yesterday. I don't remember where, but I decided to read up on it.

Anyone who has heard me talk about Michael Crichton's Timeline knows (in painful detail) the difference between faxing and science fiction style teleportation. It seems actual quantum teleportation has elements of both. But in the end it is misnamed. It is fancy faxing.

I am not a physicist. I did take modern physics as an elective, about eight years ago, but I am certainly no expert (not even close). But the basic idea is not that difficult as long a you don't get too (at all) technical.

If you are interested, see here and here.

Someone asked me if I was a Star Trek fan the other day. Why? Who knows. Am I? Not really. The rest of this post will make that seem a lie. It is not. I know far more than I should about many shows to which I am basically indifferent (Highlander comes to mind). If you really want to be bored, ask me about shows of which I am a fan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, Invader Zim, Firefly, among others)

Anyway, I got to thinking about some major inconsistencies between the various series (except Enterprise, I have never seen a single episode.)

In the original series (TOS) some things are established about Vulcans. They are much stronger and tougher than humans. They are emotionally detached and logical. Spock, however, is half human. He gets snarky sometimes. McCoy especially gets on his nerves.

On Voyager (VOY), however, Tuvok (the 100% Vulcan security officer) is a total wuss. There is a lot of talk about how well trained and tough he is, but in action he is almost totally ineffective. Also, he is always irritable and grouchy. Spock had the occasional emotional outburst because he was half human. What's Tuvok's excuse? Maybe he's really a Romulan spy, and feels that he has to pretend to be a wuss to avoid blowing his cover.

On The Next Generation (TNG), Worf (Klingon security officer) was also all talk and no substance. Come on! Riker could (and did) kick the guy's ass. This was fixed when Worf moved to Deep Space Nine (DS9) and there he became the warrior he was supposed to have been all along.

Also on TNG, it is established that Betazoids are telepathic. Counselor Troi was not fully telepathic (she was an empath) because, like Spock, she was half human. However on DS9, Luxwana Troi (Counselor Troi's Betazoid mother) is also only empathic. But on TNG she was most definitely telepathic.

Now for my favorite inconsistencies on TNG: the transporter and the holodeck.

Transporter: The crew discovers immortality. Picard, Guinan, and Ro become 11 year old children in a transporter accident. (Wait a minute! They are vastly different ages. Picard is middle aged, Guinan is over 500 years old, Ro recently graduated from the Academy. So why are they all 11?) In order to fix them, Dr. Crusher has to figure out what happened. She clearly states that they are, for all intents and purposes, 11. Left alone, they would age normally from there. Then the transporter is programmed to reverse the effect. Logically, they should now be able to do this at any time, with anyone (Picard is human, Guinan is ? and Ro is Bjoran. If it has the same effect on each of them, it should affect all humaniods the same way. Note the difference between "effect" and "affect"). The Transporter of Eternal Youth!


Transporter: The crew discovers perfect cloning. A duplicate of Riker is found. LaForge figures out what happened and how. It seems to me that this is an amazing occurrence, and the Federation would put at least some resources into duplicating the conditions that allow it.

Holodeck: General inconsistency. Sometimes the holodeck can create characters who have real intelligence, sometimes it can't. Also, it malfunctions so often that it seems like more trouble than it's worth.

There are a lot more, but I am starting to bore myself.

Later,

5 people have spouted off:

phil said...

Those silly sci-fi writers. quantum teleportation isn't possible.

However, the physical breakdown in Timeline is a bit more realistic than Star Trek's teleporters. You'd expect that there would be some room for error in the process and that this would cause some level of physical breakdown. In Star Trek, it seems that you can transport yourself at whim with no concern for the number of transportations or the frequency there of.

Here's a brief description of how teleportation (other than the worm-hole based type) works in most Sci-Fi:
The transporter tears the object to transport (You) apart at an atomic level and records the position and state of each atom. It simultaneously reassembles the object (also at the atomic level) in a different location based on the recorded information.

A few problems with this method:
Atoms are very small - there are 6.022x10^23 carbon atoms in 12 grams of Carbon-12. 10^23 is a lot. That's a one with 23 zeros after it. And 12 grams isn't very big, you could easily hold it in the palm of your hand.

In comparison, if you print an image that fills an 8x10 sheet of paper, at 300 dpi, that's only 24,000 dots. It would take 25 quintillion of these sheets of paper to get enough dots to equal the number of atoms in 12 grams of Carbon-12. How long would it take the fastest inkjet you know of to print that many sheets? Computer Technology advances at a very rapid pace, but we are a very, very long way from reaching the speeds necessary for quantum teleportation.

Even if we had computers of sufficient speed, it would be very hard to measure the state of an atom with the precision necessary. Atoms change very rapidly. They're always moving. The electrons around an atom move at (or near) the speed of light and the atoms themselves jostle around very rapidly as well. And it would be a bit more complicated than just putting the atoms in the proper places, you'd also have to get them to form the proper bonds with the adjacent atoms.

So, I can't say that it is absolutely impossible, but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it isn't going to happen in my lifetime or my grandchildren's lifetime or my great grandchildren's great grandchildren's lifetime.

phil said...

Wormholes are another matter entirely

John said...
Phil,

Did you check out the links? Quantum teleportation isn't about moving large masses, it is about transferring information (quantum states).
12/10/05, 2:23 PM
Qalmlea said...

Then the philosophers get into whether or not the reassembled "person" is really the same "person" as before the teleportation. Likely, the person who came out of the transporter would believe so (assuming it actually worked), but is it really? And if there's a freak accident (like the one that produced two Rikers), which is the "real" person? ;-)

John said...
In quantum mechanics there is a concept called "indistinguishability." Basically the idea is that if two particles have identical quantum states, then they are for all intents and purposes, the same particle. By this argument if the transporter recreates the person with all particles in the same quantum states as the original, then according to quantum mechanics it is the same person. Since it has been establishd that a tricorder can read quantum states (apparently without disrupting them: how does it get around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, I wonder), this shouln't bean issue in the Star Trek universe. The two Rikers would also have been indistinguishable at the moment the transporter created them, so both would be the "real" Riker.

Quantum Physics hurts my brain.
12/16/05, 5:59 PM