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What If Everyone Could Teleport?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Aaron Cameron
Of all the sci-fi possibilities, teleportation has to be the most convenient. And one of the most exciting! But what if instant travel was a reality? What would happen if we could all zap ourselves to and from anywhere in the world, in the blink of an eye? Would it really make things easier?

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What if Everyone Could Teleport?

Since the discovery of walking, strolling, running and sprinting, humanity has been on the hunt for alternative – and even speedier - modes of transport. For the aqua-adjacent this quest led to the boat – the earliest forms of which are thought to date back to 8,200 BCE. For others, the unspoken truth that ‘walking sucks’ resulted in riding whatever relatively tame four-legged creature happened to be close at hand, with historical evidence suggesting that this breakthrough happened around 4,000 BCE. Then, much to the delight (or possible indifference) of Bronze Age donkeys, came the invention of the wheel, a novelty that would be crucial much later in the development of the train, bicycle, car, plane and so on.

In time these machines have become more refined, faster, more comfortable, and safer, but they have yet to be significantly bettered. Travelling by ship or train still takes long enough that the voyage itself is an event; Flying has felt increasingly stripped of the luxury it once offered, becoming bogged down in security concerns; While traffic congestion is a routine problem in major cities and small towns alike.

But what if there was another way? What if we could get to where we wanted to be without being anywhere we didn't? What if... Everyone Could Teleport?

As a natural ability, teleportation is obviously impossible. But, as a technology, it could be more a matter of “not yet” than “never”. The University of Science and Technology of China has already conducted successful experiments by teleporting an object from a lab in Ngari, Tibet to the Micius satellite in Earth's orbit. The double-downside is that the object in question was a quantum particle, and that the experiment – which exploited quantum entanglement – effectively amounted to altering a particle in orbit into a copy of the one on Earth… Which while impressive, isn't getting us home any quicker, and is more likely to replace the stamp than the bus pass.

The Germans – specifically those at the Hasso Plattner Institute – have also taken a punt at teleporting, but their efforts have only resulted in something more akin to a 3D printer rather than an energy-matter conveyance device. So... although steps have been made in a seemingly sensible direction, we are still very far from snapping our fingers and appearing out of thin air.

To teleport living bio-organic material would mean somehow stripping a person down to their raw data, and then reproducing or reassembling that data elsewhere. Essentially, it'd be a machine that kills you and then recreates you, which is more problematic than even that simplistic wording would suggest.

While the human genetic code is thought to take up as little as 1.5 gigabytes of data, people are made of approximately 10 octillion atoms – that’s ‘ten’ followed by twenty-six zeros! So, writing 10 octillion atoms worth of data, and replicating it in a new location, is no mean feat.

The next problem is how to transfer that information. Given that many cells are similar, some shortcuts could be taken – but the human mind is a different story, and one that remains a bit of a mystery. Furthermore, researchers estimate that with a bandwidth set at 30GHz, transporting a whole person would take approximately 350,000 times longer than the universe itself has existed. Realistically, it’s not happening anytime soon.

But if Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the ghost of Albert Einstein collaborated and gave us a feasible form of the required technology tomorrow, how would our lives differ? Well, the truth is they may not differ all that much.

Unless cars and other methods of travel were immediately eliminated, the acceptance of teleportation technology would live and die on its ability to compete with them. To do so, teleportation would have to be affordable and convenient to use, while being a quick process serving a wide area. Provided the technology could meet outlandish expectations set by science fiction, it would be untouchable in terms of quickness, butt hat alone wouldn't be enough to see it succeed.

The subway is arguably the cheapest, and oldest, of the modern ways of getting around. Yet in many ways, it's a bit of a failure. It arrived on the scene in 1863, but as of 2010 fewer than 8,000 subway stations existed worldwide, in just 138 cities – mostly because subway systems are an incredibly expensive and labour-intensive thing to install, and maintain. They don’t always improve traffic congestion, either. Statistics for Beijing – a late-bloomer in subterranean travel – showed that for every new line added, daily subway ridership increased by almost 250,000… But traffic didn’t lessen. And while fewer people took the bus, more bought cars. So, while teleportation would represent a new age in transport, many may still favour its old-tech competitors.

Then there’s the age-old battle of train versus plane. In the United States, both provide links between most major cities, but Amtrak reports only 31 million passengers per year, compared to the 144 million Americans who flew at least once in 2015 – despite rail fares costing as much as 70% less than their sky-bound equivalent. The reason may be rooted in our other great commodity: time. A trip from Boston to New York takes just over four hours on the rails, compared to 80 minutes in the air. Miami to Tampa is a 5 to 6-hour train ride or an hour-long flight. If teleportation was instant, those in-transit times would be wiped out. If it’s time-consuming, it may never become popular.

Meanwhile, there’s the car. While numbers are declining, approximately 95% of American households own a personal vehicle; 85% of which use it for commuting to work. This wasn't always the case, but after The Second World War two things happened – cars were made cheaper and, when the Interstate Highway System was signed into law in 1956, Americans had a place to drive them. More than 60 years on, it’d take something truly spectacular for cars to be replaced.

Altogether, teleportation has to be quick, dependable, accessible and affordable – if it's truly going to catch on. But, with technology that’s this new, novel, complex, and game-changing, that last one just doesn’t seem likely. That said, perhaps costs could be brought down if teleportation was a service that customers subscribed to instead of a system they owned – like cable TV, but infinitely more impressive.

But say everyone embraced it; What would the future look like? Without a need to walk or drive anywhere, it's likely that new cities or neighbourhoods would be built and spaced differently to today’s standard. There’d no longer be a need for roads, so extremely cramped and densely populated areas could become the norm. Or, as there’d no longer be a need for physical closeness, we could become a sprawling and scattered species, keeping as far from our neighbours as possible. Either way, lots of us may never venture outside, if every place we ever need to travel to is commutable from the couch.

Emergency services would no longer have to weave through slow, potentially life-threatening traffic jams, and no one would ever be late for an appointment – theoretically. But the biggest change to everyday life might actually be in shipping. Teleportation could mean no more waiting weeks and months for shipments to come in from overseas, it could mean internet orders arriving within moments of them being processed, and takeout food being delivered before you’ve even had a chance to regret ordering it. Of course, it’d likely also mean that snail mail may finally sigh its last breath, and the general impact on global employment and job roles would be massive.

Additionally, there’d be at least a 14% decline in greenhouse gas emissions, given that around 90-95% of current vehicles are dependent on some form of fossil fuel. Although the exact percentage would clearly be impacted by whatever is powering the teleporter itself.

But, the wide open blissful utopia of five-second shipping and a milkman who never catches you in the buff could ultimately be short-lived. A system offering true location-to-location teleportation would require unprecedented and evasive levels of surveillance, while the adoption of teleport tech would need a whole new set of laws, etiquette, and the development of anti-teleportation technology – otherwise what's to stop someone from beaming into a bank vault, an occupied bathroom, or a lustful couple’s bedroom?

Driven by new forms of criminality and voyeurism, teleportation would soon be swamped with regulation – and that’s before we’ve even breached the subject of borders, walls, and checkpoints. And while certain nations would moan about holiday makers, and wallow in permanent paranoia about immigration, it could be that one significant act or attempted act of teleporter terrorism would greatly reduce the ease and freedom offered by teleportation – thereby ruining it for the rest of us.

Overall, to teleport is to dream. And a world where anywhere is accessible to anyone at any time obviously has some hugely efficient, exciting and positive implications. But, the negatives would likely win out, turning teleportation into a ridiculously over-regulated transportation system that may never be as fast, fun or free as we'd hoped.

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