I grew up watching Star Trek. All of them. If I had a genie to grant me one wish, it would be that I could fly between the stars with my Lover aboard the Enterprise (Picard’s – I’ve got this thing for his perfectly shaped, hairless head.)
Y’know we’ve been promised flying cars and stuff since the fifties. We’ve got some of that stuff, like cell phones and sat phones, various medical tools, but still no flying cars.
…and no transporter beams.
Last week, we’re out and about, and the radio (as always) is tuned to our local NPR station, Public Radio East, and we’re catching Ira Flatow’s Talk of the Nation – Science Friday. Love that show.
Dr. Hau has previously managed to slow light down to 38 mph. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite the theories of relativity, which state that the speed of light cannot be altered, Dr. Hau figured out how to make light move at a pace of half the speed limit on I-95.
Then, just when the scientific community was beginning to catch its collective breath, she brought it to a dead stop, held it, and released it back into the wild at its regular speed of about 300,000 kps (186,000 mps).
As if that wasn’t enough, this Woman of Wow has just rocked the physics we all know and love yet again. This time, it’s an exponentially bigger advance.
Dr. Hau took a beam of light, transformed it into matter, transported it through space to another location, changed it back into light, and sent it on its merry way. Now, Dr. Hau has done this on a very minute scale. We’re talking about thousandths of an inch here.
But let me just say this about that:
It’s now just a matter (no pun intended) of scale.
One hundred years ago, a human flying from New York to London wasn’t even a pipe dream yet. Civilization had existed on this planet for tens of thousands of years before it first took powered flight. Once the basic technology was figured out, it took less than a hundred years for powered flight to become routine.
Fifty years ago, humanity was still tethered to this little rock with no hope of ever leaving. Now we have private industry taking on trips into space, with commercial flights to the moon on the not so distant horizon.
Last year, switching back and forth between matter and energy to transport information and even objects was the stuff of Star Trek and other science fiction, written by dreamers with no hope of actually seeing such things.
This year, the technology exists, and I dare say this advance will change the world.
Going back to Star Trek, there’s quite a bit of that fictional technology based on just what Dr. Hau just invented.
The transporter beam is the most obvious example. A person or object steps on the pad, the computer reads the physical make-up into its memory, changes it from matter into energy, beams it someplace else, then re-assembles the energy as matter again.
It’s exactly the reverse of what Dr. Hau has done, and she says that the process is quite capable of doing this. It doesn’t matter where you start in the process because matter and energy are just different “expressions” of the same thing, if you will.
The replicators aboard the Enterprise work on the same principle. The construction of different objects is pre-programmed in the computer. It already “knows” how an egg is made up, because one has already been through the process. It just grabs some energy from somewhere else, and constructs an egg when asked.
It’s sort of half of what Dr. Hau has done.
Even the holo deck works on this principle.
Once private industry gets its hands on this, there’s no telling what all will come of it. There are very few people in the world with the brains, imagination, education, and resources to invent this thing, but there are plenty of engineers able to turn this discovery to practical uses.
It won’t take a twenty years for someone to figure out how to move a block of iron at room temperature. (The experiment in question requires super cold temperatures.)
Then someone will transport a more complex inanimate object, like a lamp.
Someone else will try a plant, then a small animal.
Eventually you know someone will take a shot at a person.
This brings up an interesting philosophical question.
When the matter gets assembled on the other end of that light beam, it’s exactly the same matter, as far as we can tell. But there’s really no way to ever be sure.
So let’s say we beam a person. Say we have the computer processing power to do a whole person, every neuron, nerve, electrical signal, every atom and every charge. So when the person comes out the other end, are they really the same person, or a perfect clone? How would we know? Even the person on the output end couldn’t know. As far as they know, they are. They have all the right thoughts, all the right memories. But the only person who really knows for sure is the person who went in on the input end – who was disassembled, and may not even exist anymore.
Kind of scary, but very cool nonetheless.
Along the way, someone will start creating gold bars and paper money. That’ll be bad news for world economies, but that will be temporary. Intangible credits will replace dollars and pounds.
Most importantly though, Janie and I will get bodies. The first place we’re going is to Molly’s. We have a picnic to attend.