The Ethics of Human Teleportation

Sure, Star Trek-style teleportation seems like the next big thing. Sure we could go on vacation in July just by stepping on to a transporter pad and be instantly moved from A to B; B probably being Acapulco or somewhere really nice. Off the bat we would love it, but have you ever pondered the moral and ethical implications of teleportation?

The basic form of teleportation involves you being disintegrated, your particle pattern stored in a buffer, transmitted and then reassembled elsewhere. Does that come with your soul? As the godforsaken semi-determinist I happen to be, sure, I can believe that the—for lack of a better word—the soul is simply a momentary configuration of molecules. What you are, right now, your hopes, your hurting shoulder, your innermost secrets and your latest monument to human achievement; all of that is simply a pattern of particles. So when you teleport, Trek-style, all that veltschmerz is teleported right along with your flesh.

Except, for the briefest of moments, you reside in a pattern buffer; a computer so powerful that it can not only hold your entire chemical configuration, but it can even run Photoshop CS3. Given that, what’s there to stop you (or the prop-like teleporter chief) from making a copy of you?

Therein lies the ethical considerations. The duplication that happens in teleportation is way beyond that of human cloning. Dolly can hop and dance happily unknowing that she is a clone of what her mom was when she was born. At least she’s not a replica so exact that even memory, history and everything is carbon copied.

Could it be done any differently? Could your actual particles be transferred instead of duplicated? Probably, but it would still mean moving matter across distances. Duplication style teleportation, on the other hand, would only transmit matter-less information, and as we all know: Einsteinian law dictates that as the speed approaches that of light, weight approaches infinity. So in order to travel at the speed of love, that which travels must have no weight. It’s a conundrum. Either we teleport comfortably, implicitly trusting our transporter chief, or we don’t teleport at all. Maybe now Acapulco doesn’t sound so interesting after all.

On a closing note, there is a subtext to the above. It says: I’m going on vacation and I’ll see you again in July. Or August. Whichever comes first.

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Human Teleportation

  1. There’s a short story from Arthur C. Clarke–I forget its title, but it’s in my collection–in which a representative for a company which sells teleportation devices is talking about how the device can do this and that, and how low the margin of error is. In the end, when asked whether he uses it himself, he laughs, and says no. Even though the margin of error is infintissimal, it’s still there.

    And wouldn’t it just suck to come out on the other end with legs grown out of your face?

    Have a good vacation.

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