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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Biodigital Cloning

In 1998, physicists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), along with two European groups, turned the IBM ideas into reality by successfully teleporting a photon, a particle of energy that carries light. The Caltech group was able to read the atomic structure of a photon, send this information across 1 meter (3.28 feet) of coaxial cable and create a replica of the photon. As predicted, the original photon no longer existed once the replica was made.

In performing the experiment, the Caltech group was able to get around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the main barrier for teleportation of objects larger than a photon. This principle states that you cannot simultaneously know the location and the speed of a particle. But if you can't know the position of a particle, then how can you teleport it? In order to teleport a photon without violating the Heisenberg Principle, the Caltech physicists used a phenomenon known as entanglement. In entanglement, at least three photons are needed to achieve quantum teleportation:

Photon A: The photon to be teleported
Photon B: The transporting photon
Photon C: The photon that is entangled with photon B

If researchers tried to look too closely at photon A without entanglement, they would bump it, and thereby change it. By entangling photons B and C, researchers can extract some information about photon A, and the remaining information would be passed on to B by way of entanglement, and then on to photon C. When researchers apply the information from photon A to photon C, they can create an exact replica of photon A. However, photon A no longer exists as it did before the information was sent to photon C.

In other words, when Captain Kirk beams down to an alien planet, an analysis of his atomic structure is passed through the transporter room to his desired location, where a replica of Kirk is created and the original is destroyed.

A more recent teleportation success was achieved at the Australian National University, when researchers successfully teleported a laser beam.

For a person to be transported, a machine would have to be built that can pinpoint and analyze all of the 10^28 atoms that make up the human body. That's more than a trillion trillion atoms. This machine would then have to send this information to another location, where the person's body would be reconstructed with exact precision. Molecules couldn't be even a millimeter out of place, lest the person arrive with some severe neurological or physiological defect.

If such a machine were possible, it's unlikely that the person being transported would actually be "transported." It would work more like a fax machine -- a duplicate of the person would be made at the receiving end, but with much greater precision than a fax machine. But what would happen to the original? One theory suggests that teleportation would combine genetic cloning with digitization.

In this biodigital cloning, tele-travelers would have to die, in a sense. Their original mind and body would no longer exist. Instead, their atomic structure would be recreated in another location, and digitization would recreate the travelers' memories, emotions, hopes and dreams. So the travelers would still exist, but they would do so in a new body, of the same atomic structure as the original body, programmed with the same information.

For theologists, this means that the new body wouldn't have the original soul