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Inside Risks: Just a Matter of Bandwidth


The previously incomprehensible increases in communication capacities now appearing almost daily may be enabling a quantum leap in one of the ultimately most promising, yet underfunded, areas of scientific research—teleportation. But to an extent even greater than with many other facets of technology, funding shortfalls in this area can carry with them serious risks to life, limb, and various other useful body parts.

Teleportation, also known as matter transmission (MT), has a long history of experimentation, largely by independent researchers (use of pejorative terms such as "mad scientists" in reference to these brilliant early innovators is usually both unwarranted and unfair). Their pioneering work established the theoretical underpinnings for matter transmission, and also quickly illustrated the formidable hurdles associated with the practical implementation of teleportation systems.

Early studies suggested that physical matter could be teleported between disparate spatial locations through mechanisms such as enhanced quantum probability displacement, matter-energy scrambling, or artificial wormholes. Unfortunately, these techniques proved difficult to control and had unintended side effects (see Distant Galactic Detonations from Unbalanced Space-Time MT Injection Nodes, Exeter and Meacham, 1954).

During this period, a major teleportation system risk factor relating to portal environmental controls was delineated, in the now classic work by the late Canadian MT researcher André Delambre (Pest Control of Airborne Insects in Avoidance of MT Matrix Reassembly Errors, 1958), later popularized as the film The Fly and I (1975).

Problems such as these led to the development of a different MT technology, officially referred to as "Matter Displacement via Dedicated Transmission, Replication, and Dissolution," but more commonly known as "Copy, Send, and Burn." In this technique, an exact scan of the transmission object (ranging from an inorganic item to a human subject) records all aspects of that object to the subatomic level, including all particle positions and charges. The amount of data generated by this process is vast, so data compression techniques are often applied at this stage (however, "lossy" compression algorithms are to be avoided in MT applications, particularly when teleporting organic materials).

Next, the data is transmitted to the distant target point for reassembly, where an exact duplicate of the original object is recreated from locally available carbon-based or other molecular materials.

After verifying successful reconstruction at the target location, the final step is to disintegrate the original object, leaving only the newly assembled duplicate, which is completely indistinguishable from the original in all respects. It is strongly recommended that the verification step not be shortcut in any manner. Attempts to use various cyclic-redundancy checks, Reed-Solomon coding, and other alternatives to (admittedly time-consuming) bit-for-bit verification of the reassembled objects have yielded some unfortunate situations, several of which have become all too familiar through tabloid articles. Some early MT researchers had advocated omission of the final "dissolution" step in the teleportation process, citing various metaphysical concerns. However, the importance of avoiding the long-term continuance of both the source and target objects was clearly underscored in the infamous "Thousand Clowns" incident at the Bent Fork National Laboratory in 1979. For similar reasons, use of multicast protocols for teleportation is contraindicated except in highly specialized (and mostly classified) environments.

The enormous amounts of data involved with MT have always made the availability and cost of transmission bandwidth a severe limiting factor. But super-capacity single and multimode fiber systems, the presence of higher speed routers, and other developments, have rendered these limitations nearly obsolete.

There are still serious concerns, of course. It is now assumed that Internet-based TCP/IP protocols will be used for most MT applications, the protests of the X.400 Teleportation Study Committee notwithstanding. Protocol design is critical. Packet fragmentation can seriously degrade MT performance parameters, and UDP protocols are not recommended except where robust error correction and retransmission processes are in place. Incidents such as running out of disk spool space or poor backup procedures are intolerable in production teleportation networks.

We've come a long way since the early MT days where 300-bps, 103-type modems would have required centuries to transmit a cotton swab between two locations. With the communications advances now at our disposal, it appears likely that, so long as we take due consideration of the significant risks involved, the promise of practical teleportation may soon be only a phone call away.

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Author

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com) of Vortex Technology is the Moderator of the PRIVACY Forum. He hopes you enjoyed this April Fool's piece.


©1999 ACM  0002-0782/99/0400  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 1999 ACM, Inc.


 

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