From the Files of Fortean Slips
by D. Trull
From the tricorder to the phaser, from the holodeck to Shatner's girdle in "Generations," the Star Trek universe has presented us with some awesomely powerful technology of the future. But the coolest Trek gadget of all, undoubtedly, would have to be the transporter. Think about it: the primary thrust behind every human technological advance has been to make stuff move from one place to another, as quickly as possible... whether it's a spear though a buffalo, a signal through a cable, or your tired ass through 5 o'clock gridlock. And here, at Scotty's haggis-stained fingertips, is the ultimate realization of that eternal imperative.
Sure, warp engines are amazing, but how big a deal can vehicular transportation really be in a world where the shortest distance between two points is no longer a straight line? That transporter would at once revolutionize our communications infrastructure and make mincemeat of our socioeconomic foundation.
Focusing as it does on the non-profit exploits of the goody-goody Starfleet, the Trek saga hasn't fully delineated the mountains of cash there are to be made in beaming folks back and forth. You know the military contracts to install all those starships with transporters have got to be astronomical (pun intended), not to mention the civilian market for chartered beamings and personal home units for customers like Ross Perot's cryogenically-preserved head. And then there's the teleportation of parcels and commercial freight to consider: "Federation Express. When it absolutely, positively has to be there instantaneously."
You bet your dilithium, whoever it is that actually invents a real, working transporter is going to live long and prosper. And already, a furtive claim on this sci-fi pie in the sky has been staked -- by no less a global megaconglomerate than IBM.
Earlier this year, according to Cecil Adams of "The Straight Dope," Big Blue ran a magazine ad suggesting that they are hot on the trail of developing a teleportation device. The ad was a futuristic feel-good ripoff of AT&T's "You Will" campaign, depicting a woman about to zap a bowl of goulash to her faraway friend as casually as she might send an e-mail. The accompanying copy contained the following boast:
"An IBM scientist and his colleagues have discovered a way to make an object disintegrate in one place and reappear intact in another. It sounds like magic. But their breakthrough could affect everything from the future of computers to our knowledge of the cosmos."
As well as IBM's stock quotes, to be sure.
The ad advises the curious to seek further information on this teleporting business at IBM's Web site (http://www.ibm.com/news/ls960202.html). Check it out for yourself, but all you're gonna find by way of explanation is a load of physics professor gibberish which boils down to this: teleportation is theoretically feasible, but it ain't gonna happen for a long time, and it won't be an instantaneous process. It fact, it'll be so slow, it'll make your grandma's Lincoln Continental look like the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Basically, IBM's eggheads think it's no problem for an aggregation of quantum particles to be disassembled in one location and replaced later with a similar set at a different location. But when you're talking about an object that's more than a couple molecules in size, you better be prepared to wait. The all-knowing Cecil calculated that the complete data on the subatomic makeup of a human being would take about a hundred million centuries to send from here to there. Maybe this isn't so much a teleporter as it is a one-way time machine.
Still, my fellow Trekkers, let's not give up on our transporter dream just yet. This isn't such a dire situation. Over the next decades, IBM will develop this much-needed technology in a dreadfully slow and hopeless incarnation. Then maybe some upstart whiz kids will figure out a way to make it so fast and hassle-free that anyone can use it. And finally, some evil corporation will steal the new company's ideas, clumsily overlay them on IBM's original machine, and proclaim themselves visionaries who have singlehandedly brought the wonder of teleportation into reality.
Most illogical... but hardly a case of boldly going where no money-grubbing weasel has gone before.
(c) Copyright 1996 ParaScope, Inc.