One of the most fascinating fictional technologies in Star Trek is the transporter – that device that breaks people or things down into their particles, beams them to another location and then reassembles them there. Instantaneous travel across thousands of kilometres in the blink of an eye. What could be more wonderful? Shouldn’t we strive to invent this technology for real?
No. I think not. And here is why.
Young boys – and many not so young – love to play pranks. Even things as simple as dropping an earthworm down someone’s back or hiding a spider in the clothes they’ve set out to put on. Could we really resist the temptation to use the technology to further our pranks? To beam a tadpole directly into teacher’s knickers? To beam pepper into our work colleagues’ coffee or itching powder into their overalls?
Young men (and many young women) have sex on the brain. Why go to all the bother trying to get into someone’s underwear when you can simply transport the aforesaid garments off them? And if your parents don’t approve of your choice of ‘friend’? Why, just transport them straight into your bedroom, bypassing completely the eagle eyes of mom and dad. People are people, and I can guarantee that if a transporter were invented for real, one of the first uses would have something to do with sex.
3. Thievery and petty crime
After the lust for sex, one of mankind’s afflictions is greed for each others’ possessions. The transporter would be a god-send to the criminal. See something you like? Just beam it straight out of the shop window. Precision transporters might even let you beam the contents straight out of someone’s wallet.
There would probably be some sort of countermeasure – a transporter-blocking shield – but imagine if every single object of any value had to be protected by one of those? We’d hardly be able to move for buzzing forcefields everywhere.
And even if you don’t intend to steal it, there are other occasions you might want to move someone else’s property. Car park full? Beam one the cars back onto the road and suddenly there’s a space for you, right in front of your eyes. And if the car park warden complains? Beam them away too. I mean I’m sure they really wanted to go on a vacation to Antartica, didn’t they? I was really doing them a favour…
4. Serious crime
This ranges from terrorism (beam a bomb into a building) to murder (beam the brake fluid out of your intended victim’s car or beam a piano into the air above their head). And after the crime you can even beam away the evidence. No need to cart your victim off in the boot of your car, risking leaving forensic evidence about, when you can beam their dead body into the furnace of your local trash incinerator. Heck, beam them into the fire alive and get the murder and the disposal all done at once!
My final reason? Engineers. And by this I mean that I’d not trust the current crop of engineers (and I include myself here) to build something intended to tear me apart molecule by molecule and reassemble me. Would you trust anyone to make something that had to be so perfect that one single error could result in your insides becoming your outsides? Think how buggy and crash prone Windows is and ask yourself – would I want those same engineers to make something that my life depends on every time I use it? I wouldn’t. We engineers are human. We sit at work worrying about our bills and our kids. We slip a decimal point a place or two to the right without noticing, and your colon would be reassembled a few feet to the right of the rest of you. Not pretty.
So there you are: five reasons why we are not ready to have Star Trek transporters yet.