I just had an idea. That’s not surprising … there’s nothing there to stop it. It’s this: to take a bunch of science fiction technologies that every fan or trekkie has heard, seen, read, or “knows” about and easily suspends his judgment about in order to get on with the plot and recursively decompose them into their component parts until we get to technologies that are either extant or commonly acceptable as a legitimate conjecture or theory to a significant minority of the scientific community. I’m talking about sci-fi technologies like:
- Beam me down (Scotty)
- Travelling back, forward, or sideways in time
- Living forever
- Extrasensory perception
- Artificial intelligence
- Artificial life
- Controlling gravity
Let’s say, for example, we take wormholes. According to relativity physics a large mass, at least as big as the sun, changes the shape of the space-time fabric. Even a relatively small object, like a black hole, can have greater mass than our sun although it may be less than two kilometers in diameter. These objects with very large masses, according to the theory, create gravity wells, which essentially fold the smooth space-time fabric up like a piece of paper folded in two. The point at which the two sides of the fold touch is a wormhole. Now we can progress in one of two ways: we can either go looking for wormholes naturally occurring around black holes and see where they can take us or we can move around and manipulate miniature black holes in such a way that we can fold space-time origami-like and create wormholes exactly where we want them.
Now let’s take beaming. According to commonly accepted theories of quantum physics, it should be possible to take a quantum particle, like a quark, create its twin particle, and move its twin an arbitrary distance, say the other side of the galaxy or universe. When you change the attributes of one of the twins, the other twin instantly changes accordingly. We exist in a quantum universe. We are made of quantum particles ourselves. Beaming involves making a copy of all the particles and energy in our bodies or a reasonable facsimile thereof, transmitting somewhere else, reconstructing the copied particles and energy into a viable body and mind, and destroying the original. This last item is very important since we wouldn’t want to have multiple copies of the same individual running around. You don’t want to hear “honey, I’m home” from the kitchen when you are in bed with your husband. The second-to-last item is also important: reconstruction. Now transmitting the particles and energy to a beam receiver should be easier than transmitting them down to the surface of an unpopulated planet. These are two different problems requiring two different solutions. It may be assumed that if we possessed the technology to transmit a beam of someone that we probably would also have the technology to receive the beam and reconstruct it into a viable person just like the one who was beamed. This may not be the case, because it would be easier “read” someone’s particles and energy, transmit what we read, and destroy the original than it would be to receive everything transmitted, filter out the static, and build a person from the micro-particles and energy who will be viable at the macro-level. But assuming the receiver did work ok, how would a person beamed to the surface of an unpopulated planet be reconstructed if there were no receiver to receive and reconstruct him? Ah, you say. This is some serious nit we’re picking. How about we throw some quantum-sized nanobots into the transmission that will hit the ground running and catch those transmitted particles and energy, and reconstruct them into thee or me?
You get the idea. Engineering is all about taking a big unsolvable problem and breaking it down into two smaller problems that may or may not be solvable, and if not they’ll keep on breaking them down into even smaller problems until they finally become solvable. This is a nice intellectual game of how to get from point a to point z that can be played by the whole family. You’re all welcome to join the game. Just add your comments. You may nit-pick my decomposition of wormholes or beaming, decompose one of the other subjects I listed, or add your own subject for decomposition. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
The future will be created by those who can engineer it for their own purposes or by chance. My bet is on those who engineer it; our future is too important to leave to chance.