Posts Tagged sci fi

Teleportation 2

Greg brought up an interesting conundrum when it comes to use of teleportation – is it possible to call the “you” that comes out the other side someone different?  For many methods of teleportation, this is debatable – it depends on what you consider to define identity.  For more on this topic, check out Identity.

Today, however, I wanted to talk about the one form of teleportation that I believe avoids the identity problem, and which also might have the most reasonable chance of being possible, although with quite a few “ifs”:

2. Wormholes (Gates)

All massive objects distort spacetime.  You can imagine the fabric of the universe as a rubber mat of some thickness suspended over, well, nothing (!), and that all objects with mass sit on top of it, sinking down into the fabric and distorting it into wells.  Supermassive objects will distort it enough to break it at the bottom – these are singularities.

So now you could imagine distorting spacetime by a bit in one location and by a bit in another faraway, creating two gravity wells – and then punching through the surface of spacetime to join the two wells.  This joining tube between two locations in the rubber sheet is called a wormhole.  (Alternately, if spacetime folds around by itself – as in, sometimes two apparently faraway locations are actually on top of one another – then you can naturally create a wormhole via one well.)  The kind of wormhole I described is very unstable – any mass that passes through it will destroy it, since all mass distorts spacetime, and the wormhole are MADE of spacetime.  To stabilize it, we need something called “exotic matter,” which is like negative matter – it pushes the walls out (gravitational repulsion) and stabilizes the wormhole.

Anyway, in theory that’s how it works.  So, if spacetime happens to fold itself, or if we can punch from one gravity well to another, and if exotic matter exists and we can find it, and when we have a process for directed spacetime distortion… then we can “teleport” via wormholes!

Once a wormhole is created, you should be able to drag around the “mouths” to change the distance it spans.  (By the way, if you can drag a “mouth” at near-light speed, you can create a time machine… assuming the exotic matter disperses radiation moving through it.  I’ll talk more about this in Time Travel.)  So I think you would have a transportation agency moving mouths around to major transit points, and a lab or few making them (given the constraints of exotic matter and the energies required to make a wormhole, I think there would not be very many Wormhole Creation Facilities.)

Wormhole travel is not instantaneous.  You still have to move at regular speeds through the tunnel.  This would require short range (miles rather than light-years) space vessels.  So probably the character of transportation is our current airline system, with bigger voyages (more like cruises?) and longer range.

Science fiction has many examples of wormhole travel – Star Trek, Stargates, the farcasters from Hyperion, and any space travel that does faster-than-light travel without a special spacetime-bending technology (FTL drive).

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Is it possible to predict the course of human events from knowing enough about psychology and economy? And if you could, should you do so in order to control those events? That was the takeway quandary for me from Asimov’s series Foundation.

In his novels, the fall of the galactic empire and its subsequent restoration are both predicted and accomplished through the use of a science called “psychohistory” – the analysis of group psychology leading to predictive power (and thus some measure of control) over historical events.

Groups of humans are significantly different from individuals, and not always in a good way. Although groups are usually better at (and required for) doing large tasks, they suffer from two major flaws. The first is that because they remove individual accountability, they are less responsible in action. The second is that it is much easier to communicate strong emotion, which drives short-term thinking primarily, than to communicate logic for long-term work.

So in order to protect humans from these unfortunate traits of groups, I would be willing to use something like psychohistory as a predictor. But there’s a fine line between giving individuals help at breaking the negative aspects of groupthink, and removing their ability to affect events around them by their choices. I wouldn’t want to do the latter, an I definitely see the slippery slope in pursuing it (psychohistory) at all.

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Review: Sci Fi and Fantasy Film Festival

Joe gave me the heads up on a Sci Fi and Fantasy Film Festival happening at Seattle’s Cinerama yesterday evening, and after examining their website, it appeared that I would have to go to the theatre at noon to get tickets.  Jason agreed to come with me to the event, but when I got the will call, all the tickets were sold out!  Luckily, for cold hard cash, they still had some session 2 (the latter half of the evening) tickets left.

The presentation was about 10 short films (none longer than 15 or so minutes, I think) ranging over a variety of science fiction and fantasy premises.  I learned some interesting things about what I like and don’t like through watching these:

  • I really enjoyed the funny ones – the ones that had some amount of sci-fi or fantasy content but were also portrayed humorously.  I think this might be particular to short films; with not much time to set up setting or characters, falling back to humor does a wonderful job of getting me involved in the action.
  • One of my favorites was “Singularity,” about a scientist attempting to transfer his memories to an android.  This one had really great production values, which definitely added to the effect for me.  It also was just the sort of creepy future plot that doesn’t need a ton of explanation up front for the viewer to get involved.  Other short films that were low on special effects definitely felt like they were missing them – with the notable exception of some of the humorous ones!
  • I hated the abstract piece that had no plot or characters, just tone and animation.  Blerg!
  • There were a couple (one about two kids going to an underground hangar and finding huge sentry robots guarding gold, and one about an alien sent to Earth to watch over people but who is then ordered to stand by as humans are exterminated) that were definitely setting up for a feature length film, and I really enjoyed them… provided that there was ever any payoff.  I guess part of the payoff is being able to imagine “what’s next” in my head, but I would still appreciate follow up.

Overall, a great time.  I would definitely recommend it to others who have a sci-fi and fantasy bent, and should have bought tickets much earlier so that I could have attended both sessions (I heard from Joe that he and Karen really liked some of the ones in the first session, further cementing my “oops” in not getting tickets to that).

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I don’t often post about Magic stuff here because a significant portion of my readers (friends) don’t really care.  But about four times a year, something Magical happens that I am bouncing up and down about – the releases of our new expansions!  Today is one such release, and here’s the plan for the day:

  • Go to work and print out my profile sheet.  I made this myself – it says a little bit about me, what cards I helped design, and what I do at Wizards.  It helps break the ice for people who want to come play against me (not that I’m any big name, but I am wearing WotC wear so it can be a little uncomfortable for people).
  • Collect the remainder of the cards I need for my casual decks.  This mostly involves raiding our company store of the new expansion since those cards aren’t really available widely yet.  I am finished with my normal deck and mostly finished with my crazy fun deck.
  • Go to Seattle Center and watch people play for a bit.  It’s still a bit early to start gunslinging, but I might start doing that right away.
  • Gunsling – as in, fight allcomers – as in, play Magic against them and talk to players, gathering opinions and thoughts on the new set, and answering questions that they have.  Also, I give out a booster pack as “prize” to anyone who plays me.

After playing Magic for some hours, I want to try to make it to a Sci Fi and Fantasy Film Festival in Seattle, which Joe told me about.  The tickets aren’t actually on sale until noon today, but luckily the box office and theater are very close to the location in Seattle Center where we’ll be playing Magic.

It’s one of the few times I get to play real Magic these days!

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Teleportation 1

How would access to instantaneous transport change the world?  In some ways, it’s a monumental task of imagination to think through all the implications.  To start, I figured I would think through the various ways in which we (the human race) might one day achieve teleportation.

1. Quantum Teleportation (QT)

We know that it is possible to transmit very tiny bits of information across large distances without transporting the underlying physical system.  Due to the nature of these quantum states, the information is the system.  QT is a destructive operation – when you measure the state-to-be-teleported sufficiently to be to able to define it, you destroy that system.  You then transmit the information (classically; meaning, at the speed of light) over to the receiver and the state-that-was-teleported is reconstructed from that information.  Matter is required at both ends – you are measurable a real physical system, and you project the information into another real physical system.  In some sense, the destination system is imprinted with the character of the teleported system, becoming it.

So how would this process be evolved to become a reusable, effective teleportation system?  Could it be that classical beings, seen as the combination of a huge number of quantum states, can be destructively measured and then reconstructed state-by-state?  I’m not sure anyone really understands the boundary between quantum (uncertainty, entanglement, wavelike) and classical (predictable, measurable) physical behavior.  Is there a boundary?  It is very hard for my classical brain to grasp the nature of quantum mechanics intuitively — as Richard Feynman said, “I think it is safe to say that no one understands Quantum Mechanics.”

But let’s imagine.  If it is possible to QT a person, and it became widespread technology, the concept of body would be secondary (or maybe even meaningless) to the information content of your person.  Since the process of measurement before teleport “destroys” the quantum system, I guess your original body would be trashed (and reclaimed?) in a facility, and then your person would be imprinted on available material at the destination.

Ugh, this method doesn’t sound too great.

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I had an idea last night before going to bed, that was still in my head on the way to work (usually a good sign!), for a possible science fiction novel.  What if there was a pseudo-humanoid race that “saw” using gravitons (i.e. gravity) instead of light (i.e. electromagnetism)?

Small physics lesson, for background: there are four fundamental forces – in order from weakest to strongest, they are Gravitational, Weak, Electromagnetic, Strong.  All of them except gravity have to do with interactions at the atomic scale; gravity is the only one that, due to some of its special properties, has major effects at the macroscopic level.  If electricity and magnetism didn’t have opposites (like positive and negative charge) it would have a far greater effect macroscopically — gravity only attracts, and has infinite range, and can’t be shielded against, so it has the largest impact at the macro level.

We interact with the world using our eyes primarily, and then less so through our other senses.  But our eyes, as amazing and complex as they are, are really only capable of observing a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  I’m no expert on how eyes work, but essentially photons (the carrier of EM) are reflected off of objects and then absorbed by our retinas.  In this way, we form a picture of our surroundings – quite a detailed picture!

So what about a story in which this hypothetical g-human race had “eyes” that sensed gravitational force?  I imagine the beings form sort of a 3-d “sonar” map of their surroundings, based on the raw attractive power of objects near them.  They’d have to be hypersensitve (gravity is a literal hojillion times weaker than EM), and they’d probably develop “microgravity” to differentiate themselves from each other — like plumage, but due to very dense spots in their physical makeup.

One of the major challenges with writing this story will be how hard it is to SHOW things – it would take a great deal of effort to immerse a human reader in the g-human world.  Also, what would the story be about?  I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a human meet a g-human; I think the story is more interesting if it is entirely within the context of this gravity-sense world.  Maybe there’s a fundamental problem that this species had “solved for them” by happenstance – think of their “sun” as a black hole, and that their planet is somehow in a stable orbit around it due to (some reason), that they took for granted for a loooong time.  And now, it’s becoming undone and they have to figure out why their planet is sliding into the “sun” and how to stop it!

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