Science: The Knowledge of Consequences

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I can hear the familiar whirring sound of the iTeleport from the room below. Although I’ve grown to hate that sound, I am relieved to hear it for once. Finally, my brother has decided to come home.

Within a matter of seconds, I am standing by the mainframe in the corner of the living room. I watch anxiously as the completion meter slowly fills up bit by bit. For a quantum computer, the processing is extremely slow. As if to mock me, the bar lingers millimetres from the finish line. Even though it is completely pointless, I tap the screen impatiently. After what seemed like an eternity, the meter is completely filled. The glass pod glows brightly as the whirring sound intensifies. At last, a silhouette similar to that of my brother appears. Seconds later, the pod slides open and out steps a young man smiling jovially at me. I rush forward and embrace the figure that had materialized before me. For the first time in a very long time, I forget that the being I held in my arms was nothing more than air minutes earlier.

“Did you miss me?” he asks. I nod vigorously without uttering a word. Laughing, he ruffles my hair.

The overwhelming fear that engulfed me moments ago, settled to a simmer in the back of my mind. Unless, I could force my brother to never set foot in an iTeleport again, my unease can never be completely eradicated.

“It’s incredible, sis,” my brother says to me. “The experiences I’ve gained in the last couple of months! The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells! No matter how many times I go out, I will never become tired of any of it! There is just so much to do out there! ” he says in his booming voice. A huge smile spreads across his face as he pictures all the people and places he has had the chance to see in the last few years.

“One day,” he says to me as he begins to walk away towards the kitchen. “Your curiosity to see the rest of the world will overcome any of your fears that prevent you from stepping into that iTeleport,” he tells me knowingly. “I promise”, he says with a grin.

I stare after the figure that had left through the living room door. A voice then became apparent in the back of my mind. It reminded me that the person who had just walked out of the room was not my brother. Not really.

My real brother died nearly 4 years ago. The man who had stood before me was simply a copy. He was a completely identical copy of my brother; down to the very last entangled particle. Despite the fact that this man’s memories, actions, and thoughts will embody my brother in every single way, it still isn’t the same.

Almost 10 years have passed since one of the greatest scientists in the world sucessfully teleported a living human from one location to another for the first time in history. For decades, generation upon generation of incredible scientists have worked off of each other’s achievements and discoveries to actualize a single concept: a quantum computer system that had the caliber to analyze the vastly complex structure of the state of every single particle in a human. In achieving this great feat, it became a simpler task of allowing a pair of chambers of entangled particles to orientate themselves into the structure inputted into this system. Through the phenomenon of “spooky action at a distance” (can nobody come up with a better term for this?), the orientation of the particles in one of the two chambers will alter the particles in the other chamber into an exact copy of the original structure. Thus, a completely perfect copy of a human is made on the other side of the world.

Although this mind boggling accomplishment is an incredible success for the human race, there is one dire consequence: in order to analyze and store a copy of someone’s particle structure, the original human will be completely annihilated.

Although riddled with many more boastful comments about the scientists that contributed to this advance, that was a general overview of what my teachers have taught me in school.

However, years from now, the history data bases will have no records about the failures of some of the very first teleportation attempts. Years from now, people will forget that it was and still is easy for the computer to lose your data and essentially destroy your being for nothing.

I sigh deeply and cast a glance at the opposite corner of the room. There, a frame is embedded in the wall. An endless cycle of images appear in the frame one after the other.

I tell the house monitor to pause at image 103598.

The image was taken when my brother was born. In the image, my father is embracing my mother from behind who is sitting upright in a hospital bed with a bundle of sheets in her arms. My brother’s face peeps from the folds of the blanket. All three faces had genuine smiles on them.

“I miss you, guys”, I murmur at the photo before walking out of the room.

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Quantum Theories

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.