Friday, May 19, 2017

Microstory 585: Aerial Broadcasting Terminals Unsafe, Scientists Say

When the first land vehicle was invented circa 1694, its hopeful manufacturers faced a problem that continues today for other advances. Why would you buy a car when there’s nowhere to replenish its fuel? Why would you build a refilling station when there aren’t any cars to use them? People figured out this problem eventually, and besides a few hiccups, things ended up okay. Both cars, and their refilling station companions, became ubiquitous across the globe. The second wave of advancements did not come with quite the same issue. Electric vehicles, of course, required a different power source, but at least the infrastructure was already in place. It wasn’t all that hard to retrofit preexisting petrol refilling stations with battery caches. As archaic as it might sound, supercharging was nowhere near possible, and so stations got in the business of trading dead batteries with full batteries, with the ultimate plan to recharge those so that they could in turn be traded with later customers. In fact, statisticians [erroneously] estimated at one point that, if a given individual used the same station for at least a year, chances approach 100% that they used the same battery twice on different charge cycles. Unfortunately for the battery trading trade, this business model was not stable. People wanted to charge their cars as fast as they once filled their tanks, and they didn’t want to lug around heavy batteries in order to do it. Fortunately for them, this was becoming possible, but it also threatened a return to the issue of coordinating rechargeable electric cars with their charging stations. But again, they figured it out. Due to its high cost, only the wealthiest of people were capable of affording electric cars anyway. This allowed for a slower roll-out of charging ports, which were comparatively cheap, and usually worth the lack of business. Electricity, unlike liquid fuels, doesn’t go bad after time, and can be transmitted instantaneously across vast distances, if need be. Once electric vehicles were ready for the middle market, their charging stations were already waiting for them.
When Erebus Heffernan completed his lifelong project of his own form of transportation, he rejoiced. No longer would anyone need to stop and fill up on liquid fuel, or even electricity. It wouldn’t even be necessary to traverse the distance between two points at all. He had created a teleportation device. Passengers step inside the transporter, and indicate their destination. The machine dematerializes them into their composite atoms, and “beams” them to a satellite overhead, which then beams them back down to the planet somewhere else. If you think this sounds fast, but dangerous, you are not alone. Scientists agree with you, and they have the research to back up their claims. In a paper originally published in the scientific journal, Holophrasm, a team of three respected scientists work out the issues with the Aerial Broadcasting Terminal system. It might sound like the setup to a joke, but a molecular physicist, an ethics-centered metaphysicist, and a quantum physicist walked into a conference room at university, and began working together. The entirety of their paper will be accessible to the public in four months time, but as I belong to the industry, I’ve received an early copy. The gist of it is that letting a machine rip you apart, and reassemble you somewhere tantamount to suicide. So many questions can’t really ever be answered, the majority of them posed by the metaphysicist. If something goes wrong while in transit, what happens to you? If one of the machines breaks down and is unable to transmit, or reassemble you, are you dead? If the satellite faces critical failure, and loses power for a time, what are you then? Just a series of data on a logic board. But what if a million years from now, our descendants discover that ancient satellite, and bring you out of it? You’ve returned, but you were probably declared dead 999,999 years ago. Were you? What if there’s some kind of data corruption, and you end up disfigured, or nothing but a pile of goop, on the other side? What even is life?

The reason this article began with an explanation of earlier transportation advances is because Heffernan wanted to avoid these kind of problems by pouring a ton of money in infrastructure, under the assumption that people will flock to this new technology, and begin using it immediately. A trip costs a few dollars, and zero commitment, so why wouldn’t people jump at the chance to ditch their cars and get anywhere they wanted faster? Heffernan invested billions of Usonian dollars building machines all over the world, along with a fleet of satellite intermediaries, the majority of which have not yet launched. It appears that his investments may have been for naught, as this paper has already caused a number of industry experts to warn would-be travelers of the dangers of this form of teleportation, myself included. Only time will tell if the concerns listed in the Holophrasm article are somehow dispelled, or if enough customers decide them to be worth the risk.

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