Thoughts on Teleportation.

Lately, I have been thinking of what technologies could radically alter the world as we know it. I cannot think of many technologies that would fundamentally change the world as much as teleportation. So, I decided to sit down for a few hours and think of how this could play out.

The way I see it, teleportation would be a very cheap and instant way to move people or cargo to any spot in the world. Very much like remote work has altered the global landscape for work, where you can hire and be hired by anyone, anywhere, but you also compete with almost everyone.

Teleportation would increase this idea of global competition to the maximum. Shipping would essentially become free, the movement of people across borders and nations would be frictionless, and cities may even stop making sense. Even roads may not be built any longer.

As with any new technology, there would be some fantastic uses, such as the ability to go on holiday and see new cultures without the pain of traveling. On the other hand, drugs and weapons could more easily move around, and, of course, dozens of industries would collapse almost overnight, including the logistics and freight industry, the airlines, which some people would continue to use purely from a historical or experience perspective.

The traditional advantages of cities, where numerous experts come into close proximity to create a melting pot of ideas, would no longer exist. Anyone could live anywhere, and considering that most of the world’s land has not been developed, this would result in a crash in real estate prices, especially in concentrated urban areas such as Manhattan or central London and Paris.

It would no longer make any sense to build skyscrapers because you simply do not need to squash so much usable space into such a small surface area.

As the technology becomes more and more ubiquitous and advanced, you might not even need to have your house or apartment attached to the water mains or sewage, water could be teleported to your tap the precise moment you open it, and your toilet could, instead of flushing, teleport waste to a specifically designated area of the world.

Video calls and zoom meetings would most likely be replaced by special meeting rooms that you can teleport to have your work meetings. These would be equipped with everything you need to have a productive discussion, and then once you’re done you can teleport back home. Cleaners could then teleport back in to clean the place up, or perhaps if there was an advanced enough system, a set of cameras could identify everything that was used, teleport it automatically to a cleaning center, and then teleport new items into the room, ready for the next meeting.

Food delivery apps would obviously cease to exist, or perhaps they would just provide an interface to having food teleported to your house, but I wonder if it would be easier to simply teleport to your favorite restaurant in the world and order directly, cutting out the middle man.

In fact, you could even get table service right at home, with waiters teleporting directly into your house to serve you food, and then teleporting back into their restaurant or kitchen to bring back dishes and orders.

Assuming that the price of teleportation starts out very expensively, but then like any new technology becomes cheaper and cheaper over time, I would imagine that the price of food would drop significantly, as a large portion of the cost of food to a consumer is related to the logistics, storage, and retail sales of those items, which would likely no longer be required.

You could simply order online, and all the food could be teleported to your fridge directly. In fact, this could be done in a completely abstract way, so that when you open your fridge your favorite food is always there, and if you don’t use it gets teleported to someone else’s fridge for just-in-time consumption.

Of course, why not have glucose and protein directly teleported into your muscle cells? My feeling is that this would be a technical problem several orders of magnitude more difficult than “normal” teleportation, but there is no reason to think that this could not eventually be solved.

The experiences that one individual could have in just a month would be amazing. You can scuba dive in Panama, explore the jungles of Costa Rica, drink an Espresso in Rome, watch a concert in New York, and have sushi in Japan, all in a single day.

It is unlikely that governments would give everyone the complete freedom to just teleport directly into a country without any checks, but there for sure would be certain zones, such as the European block, that would allow this between countries.

It would be quite interesting to think about how this technology could work because there are a lot of security hazards. Obviously, you would not want just anyone to be allowed to teleport into your home, so the address may need to be secret, or you may allow only certain other locations to teleport to your home, or perhaps there is an interface where you are able to preview what will be teleported and then accept or deny based on the teleportation.

It is also very likely that governments would want to keep detailed logs of everyone’s travel, which then may make crime significantly more difficult because it is likely that the typical infrastructure that we have now such as roads and walkways would cease to exist, with the exception of beautiful walkways that people can enjoy walking in. And also, piazzas where you can visit historical monuments and sit to enjoy the breeze and a coffee.

It would be interesting to understand the differences between having a teleportation system where you need technology both at the starting point and at the endpoint, vs a system where the technology required is only required at the starting point, and you can teleport anywhere without the requirement of having permission.

This second method would create significant regulatory challenges, as obviously it would be difficult to live in a society where anyone could teleport anywhere at any time. It would mean that privacy and security would be significantly jeopardized, and most like this would involve teleporting being significantly more regulated and centralized, more akin to flying to an airplane than taking a bus or booking a taxi via a ride-hailing application.

You would likely need to visit a specific center or “teleportation stop” where there is a pre-configured approved area that you can teleport to, and then you can use the system after making the required payment or some type of check-in.

The gradual rollout of teleportation is also something that is quite interesting to consider. Most likely it would start to replace the most expensive and time-consuming travel and logistic use cases first, and as the technology gets cheaper and more reliable over time, then more and more use cases would open up. So initially it might be cost-effective to teleport from London to Sidney but still significantly cheaper to fly from London to Rome, although some people would be willing to pay the premium to avoid flying altogether and save time. Think of politicians or celebrities that have significant security overheads while traveling, teleportation would make sense even for shorter journeys.

With regards to logistics, it would probably make the most sense to teleport heavy or bulky goods first, assuming that there is little to no difference in teleportation cost based on the size or weight of the material that you are teleporting.

Going back to the point of reliability, the technology would have to be essentially foolproof, because it would end up being used at such an incredible scale once it is fully rolled out, that even one-in-a-million or one-in-a-billion safety issues would actually become quite common.

The key problems I foresee are:

  1. Teleporting to the wrong location. I think this is the least likely issue to happen often because there would have to be a quite straight forward system of geo-location either using GPS or perhaps a next-generation system that is significantly more accurate. I think this is a solved problem.
  2. The issue of teleporting completely or partly in the space that is taken up by something else. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to be teleported inside a concrete wall, and I am not even sure what would exactly happen, whether it would explode or you would be squashed into an infinitesimally small ball of meat. This could be a major issue, but perhaps overcome if you need technology at both the departure and arrival points, and you are essentially being teleported into a controlled environment instead of right inside someone’s living room.
  3. The issue of replicating you at the arrival point. Obviously we don’t know how this technology will work, but the assumption is that some type of scan of your body needs to be made, and then a reconstruction of you is built atom by atom on the other end, and perhaps the “original” you is actually destroyed.

This third point is quite interesting, because in the original you may actually experience death each time you teleport, but then your copy continues living, which would be very strange indeed. This gets even stranger if for some technical glitch you survived, and then there are two copies of you walking around on earth, and I am not sure how this would get resolved, because it would be difficult for a reasonable society to then execute someone after-the-fact vs just someone dying, probably via being disintegrated, in the normal course of daily travel.

If the technology instead works more like some time of space-time hole that allows instant travel to distant points, then this problem could be avoided altogether.

The point of reliability is an important one, because with an estimated future of 10-15 billion people living on earth, and assuming that the technology is ubiquitous and cost-effective, then each person may be making as many as ten trips per day.

This means up to 100 individual billion trips per day or 36.5 trillion trips per year. This means that if even a small fraction of the trips had issues, this would result in an unacceptable number of deaths or injuries.

For instance, if just one-in-a-billion trips involved problem #2 of teleporting partly into another piece of matter, that would be 36,500 deaths per year.

Actually, now that I think about it, this probably would be very acceptable, because it is significantly less than the number of deaths caused by car accidents, and there are also a significant number of benefits as well that need to be weighed up as well. There would also be significant incentives for engineers to fix many problems as the technology scales, and it likely would not scale if the risks were unacceptable to the population at large, because if everyone knows someone who has died while teleporting, they would be significantly less likely to use the technology.

It is also interesting to consider how this technology would be owned and operated. Would it be government-controlled, or would there be lots of competing and fragmented private networks, or would it be a type of public good such as the internet, and underlying technology platform or set of standards that platforms are then developed on top of?

One could imagine that certain governments, if possible, would only allow teleportation very restricted use of teleportation and perhaps only within their own borders, very much like China almost has its own version of the internet with the “Great Firewall” system that it has, and it does not allow many foreign companies to operate and run their services from abroad.

This would make sense, especially if foreign private or government-owned entities could track the movements of populations in other countries because this gives them a significant amount of data to map our relationships and patterns. This is essentially why China bans Google Search because this would give Google, an American company, an incredible amount of insight into what the Chinese population is thinking in real-time.

This is very much understandable from a Chinese point of view, and blocking the market to foreign companies also allows local startups a captive audience, so that Chinese engineers can develop platforms that can then compete in a global scale across the world.

While TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, is allowed in the United States, there have been significant efforts to try and block it, because of the powerful facial recognition features as well as geolocation data, which means that almost all young Americans have their data stored in the hands of a Chinese company, and this could prove a significant advantage in the future for China.

What is even more interesting is if a small group of renegades or hackers managed to find a way to leverage the underlining technology to create anonymous teleportation services, and if this becomes widespread, it could cause some radical changes to society. This is especially true if there is no technology required at the arrival point.

Drugs would most likely have to be decriminalized if they were not decriminalized already, because it would be impossible to stop narco-traffickers as they could cheaply and securely ship unlimited quantities of drugs directly from the source of production to the last point of distribution for consumers.

That said, it would also be significantly easier for an enforcement agency like the DEA to teleport an entire army to the Colombian jungle to destroy the production source, so it is not clear if the advantages of the drug traffickers would be held for long.

Teleportation would for sure help to facilitate a one-world government, because if the movement of people and goods becomes more and more unrestricted, we may slowly realize that having nation-states may not be that important.

Of course, we are not likely to allow for instant and free immigration from any country in the world, as this would be fiercely resisted by the people living in first-world countries. The logic is quite clear here and works similarly to the principle of Osmosis. This is the spontaneous movement or diffusion of solvent molecules (think salt dissolved in water!) across a permeable membrane. This means that both sides of the membrane eventually end with the same amount of solvent concentrate in the solute.

So, let’s apply this to instant and free immigration, and let’s take the example of Africa and Europe, which has already been a hotly debated topic in recent times, with large waves of immigrants population coming to Europe, as much as 1% of the population of some entire countries per year.

There are a lot more people living in third-world countries than in Europe. We can imagine that many of them would like to live in Europe due to the better standard of living, the economic potential, and the fact that lots of areas of Europe are really quite beautiful.

So, if anyone in any third-world country could move to Florence or Venice, or Marseille, or Barcelona, or some of the lovely residential areas of Berlin, a question should be asked:

When would they stop moving to Europe?

Well, this is where the analogy to Osmosis comes into play. People across the world would keep coming to these places until these places have the same quality of life as the places they come from, at which point the incentive to move to a foreign country would disappear.

This obviously would be an unacceptable outcome for the people who are fortunate enough to already live in these wonderful places, and so there would naturally have to be some type of immigration control with regards to teleportation. It is likely that any current biases that exist as the technology is rolled out would continue and be perhaps exaggerated by teleportation.

It is interesting to think about how organizations could use cheaper labor from third world countries, teleport them to facilities in first world countries, where they could earn significantly more than the wages paid back home, and then teleport them back home at the end of each shift. This would appear to be a win-win-win situation for both the third world workers, the companies employing them, and perhaps consumers that receive lower prices.

I imagine that first-world manufacturing jobs that do not require a high degree of skillset would rapidly disappear, or that organized labor would put up a strong fight against this type of tactic.

This is quite interesting because it is the exact opposite of “shipping jobs abroad”, something that has been bemoaned as the reason for gutting many first-world manufacturing industries.

The professional services sector would also be quite interesting, as consultants and experts could instantly appear where they are needed. For instance, if you want a chess teacher, he can teleport to your living room and play chess with you for a couple of hours, so you get the entire benefit of face to face communication, which can significantly enhance the learning experience, as most communication between two people is often non-verbal.

This could lead to a world of near-perfect competition because experts could attract clients from anywhere in the world because the cost and friction of travel would decrease to almost zero.

This would likely hurt incumbents in first-world countries that charge significantly higher hourly rates for their services compared to organizations that operate in cheaper markets but may offer similar quality services. There is an idea called “Extracting Economic Rent”. This is when a business exists not by adding much value, but purely because the local geographical area requires a certain amount of service or product, and someone needs to be there to offer that product. This means that badly run businesses can last for years or decades because they don’t have much local competition.

I remember at the start of my consulting career having as a client the leading chain of computer shops in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was a company that had poor management, and yet this was good enough to exist in the local market because they had been there twenty years, and so they were simply extracting the local economic rent. I explicitly remember my surprise when I discovered that they did not use any system to track their inventory in the warehouse, but had two guys whose job was to memorize what was available at any given time.

Crazy, but true.

Going back to real estate prices, it is likely that prices would equal out between the city and countryside. Or, Countryside prices would rise even above those of the city. Living in nature is superior to living in the city, especially if you can teleport anywhere. There is a set amount of inventory of historical real estate in the countryside, and so this would appreciate in value as more and more people seek an idyllic country home.

With the concentration of real estate in cities dropping in value, many homeowners and financial institutions may then find themselves with negative equity, and we would likely see some banks crash as they can no longer meet their obligations.

A lot of people would also likely to move to cheaper countries if there is the freedom to instantly teleport between countries. Perhaps this would work in a similar way that international air travel works now, with a passport system.

Anyway, this is all very interesting, and I wanted to sit down and jot my initial thoughts down. I will for sure eventually follow up with a more structured essay.

Related Essays