Did you know the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” was never said in a Star Trek Episode? The first time it was used was in the audio adaptation of the novel, “Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden” by William “Captain Kirk” Shatner. Nevertheless, when you say it, everybody knows you’re talking about being teleported.
Teleportation is a popular science-fiction concept. Star Trek used it, but it was not invented for the most famous sci-fi TV show of all time. In the real world, as I write this article, teleportation is still a dream, per se. There are innovations, not the kind we think of in the domain of quantum teleportation, but I simply don’t understand them. Oh, but I forgot…
What is Teleportation?
In science, quantum teleportation is the transfer of the quantum state of some quantum object (photon, atom, molecule, etc.) to another without alteration (source).
In fiction, teleportation is a technology that can instantly transport a person or an object from one place to another. Depending on the rules of the fictional universe you’re in, you can be transported as you are or dematerialized at the entry point before being rematerialized at the other end. Also, when magic is involved, things can be as simple as they can be difficult with teleportation. We’ll stay with sci-fi in this article.
Teleportation, a future technology?
In the Star Trek Universe, as it is explained in episode 10 of season 4 of Star Trek: Enterprise, Dr. Emory Erickson invented the transporter, the device used for teleportation, in the early 22nd century. It took time to perfect it, but in the 23rd century, it was in use in the Starship Enterprise.
In other works of fiction, teleportation can be contemporary. In George Langelaan’s short story “The Fly” published in 1957, the scientist André Delambre used his disintegrator-reintegrator to instantaneously transfer matters from one location to another through space. It was still experimental, but it worked. Even if the accident with the fly was not a success, Delambre was teleported.
In Christopher Priest’s “The Prestige,’ the 19th-century inventor Nikola Tesla created a sort of teleportation device, but it didn’t really work as he hoped—one can argue that it was not teleportation.
In the famous John Carter series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Carter was for the first time transported to Mars after the American Civil War—of course, the technology was not a human creation.
In the 1927 novel The Disintegration Machine written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wealthy eccentric adventurer Professor Challenger met a man named Nemor who had invented a machine that could disintegrate a person and then reassemble him somewhere else. When Nemor explored the worst possibilities of his creation, Challenger had to stop him.
Who thought of it first?
In 1877, American author Edward Page Mitchell wrote a story titled ‘The Man Without a Body’ in which a scientist discovers a method to disassemble a cat’s atoms and transmit them over a telegraph wire. It worked, the cat was reassembled. That’s when the man tried this on himself and things got complicated. Of course, long before that, in the Bible, in the New Testament, teleportation was suggested.
Mitchell’s story seems to have inspired a hoax. According to the Melbourne Daily Telegraph, an article published in a Bombay paper described ‘an apparatus by which man can be reduced into infinitesimal atoms, transmitted through a wire, and reproduced safe and sound at the other end.’ This article was titled ‘The Teleport.’ It also involved a dog, a boy named Pedro, and the danger of teleporting with a man’s best friend. It suggested that, maybe one day, we could teleport from India to England in a few minutes by submarine cable. Sadly, it’s still not a reality.
Teleportation on TV
Nobody could dispute the fact that Star Trek popularized the concept of Teleportation, but it was not the first TV Show to employ it. In the 1963 episode ‘The Forbidden Planet’ of the British children’s science fiction show Fireball XL5, the Nutopians—Aliens from the planet Nutopia, of course—have invented a matter transporter. People entered a cylinder enclosed in a clear glass-like material. Once in, the device was activated and the travelers were sent to their desired destination.
In Star Trek, the idea of the transporter came as a solution to budget limitations. The visual effects were cheaper and easier for a transporter than for a spaceship landing each week on a new planet. If Gene Roddenberry had more money to concretize his vision, maybe teleportation would be a more confidential concept today.
In fact, even in movies, teleportation was barely used before Star Trek. It appeared for the first time in the 1939 serial film Buck Rogers (which was parodied in the 1953 Merrie Melodies cartoon parody Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century), then in one or two 1950s sci-fi b movies. The lack of money seemed to be a common motivator to use teleportation
Who created teleportation?
As of today, in the real world, nobody really invented it yet. Scientists work on the idea, and progress is made, but not in the way we expect it. Maybe one day. I’ll update this article when I can travel from Paris to New York in minutes!