The Big Idea: Tal M. Klein

Teleportation: A great idea, but with some practical… problems. It’s a physics thing. In this Big Idea for The Punch Escrow, author Tal M. Klein wonders, what if you could solve those problems, not with physics, but with another branch of human intellectual endeavor entirely?

TAL M. KLEIN:

F#*%ing transporters, how do they work?

It was the Ides of March of 2012. I had just started a new job and was chatting with a co-worker about lens flare. Specifically, I was ranting about J.J. Abrams’ penchant for gratuitous lens flare, using the Star Trek reboot as an example, when all of a sudden the conversation was interrupted by our CEO.

“It’s bullshit!” he shouted.

(He wasn’t talking about the lens flare.)

Our CEO wielded a PhD in Computer Science and was using it to fight with Star Trek, or more specifically its transporters. He went on to monologue about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, explaining that the position and the velocity of an object couldn’t both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory, and in the highly improbable likelihood that somehow someone did manage to circumvent the uncertainty principle, they’d still have to contend with the no-cloning theorem, which stated that it was impossible to create an identical copy of any unknown quantum state.

Here is what I heard: “Teleportation is impossible because physics.”

Now let’s be clear, I’m not a scientist. What I am is a product man. I build and market technology products for a living. Having bet my career on startups, my brain senses opportunity where others see impossibility. In fact, whenever anyone tells me I can’t do something, my mind automatically appends a “yet” to the end of their statement.

My favorite author growing up was Larry Niven. This fact is germane here because the first thing that came to mind during the CEO’s aforementioned monologue was a Niven essay entitled Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation, part of a collection called All The Myriad Ways. Niven’s spiel on teleportation explored the pros and cons of the myriad ways (see what I did there) we might achieve commercialized human teleportation. The science was interesting, but what I remembered latching on to as a kid was his take on the anthropological impact of teleportation.

Niven’s itch was akin to what angered my CEO: If we discount for Star Trek’s technobabble and defer to actual physics, then every time Scotty teleported Captain Kirk he was actually killing him in one place and “printing him out” somewhere else.

This destructive teleportation variant of the twin maker trope has been explored almost ad nauseum. Though there are several good stories and movies that address the existential problems teleportation could introduce should it ever become a viable transportation mechanism, none have adequately presented a marketable solution to that problem — at least none that might pass muster with an anthropologist.

How come nobody ever discussed how society might come to adopt teleportation in the first place, I wondered. Science fiction seemed to lack a scientifically plausible teleportation mechanism that could be deemed safe enough to commercialize in the near future.

So, I decided to solve the teleportation problem — with marketing!

In my day job as a chief marketing officer, when I’m asked to play out this kind of go-to-market strategy problem, I use a game theory methodology known as Wardley mapping; an augmentation of value chain mapping. The “product” came in the form of the Punch Escrow. It’s the MacGuffin that makes teleportation safe and thus both scientifically and anthropologically plausible. The value of mapping in predicting the future is based in pragmatism. If we can assess what components of tech will become commoditized in society, we can envision innovations that build on those commodities in alignment with basic needs, making their commercialization more plausible.

Consulting with a real life quantum physicist, I used the Wardley mapping approach to understand the teleportation problem and then solve for it: When someone teleports, the Punch Escrow is a chamber in which the they are held — in escrow — until they safely arrive at their final destination. That way if anything goes wrong during teleportation, the “conductor” could just cancel the trip and the traveler would safely walk out at the point of origin as if nothing happened.

But how does one market this scenario given the very obvious twin maker issue?

A capitalist society will always want to get from point A to point B faster and on-demand. I don’t think anyone would argue that safe teleportation is a highly desirable mode of transport. The Punch Escrow makes it possible, and International Transport (the company behind commercial teleportation in the 22nd century) effectively brands it as “safe.” To wit, critics of early steam locomotives avowed that the human body was not meant to move faster than fifty miles an hour. Intelligent people with impeccable credentials worried that female passengers’ uteruses might be ejected from their bodies as trains accelerated! Others suspected that a human body might simply melt at such speeds. You know what? It didn’t matter. People wanted to get from point A to point B faster, train tycoons marketed to that desire with implied underpinnings of safety, and trains took off.

Just as locomotives didn’t transform our world into a dystopia, it stands to reason teleportation won’t either. Yes, people die in train accidents (not because their organs fly out of their orifices, I should add), but the benefit is anthropologically perceived as greater than the risk. Same goes with commercial flight. Of course you’ve heard the axiom, “If God had meant man to fly…” — that didn’t seem to stop droves of us from squeezing into small flying metal tubes in the sky. Today, we face similar fears with autonomous vehicles, but I’m certain that the marketers will calm our nerves. I believe within a generation the notion of manual driving will seem as esoteric a means of getting around as a horse and carriage. Maybe the same will be said of teleportation a century from now?

—-

The Punch Escrow: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

20 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Tal M. Klein

  1. Intelligent people with impeccable credentials worried that female passengers’ uteruses might be ejected from their bodies as trains accelerated!

    THIS I want to know more about!

  2. whot is dis Wardley Mapping? new word of the day!
    http://www.cio.co.uk/it-strategy/introduction-wardley-value-chain-mapping-3604565/

    “Intelligent people with impeccable credentials worried that female passengers’ uteruses might be ejected from their bodies as trains accelerated! Others suspected that a human body might simply melt at such speeds. ”

    cite please! I want to read that!
    ps is the plural of uterus –> uteri, inquiring minds want to know.
    ETA oh someone else wants to see that too.

  3. I dunno, I think your “safe” teleportation scheme has a 100% fatality rate, at least from my viewpoint. I’ll just walk instead. But looking forward to reading the book!

  4. “Just as locomotives didn’t transform our world into a dystopia, it stands to reason teleportation won’t either.”

    Sorry but I’m not convinced this is the same thing. That people do not, in fact, melt from traveling over 50 mph and women’s uteri are not ejected at such speeds is very obviously provable. So is the fact that planes are statistically safer than cars and self-driving cars are statistically safer than human-driven ones. But how do you *prove* that the individual consciousness of the person who steps into the transporter does not end when their atoms are torn apart, just as if they had been poison-gassed or guillotined, and that the person who steps out at the destination has that same, continuing consciousness, and not just a copy of it? The person who steps out would be equally convinced they were the original either way.

    Oddly, I can see religious folks being convinced of this more easily, as it would seem reasonable that God (or the equivalent) would pluck the “soul” out of the destroyed body and deposit it back in the new one, rather than allowing superfluous souls to be created every time a person teleports. But I can’t see any similar comfort for atheists/materialists.

    “Yes, people die in train accidents (not because their organs fly out of their orifices, I should add), but the benefit is anthropologically perceived as greater than the risk. Same goes with commercial flight.”

    Somehow I don’t think there’d be the same acceptance if *everyone* who ever got on a train or a plane died (or could be non-disprovably argued to have died), rather than a tolerably tiny percentage of people.

    As I understand it, the concept of the escrow chamber makes the whole thing worse, not better. If the destruction of the traveler’s body at the point of origin is done just before or simultaneously with its re-creation at the destination, you could at least claim that their consciousness is somehow also transferred, and no one would be able to disprove it. But if there’s an actual point, no matter how brief, where there’s one person with one consciousness sitting in the escrow chamber, and another, physically identical person with another consciousness at their destination, already having different experiences and diverging from the original, that would seem to prove the worst fears of the anti-teleportationists. I can’t actually imagine anyone happily saying, “My copy made it safely to Mars? Great! Okay, go ahead and kill me!”

    Very interested in reading the book if it addresses this issue!

  5. Monica, a similar thread broke out on Ars Technica’s review of the book. To answer your last question first: Yes, the book does address the issue you bring up. As to your earlier statement … For better worse, my ability to comment further is limited because any further discussion would involve spoilers, and my publisher would kill me (and not print me out somewhere else!). I would love to discuss the book with you after you read it. I troll my book on Goodreads, so I’ll be there to chat when you finish reading :)

  6. Hmm. I’d seen this elsewhere and was going to just pick it up at the library but… “Holds: 19 on 6 copies…” which is great for Tal but not for me. However, I just checked and… $6.99 for the ebook?? library shmibary…

  7. “If we can assess what components of tech will become commoditized in society, we can envision innovations that build on those commodities in alignment with basic needs, making their commercialization more plausible”

    Good grief. I hope the book doesnt read like this.

    Also, if anyone wants to see how messed up the teleport-a-copy-and-destroy-the-original is, just watch The Prestige. When you see a hundred dead “originals” rotting in the basement, you reallize how silly this idea is. Its a writers tool to write an unexpected story, but it doesnt make sense from a basic human perspective.

    Imagine the commercial: folks! Want to go to Mars? Well, you cant. But we can scan you, and print a copy of you on Mars, and then we’ll have you put to death in a painless manner. You wont get to mars, but for the low cost of ten thousand dollars, someone who looks like you and has all your memories will get to experience mars after you die. Oh. And they get all your property too. So, come one down, bring a hunk of money, and pay to have someone else do what you always wanted to do while you are euthanized.

    Yeah, no one is doing that.

    The only reason it kind of worked in the Prestige is because it was hidden from the audience until the very end, and bale’s character by that point was suicidal and angry, so maybe one could imagine him doing this.

    I mean, the real world has suicide bombers, but its probably not a good idea to base a global mode of travel on everyone being suicidal.

    Also, the only way to know if the teleportation was successful, with transmission times limited to speed of light, is if the original and the new copy both exist at the same time. Once the copy passes its checks, the original is euthanized and dumped in a ditch somewhere. Which then means if something goes wrong-wrongity-wrong, you could end up with you and another copy of you running around, and the copy knows all your passwords to all your accounts.

    You thought divorce is bad? Wait till someone has to split half their stuff with a teleport-copy of themselves because of some screwup. You both get scheduled visitation rights to see your kids on alternating weekends. Its totally messed up.

    Yeah, no.

  8. Rick? I guess it’s a good thing that on a post about a fictional story set a hundred years in the future about teleporting humans, that you’re around to point out when people “make stuff up”.

    “This destructive teleportation variant of the twin maker trope has been explored almost ad nauseum. … none have adequately presented a marketable solution to that problem”

    copy/destroy teleportation stories generally want to present the reader with something that challenges their notion of identity. If you are copied down to the quantum level, the copy would be a human who has your memories, who has the experience of living your life, yet they were just printed out today. Then the question is, who are *you*? Are you the real you? If you can’t show that you’re different from the copy in any objectively measurable way, then what argument says you’re the “real” you and they’re the “copy”?

    In other identity-challenge stories, the question is, what happens when the replicants are given implanted memories, start gaining emotional development, and are able to pass the voigt-kompf test, the one objective test that separates humans from replicants? In the teleporter stories, the teleporter is just a writer’s tool invented to create the perfect duplicate. It doesn’t matter how it works. Just like the construction method of replicants, and the means used to implant memories is irrelevant to the story of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. It’s just a tool to challenge the reader’s sense of identity.

    Maybe some people geek out about how the teleporter works. Maybe some people geek out about how replicants are made. But they’re questions that are basically irrelevant to the central identity-challenge idea of the story.

    Of all the stuff I’ve read about teleport stories, reviews, critiques, fan theories, I can’t say I recall anyone ever saying “This teleport thing is an interesting idea, but how would they market it to customers?”

    “Others suspected that a human body might simply melt at such speeds. You know what? It didn’t matter. People wanted to get from point A to point B faster, train tycoons marketed to that desire with implied underpinnings of safety, and trains took off.”

    Trains took off because the reality was they didn’t melt people or cause their organs to eject. As soon as the first train rolled into town with people on it, that dispelled the fear in people who watched passengers disembark. Not sure how anyone would give credit to the success of locomotives to marketing.

    copy-teleporters kill everyone who goes into them. That’s a different thing. You die, and someone else gets to go on living your life without you around. And that would take something to convince people to enter it. Most of it would probably involve lying.

  9. Greg, I have one final thing I want you to consider: Chewbacca.

    Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense! Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with your comment? Nothing. Greg, it has nothing to do with anything you are talking about! It does not make sense! Look at me. I’m an author defending a fictional novel you haven’t read yet, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Greg, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in this comment section deliberatin’, does it make sense? No! Greg, it does not make sense! Did you know the audiobook is read by Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer?

  10. Tal, at least that explains what marketing has to do with teleportation stories. So thanks for clarifying.

  11. Greg – my point, since you utterly missed it, is that you’re criticizing something in your own head, not the Big Idea book that the post is about. You also seem to like to vomit whatever thought comes to mind. You can start your own blog, ya know.

    ON topic… I bought and read the book last night. It’s a fun, easy to read story from the point of view of… um… Joel. Which? Well yes. That’s the question.

  12. Rick, variations of the word “marketing ” appear 8 different times in the original post. One mention says that the thing that separates this story from the ad nauseum teleport stories is that “none have adequately presented a marketable solution to that problem”.

    So there are stories that dive into the existential issues around what is reality and what is identity, but this one takes teleportation tech and figures out how to makd it into a seamless viral conversions leverage wheelhouse. Curated target audience alignment trending The Cloud drone inbound. Disrupt holistic shoptimization leading the pack content marketing wearables.

    Er, that was from the google marketing gibberish generator. I meant it will assess what components of tech will become commoditized in society, we can envision innovations that build on those commodities in alignment with basic needs, making their commercialization more plausible.

    Yeah. More of that… i suppose… right?

    Maybe the actual novel isnt all marketing gibberish, but the original post mentions marketing 8 times and includes what could pass as autogenerated marketing gibberish, which was what my original comment was replying to.

    So, no, I am not replying to something made up in my own head, but rather the odd idea that the distinguishing feature that separates this book from the ad nauseum list of teleport stories is… focus groups…??

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