Star Trek and The No-Cloning Theorem

Teleportation and the reality in Quantum Mechanics

Andi Sama CIO, Sinergi Wahana Gemilang

TL;DR: Object teleportation is still just science-fiction as demonstrated in the Star Trek movie. However, quantum information teleportation is possible, conforming to the laws of quantum mechanics.

When mentioning Teleportation, our imagination may go as wild as Star Trek’s transporter platform's ability to beam objects from one location to another. The first teleportation appeared in “the original Star Trek series,” pilot episode “The Cage,“ completed in early 1965 (Wikipedia, 2020d).

Well, hold your breath — the reality is not as wild as our imagination like in the movie.

A USS Discovery is approaching the planet of the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS. A scene from a recent Star Trek “Discovery” movie on Netflix, Season 1 Episode 15 “Will you take my hand?” (2017).

While exploring Quantum Computing, I have been following the new 2017’s Star Trek series “Discovery” on Netflix (Andi Sama, 2020a). Watching many technological advancements in the movie while learning how humans understand reality from the quantum mechanics perspective triggers me to start writing this article.

Star Trek & Advancements in Far-Future Technologies

Star Trek, a well-known science fiction movie, has brought forward many far-future advancements in technologies to be perceived as available at present (in the mid 22nd century to the late 32nd century) in the last season of Star Trek Discovery, 2020. Two notable technologies are warp drive and replicator.

A spacecraft equipped with a warp drive may travel at speeds greater than the speed of light by many orders of magnitude. The new one called s-drive (spore drive) in a USS Discovery Spacecraft pushes this capability further. It enables the spacecraft to jump to a far-far away location, almost instantly.

The replicator can create and recycle things. Having food for lunch on demand and creating costumes for the crews are things that a replicator can do.

Teleportation in Star Trek

Another advancement includes teleportation, the instantaneous transporting of a person or an object to a distant location. The process starts at the source by converting the persons or objects to an energy pattern “dematerialization,” beam the energy pattern to a target location, then converted back to matter at the destination “rematerialization.”

One of the latest Star Trek Discovery episodes released in 2020 (season 3, episode 2: “Far From Home,” situated in the year 3188) even illustrates the portable transporter's capability. A person can transport on his/her own to a destination in a short distance, recharging the transporter in 30 seconds, before teleporting to the next destination.

A scene shows a Transporter in a recent Star Trek “Discovery” movie on Netflix, Season 1 Episode 15 “Will you take my hand?” (2017). The Transporter at the source (Spacecraft: USS Discovery) is dematerializing 4 persons (from left to right: Ash Tyler, Sylvia Tilly, Captain Philippa Georgiou, and Michael Burnham) along with a few objects attached to the humans, converting it to an energy pattern for teleportation, then beam it to the destination.
A scene shows a Transporter in a recent Star Trek “Discovery” movie on Netflix, Season 1 Episode 15 “Will you take my hand?” (2017). The Transporter at the destination planet (Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS) is rematerializing 4 persons from an energy pattern and a few objects attached to the humans.

Quantum Mechanics

According to (Wikipedia 2020b), quantum mechanics is a “fundamental theory in physics that describes nature's physical properties at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It is the foundation of all quantum physics including quantum chemistry, quantum field theory, quantum technology, and quantum information science.”

Teleportation in Quantum Mechanics

As defined in quantum mechanics, teleportation is not about doing the actual object teleportation as shown in the movie, not even doing the single particle's teleportation. By quantum teleportation, we are teleporting quantum information (the state of the particle, e.g., a quantum bit or qubit), not the teleportation of the actual particle or qubit itself.

The following shows a quantum teleportation algorithm to teleport quantum information of one qubit to another qubit (Andi Sama, 2020c). The state of qubit 0 (q₀) is teleported to qubit 2 (q₂) through qubit 1 (q₁)).

Teleporting state of Qubit 0:q₀ to Qubit 2: q₂ through Qubit 1: q₁. At the end of the measurement of q₂, it will contain whatever state of q₀ (in Classical Register 2: c₂).

We are not teleporting the physical qubit itself but teleporting the state of information in a qubit to another qubit that conforms to the quantum teleportation algorithm.

No-Cloning Theorem

According to (Wikipedia 2020a), in physics, “the no-cloning theorem states that it is impossible to create an independent and identical copy of an arbitrary unknown quantum state, a statement which has profound implications in the field of quantum computing among others.” Further, a quantum state is defined as “a mathematical entity that provides a probability distribution for the outcomes of each possible measurement on a system.”

No-Cloning Theorem was published in 1982 (W. K. Wootters & W. H. Zurek, 1982).

To the Future

The first pilot episode of Star Trek that introduced teleportation, “The Cage,” was completed in 1965. The no-cloning theorem, on the other hand, was just published in 1982. Should Gene Roddenberry was aware of the no-cloning theorem when he created the movie, we might be watching different technology applications regarding teleportation. Gene was the screenwriter, producer, and creator of the original Star Trek television series.

A typical adult human with 70 kilograms in weight has about 7 billion billion billion atoms (Laurie L. Dove). That is number 7, followed by 27 zeroes. An atom consists of subatomic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are within the atom's center, the nucleus, which contains many more particles.

We can then appreciate the complexity of a human in terms of the number of particles. As we can not even clone a single particle due to the no-cloning theorem, cloning and teleporting a human containing many billions of billions of particles is even more impossible to do.

In fact, quantum information teleportation is an important technology foundation for QKD, the Quantum Key Distribution. Distributing and exchanging secret keys is critical for an application like the near-future Quantum Internet. That application relies on secret keys to secure the transmission of information.

Well, time may change our current perspective on object teleportation. There could be a scientific novel breakthrough for particle teleportation to be possible, maybe in just a few hundred years down the road. The possibility may still be there for humans to explore, for many generations to come.