A Little Bit of Teleporting Goes a Long Way

Scientists finally figured out teleportation last summer. It took them long enough. They’ve been teleporting things around on Star Trek since time immemorial.

They did it with just an atom, though. One single little atom. What’s that good for?

They managed to transfer this atom without any physical apparatus,
from one location to another. That’ll be the basis for the
teleportation of larger objects, like people, in the future. They’ll
break us down into our molecular components and then send us out into
time and space, reassembling us somewhere else.

It’s funny because this is already being done online. The Internet
breaks files into their molecular components – bits – and sends them
out to be reassembled elsewhere. It’s how everything moves around
online.

There are problems with the Internet, though, especially if you
engage in sharing files. There’s the legal question of swapping music
and movies that are protected by copyright, for one. More importantly,
however, is the technical way in which we share files.

The Internet and the web were built on the client-server
relationship between computers. One computer serves files, and clients
come and get stuff from it. But if a server goes down for some reason,
there’s only one, and the clients are all out of luck.

So the peer-to-peer, or P2P, relationship was developed. All P2P
really means is that those clients don’t need the servers anymore and
just talk to each other. Think of Napster, Morpheus and Kazaa when you
think of P2P.

P2P also opened up a can of legal worms. In the old days, if a
server was offering illegal content to clients, it was easy to locate
the owners of that server and sue their pants off. In a P2P
environment, you could have thousands of individuals serving illegal
content. Who do you pick to sue?

As we know, the record companies selected the weakest of the lot to
drag into court just for shock value. They got a bit sullied in the
media when they litigated against teenagers, but I’m sure they scared
enough people into leaving illegal file sharing behind. For a while
anyway.

The fact was, copyright owners had the legal right to prosecute P2P
users because there was a 1-to-1 relationship between the distributor
of the content and the consumer. The provider of the illegal material
was discernable and identifiable. After all, P2P is really the same as
client-server, just everybody’s both client and server.

Well, take this one step further. What if in P2P everybody is
sharing everything, but in essence, not really sharing anything at all?
Kind of zen, eh? Enter BitTorrent.

BitTorrent is P2P with a twist. In traditional P2P one computer
shares the entire contents of a file with one other computer. With
BitTorrent one computer just shares, well, bits of a file with lots of
other computers. And those other computers are getting other bits of
that same file from lots of other computers.

Just in a network sense, this is brilliant. For one, if you’re
sharing files from your computer, you don’t have to dedicate all of
your bandwidth to someone you don’t even know when they come to get a
file from you. They’ll end up getting just some of the file from you,
and the rest of it from other computers on the Internet.

This is possible because, unlike analogue objects like people and
dogs and trees, two digital objects are identical. If you have a copy
of a song on your computer and I have that same file, then they are
bit-for-bit the same thing.

So to get a bit of it from me and a bit from you is okay. The file
can be reassembled elsewhere and it will be the same again, even though
it came from two different sources.

What’s even more brilliant about BitTorrent, though, is that the
legal implications are much foggier, if not nonexistent. Because
BitTorrent users are only sharing parts of an item protected by
intellectual property law, they’re not really sharing anything at all.
At the bit level, who knows what anything is?

Admittedly, BitTorrent is not for the feint of heart. To date it’s
been designed by geeks for geeks. Future implementations promise to be
more digestible by normal folk.

Now if the scientists would just hurry up and learn something about
teleportation from all of these Internet geeks. International travel is
the worst. I can’t wait to be tossed in the air above the Pacific like
so much pixie dust and reassembled a moment later in Shanghai.

Beam me up Scotty!

Andrew Robulack is an IT Business Strategist and Architect based in Whitehorse.

Originally published in the Yukon News on February 4, 2005.
Copyright Andrew Robulack 2005.