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How Would Teleportation Change Society?

Peter F. Hamilton, one of Britain’s leading science fiction authors, has been hard at work on his massive seven-volume Commonwealth series since 2003. His new novel Salvation, about a world where teleportation is cheap and easy, is a major change of pace.

“It’s something I wanted to do as a writer, just to keep fresh,” Hamilton says in Episode 327 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Therefore, whole new universe, whole new set of characters, whole new problems for people.”

Teleportation is a common theme in science fiction, but most examples, like the transporters in Star Trek, tend to be used in very limited ways. In Salvation, Hamilton wanted to explore the concept fully.

“The fun bit of that was saying, ‘OK, we’ve got this system, how would it actually work on a practical, day-to-day level?” he says. “So much of what we have today revolves around getting from one place to another, getting goods out of factories to shops, it all changes. And that took me about six months to work out the minutiae, the absolute details of how it would change us.”

Hamilton envisions a future in which teleportation portals are used for garbage disposal, irrigation, and carbon sequestration, and in which the now-useless bridges and highways have been converted into parks and shopping centers. He also predicts that cheap teleportation would spell the end of the hotel business.

“If it takes two minutes to walk from where I am [in England] to America, what do I need a hotel for?” he says. “There are still fabulous resorts and places like that, but the idea of a businessman needing a hotel for the night? No, that’s gone.”

Teleportation might also allow humanity to easily explore the galaxy. Hamilton’s interstellar starships are propelled forward by exhaust channeled through a portal. “You have one part of the portal that you just drop into the sun, and the other half is the rocket engine on the starship,” he says. “No need for any antimatter or fusion or anything.”

Listen to the complete interview with Peter F. Hamilton in Episode 327 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Peter F. Hamilton on genetic engineering:

“Our nature, if you like, has produced the world we live in today. If we ever perfect methods of production, methods of food creation, what do we do all day long? The way we’re wired at the moment, I’m not sure we could take a lifetime of doing absolutely nothing, therefore we will have to alter our outlook accordingly. Now, whether you can do this genetically or not, I don’t know. I certainly postulated that in the book. … So do we bump up the intellect so that we’re always more curious, always more driven? That’s a question for ethicists as well as geneticists. This is the wonderful get-out of science fiction, I can ask the questions. I don’t necessarily have to answer them. But I think we should be looking at these kinds of things.”

Peter F. Hamilton on social media:

“Social media has really changed the political outlook over the last ten years. It’s the evolution of the echo chamber; it’s the evolution of factionalism; it’s the evolution of intolerance. Everybody is perpetually outraged about anything anyone else ever says at the moment, or so it seems —certainly if you’re immersed in that social media scrum. And I don’t think it’s particularly healthy. Yes, everyone should get a voice, but I think the way we’re channeling it at the moment—which is almost anarchy, and a free-for-all—I don’t think it’s doing our political system much good at the moment. There seems to be very little compromise, very little understanding of the other guy’s point of view, which can’t help us in the long run.”

Peter F. Hamilton on aliens:

“I would never have the ‘guy in a rubber face mask’ type of alien—I think we’re all long past that now. … In [Salvation] we do meet an alien species that has come to this solar system called the Olyix, who seem to be quite like us, and seem to have a goal that we can understand, even if we don’t really believe in it and we think what they’re doing is quite bizarre. They’re traveling in this huge spaceship to the end of time. All they’re interested in doing is just traveling and replenishing the spaceship every time they get to a new star system, so they can just keep traveling on this pilgrimage to the end of time, where they think their god will appear. Now, however religious you are, I don’t think humans are ever going to undertake anything like that.”

Peter F. Hamilton on future weapons:

“One thing about X-rays is that they go through everything, so a huge scientific advance, if you like, would be turning them into laser-like beams—which is only something that’s going to happen in the future, QED. That’s the kind of way my brain extrapolates things. So yeah, we’ve got lasers, masers, X-ray lasers, hyper-velocity railguns that are now portable—I mean, these things are huge at the moment. The way you link robots together to make bigger robots and then combine the processing power, all this kind of stuff is in development or under consideration, and I just like to try and see where it’s come from and where it is, therefore I can hopefully make a reasonable extrapolation of where it’s going to go in the future.”

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