In my near (+200 years) future world teleportation has been invented and is now in common use especially for off-world travelling, but it works by creating a perfect copy of the travelling human nearly instantaneously at the destination not by moving the traveller in space. The evil corporation that invented the technology have hidden this from the populace because of the commercial opportunity- so once the destination copy is created the original person is automatically killed within the teleportation device and that has worked perfectly for many years... Until today.

So future plot notwithstanding, how could the evil corporation effectively dispose of so many bodies so easily and invisibly to the population? Also, aside from the conservation of matter/energy laws, which I will hand-wave away, are there any other negative consequences of creating copies from a physics point of view?

Edit: For clarity the premise of this story is not the technology behind teleportation or how to dispose of bodies or even whether to kill them or not, that's a given, it's about what happens when this goes wrong and you end up with duplicates

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    $\begingroup$ Soylent green... ;) $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2015 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ Tangential story: Think Like a Dinosaur $\endgroup$
    – user487
    Jun 3, 2015 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ plot point: if you create new bodies, you can consider adding stuff to them (tracking devices, neural implants for though-induction, control, or surveillance, physical limitations...) $\endgroup$
    – njzk2
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ You really ought to read the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. Warning: this is an intimidating task; it's a daily comic, it started in 2000, and it has never missed a single strip. But it's worth it; it's very well written and consistently funny, and it covered a very similar (though not identical) scenario a few years in: the species responsible for the galactic network of teleportation gates was secretly making copies ("gate-clones") of VIPs who passed through the network, interrogating them for valuable intel, and disposing of them. Then someone found out... $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2015 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler I came here to mention the gavs but it looks like you beat me to it. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jun 3, 2015 at 17:03

8 Answers 8


So future plot notwithstanding, how could the evil corporation effectively dispose of so many bodies so easily and invisibly to the population?

Recycle them to build the new bodies. You're going to need large amounts of mass to build these new bodies on teleport arrival, so there's no reason to discard the bodies anywhere; they contain exactly the kind of materials needed to build more.

Also, aside from the conservation of matter/energy laws, which I will hand-wave away, are there any other negative consequences of creating copies from a physics point of view?

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle says you cannot make an accurate enough copy because you can't know all of the information contained within a body. You will probably have to handwave that one as well.

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    $\begingroup$ In star trek (TM) they invented the Heisenberg compensator to solve this issue, so i suggest doing the same. A little anecdote: When asked "how does the H.compensator work?" the inventors are quoted replying "It works very well, thank you". $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jun 3, 2015 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ I would postulate in the story that the copy doesn't need to be an exact copy at the quantum level, only at some higher level, thereby sidestepping the uncertainty principle $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 3, 2015 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay On the other Hand your body gets destroyed daily by natural radiation and other things and is constantly repairing itself. Most of our cells are used to repairing minor damages. So you will probably have a teleportation-card like an x-ray pass to make sure you don't get over the recommended dosage $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ All fantastic answers, all stating the same thing (which I hadn't thought of), but this one was posted first. It also creates a fascinating plot point, what happens when Evil Corp. (TM) runs out of biocache- where do they get their raw material from then :) Excellent. Cheers! $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay But the people can't know the "printer ran out of ink" on the other end because then they would start asking exactly the questions we don't want them asking. You'd have to come up with something else plausible for the teleport not to work, like "the airwaves are full" or something equally handwavey. $\endgroup$
    – evankh
    Jun 4, 2015 at 4:31

Well to 'create' a body at the other end you will need raw materials to do so. Having actual bodies is a pretty good place to get the exact raw materials one would need to do that. So, kill the body, then store it (or process it to more manageable ingredients, until the next person teleports back.

  • $\begingroup$ Kill the body, then store it? Meh. :p $\endgroup$
    – cloudfeet
    Jun 4, 2015 at 12:28

Most schemes that involve recreating the person at the other end (as opposed to warping space or creating a wormhole to the destination) already suggest that the original is rendered down at the atomic level in the course of "scanning" the subject. This implies that teleportation is already understood to be hazardous, since you would have a large, shielded device which has to contain a hot, ionized mist where the person used to be. The large shop vac on top would be another clue....

The corporation can use this material to recreate incoming passengers (probably the most sensible course of action), or it will be faced with the daunting task of disposing of large quantities of dirty water, which is what a vaporized human being will condense into. Since people are in all sizes and masses, the corporation will most likely need "top up" tanks to deal with the usual inefficiencies of the processes (you would never be able to gather 100% of the outgoing passenger) and have a mass reserve if the visiting football team was teleporting in for the Superbowl.

  • $\begingroup$ This raises all sorts of questions about the nature of consciousness. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2015 at 10:35

I read a short story many years ago based on this premise of how teleportation works. Sadly, I forget the title or author. (It's been decades since I read that story.) But that author's idea was that the person in the sending booth is killed, and his body decomposed down to molecules that are then used to construct the body of the next person arriving in the booth. (Presumably you have to keep a reservoir, as some people have more mass to their bodies than others. I forget if the author got into this.)

In the story, the inventor of the machine refuses to use it himself, because he doesn't want to be killed. The story ends with the inventor abandoning this objection and using his own machines. Which I thought was a rather anti-climactic ending. I guess the writer just couldn't think of anything else to have happen.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe I too read this story many decades ago and I believe it was that which eventually led me to wonder about the consequences of the kill circuit failing catastrophically, which led me to this plot :) $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 3, 2015 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ In 'Old Mans' War' by John Scalzi bodies are specially grown for old people who volunteer for interstellar war, their minds "transferred" into the new bodies. However, there's a piece at the start where the volunteer wakes up in his new body and sees his old one still moving and saying 'it didn't work' before the tech quickly silences it, explaining that 'its just residual nervous energy'.... the reader is left to figure out the implications... $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Jun 3, 2015 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I want to say that this was discussed in Ringworld by Larry Niven but dang if I can't find the passage now. It was only a side-note in the book, though. Earthlings used "transfer booths" for teleportation but the Puppeteers used "stepping disks" that were far more advanced. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2015 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ In Doomship, by Pohl and Williamson, the teleporters do make copies, but the original is not destroyed but goes on with his life. This story has a probe directed to intersect and orbit a new celestial object, and everyone sent there will eventually die from the stress of the orbit changes. It's even darker than the evil corporation, as you are sending a copy of yourself off to die. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jun 3, 2015 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm reminded of another book I read years ago, a story based on Star Trek (TOS), where a couple of characters have a conversation about the transporters, and one of them says that after your transported it's not you any more, just a machine's copy of you. And another character wonders if the machine manages to reconstruct the person's soul at the other end. The story went nowhere with the conversation, I guess it was just a musing the writer had unrelated to the rest of the story that he thought was interesting to toss in. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 4, 2015 at 2:46

It gets converted into energy

We're all familiar with Einsteins famous formula $E=mc^{2}$. Theoretically Matter can be converted into pure energy, and energy can be converted into matter. If your corporation is advanced enough to discovere a way to make a perfect duplicate of a human being, especially a human brain while preserving all of it's thoughts and experiences, then I don't think it would be much of a stretch to presume they've also discovered how to convert matter into raw energy.

Creating a human being out of nothing would require a lot of power. The traveler's body signature would have to be scanned by an extremely powerful power hungry computer, and that signature would have to be transmitted to the destination (which would be a BIG file, DNA contains 700 terabytes of info per gram) where massive energy would again be required to construct a new body. In order to cover up the truth behind their process, as well as make up for some of the energy expenditure, they destroy the traveler at the origin, and the corporation mask the truth of their process by explaining that the body is transfered to it's destination as a massive surge of energy, when in fact the traveler doesn't "travel" at all, but is killed for the sake of the illusion, and the added bonus of their conversion into energy feeds the power grid.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I think working some of the mass to energy would be good, especially for masking the true nature of the wastage process, but jeez, converting all of a human mass to energy would probably power the global grid for a day or two! The matter of extraction and transmission of the information will have to get handwaved. The storyline is not primarily about the technology of achieving it, rather the moral and ethical consequences of the process, the dawning of realisation of the horror counterpointed with the struggle of the "little man" against "the system" :) $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MarvMills Converting all that mass into energy would theoretically give you exactly as much energy you would need to recreate a new body at your destination. That is if you're creating the new body from nothing. It's a straight conversion, you're not going to be able to create a new body for less energy than you can get from the original. $\endgroup$
    – ShemSeger
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ True, of course, but how are you going to transmit that energy from source to destination? I guess this could be handwaved, but I think for the purposes of my story I will not tackle that. $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @ Marne Mills Like I said, just feed it into the grid, both your origin and destination likely draw their power from the same grid in the future. $\endgroup$
    – ShemSeger
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler That's technically how much data 1 gram of DNA can hold according to Harvard, but one single strand is all you would need to fully rebuild an individual, less if you consider that 97% of everyone's DNA is identical. The tricky part is reconstructing their brain intact with all their memories and experience. It may be necessary to reconstruct the brain gram by gram in order to restore all the biochemical data. Then there is the issue of reconstructing injuries, scars, piercings, tattoos, makeup, clothing, haircuts, diseases, and anything else they might have on their person... $\endgroup$
    – ShemSeger
    Jun 3, 2015 at 19:58

In Clifford D. Simak's Way Station, the new bodies are grown in tanks like we always picture clones, the conciousness transfered (digitally?) between stations. When the traveller "leaves", the remains are "flushed." Mind you, everyone using the system knows how it works.

Your Evilcorp could use this as a stopgap explanation, between "We teleport you, body and soul," and "We record you, kill you, and build a clone mock-up elsewhere."

For yours, any energy released by a body probably does not equal the amount used in scanning and transmitting data, but it's like adding some solar panels can reduce your electric bill, if not eliminate it.

Good luck with this-sounds good!

  • $\begingroup$ Way Station is one of my all-time fave stories :) $\endgroup$
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 4, 2015 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ there are no souls whatsoever $\endgroup$
    – clockw0rk
    Jul 8, 2021 at 22:58

So, you have large amounts of biomass and are an evil company? What to do besides the obvious burning it all to ashes?

Well, you could start building up a "nutrition paste", this way becoming an evil corp with food chain connection. Also, a bio-gas-reactor would be suitible, after all this will take HUGE amounts of energy.

If nothing else, go full umbrella and rebuild the bodies to cyber-zombies



The aliens highly prize the savor of raw sentient being, manually disassembled between their pedipalps and passed, morsel by morsel, to their trembling chelicerae. This habit is awkward in civilized company, but can be excused by Consent, such as when a culture is willing to trade their hapless civilians for teleportation technology and the staggering energy production required to keep it running. Any argument that the aliens have failed to obtain Consent can be quelled by the observation that the Greedy Corporation signed up after a thorough briefing, and that the entire population of their planet daily (usually hourly) agrees to the Greedy Corporation's Terms and Conditions, in their entirety, to watch television, to breathe filtered air, to work, or to teleport to their sita-caste coffeeshop for a few minutes of relaxing socialization.

The aliens have millennia of experience remaining hidden in blind spots and concealed corridors throughout the human world, and move paralyzed duplicate bodies the same way. There is probably one of them reading this over your shoulder right now.


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