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While smashing heavier and heavier particles together to create super heavy elements 122, 123, and 124, scientists noticed that these collisions created strange, random-looking electromagnetic waves. Upon further inspection, it turned out that these waves have patterns. The patterns repeat, but with small changes every time.

After decades of research, the scientists were able to prove that this was the world's source code.

By modifying and sending out the electromagnetic waves in specific patterns, they were able to do things that were thought to be physically impossible, such as teleporting objects.

The scientists were able to create machines that had the capability to produce the following "commands":

  • Add a force to an object (from fractions of a nano-newton to several tera-newtons)
  • Move (teleport) an object
  • Clone an object (They can't create an object as it was too complex to figure out)
  • "Delete" an object
  • Slow down or speed up time for everything, or a specific object (but can't stop/reverse time)
  • Change physical constants (such as the gravitational constant)
  • Change how an object interacts with the higgs field (giving it more weight or less weight, even 0 weight). Mass stays the same.
  • and some others.1

The machines aren't terribly expensive to make (say, \$50 million) but are prohibitively expensive to operate. They are out of the reach of almost all civilians and corporations (say, \$250-500 million/hour) due to the energy cost and the several Olympic sized swimming pools of coolant required to keep the machine from overheating.

Seeing that there is a huge cost to run the machine, could there be anything that it could be used for, or would the cost make the machine useless?

1You can add additional "commands" if you think they would be helpful, but the scientists are still in their early stages. They can't revive people, they can't cure people or anything of that like. Just basic physics defying actions.

EDIT: The machine isn't magical. It can't create energy but instead re-distribute it from the rest of the universe. The universe's total energy won't change no matter how many times you create something/delete something. Teleporting creates small temporary wormholes, and slowing or speeding up time makes the object act as if it's going fast or slow relative to the rest of the universe.

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    $\begingroup$ Restated another way - "what are the thermodynamic costs of divine intervention"? $\endgroup$ – rumguff Aug 28 '15 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ Hack the world! $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Aug 28 '15 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Thatguy If you want us to analyze the cost/benefit of using this machine, we need some firmer numbers! e.g. how can we guess if cloning a 100M F-35 takes longer than the breakeven 12 minutes? $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Aug 28 '15 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Please note if you can change c, then thermodynamics is out the window no matter what. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Aug 28 '15 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Are there any limitations on the machines and the subjects that they are effecting? Specifically, were do the objects have to be located in relation to the machines? Near by? Line of sight? Anywhere in the universe? That delete machine could be hugely terrifying, and I suspect that would be the first machine any government entity begins to utilize. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Aug 28 '15 at 19:57

12 Answers 12

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I would start by using the machine to do the following:

  • Cool itself down
  • Generate electricity

My goal here would be to generate a surplus of electricity, beyond what the machine needed to run, and to generate a surplus of coolant, beyond what the machine needed to stay cool.

I'd use my coolant and electricity, of course, to run a second machine for free. With this machine, I'd clone up parts for a third machine, which would provide power for a fourth machine, and so on. I'd build a few thousand, maybe a few tens of thousands. I've got exponential growth if I want, with no need for raw materials or any form of input. (More food for the employees? Clone it. Want to pay them? Clone some gold).

Eventually, I'd have the resources to eliminate all poverty everywhere on the globe and remove all resource scarcity everywhere. I'd make this available to everyone for free and usher in a golden age for humanity.

After all of that, I'd build a huge machine, big enough to teleport a space station. Time to explore the galaxy!

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    $\begingroup$ Genius: You have three wishes. You: My first wish is that I want 1000 more wishes. $\endgroup$ – Caridorc Aug 29 '15 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ But this would devalue the value of gold. Why should I accept the wage if you can give me more with no extra work. $\endgroup$ – Daniel F Aug 29 '15 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Caridorc, genie* $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Aug 29 '15 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @ArturoTorresSánchez yup, but I can not edit my comment now. $\endgroup$ – Caridorc Aug 29 '15 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielF Why wouldn't anyone accept?! With food, energy, cars and everything for free, wage paid in something nice and shiny seems pretty nice. You don't need to buy anything, anyway! $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 30 '15 at 8:18
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The gains would be if you can make a change that only takes some minutes of operating, but had lasting changes. If it takes minutes of the machine to properly irradiate a person so that their time is accelerated, making everything else slower in comparison, you have created a limited version of The Flash. Sure, being human he (or she) would live their remaining 50 years of active life in 25 of the world's, but you have enabled a superhuman to exist with this machine.

The teleportation ability would be the first financially capable one, I suspect.

The cost of the Falcon 9 rocket alone is 54 million, SpaceX tells Quartz, but it only burns 200,000 worth of fuel. If each rocket were reusable, and the only costs to launch a satellite were fuel and various ground support services, that would dramatically reduce the cost of getting to space.

That sounds like a good candidate for cloning. If you can clone 10 of them in an hour, at an operational cost of 500 mill/hr, that saves you $40 million. And the ISS cost to date is staggering.

The defense industry would want the machine to clone itself, so they could have one for absolute weapon delivery purposes. We have countermeasures for ICBMs, but not teleportation. If what the machine is acting on does not need to be encased by the machine, then the DOD could just delete the Kremlin, or Bin Laden.

Reading the question a little more,

the world's source code... sending out the electromagnetic waves in specific patterns

It sounds like enclosure by the machine is not necessary. In that case, I would bet the US would be willing to double the national debt to get it, or just take it by force "in the interest of national security". A lot has changed since 9/11.

Assuming you have built this in Greenland, to take advantage of the more effective cooling in a mostly frozen place, and the nearby geothermals for energy. The existence of this machine would encourage every major nation to invade.

In the movie Real Men we are negotiating with aliens to get the "really big gun" capable of destroying a world, so we can use it against the Russians. In some ways, that is how an arms race works. It doesn't matter if the scale is ridiculous, we have to have a bigger one than them.

prohibitively expensive to operate

This is a subjective thought, which is why I have tried to list some interested parties that do not share it.

EDIT Also, deleting radioactive waste that we still don't know what to do with. Not cost effective for anyone, but certainly a good test for the delete function.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would you clone rockets when you can teleport the stuff where it belongs? $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 28 '15 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Because teleporting the stuff continues to have the high usage costs, and the rockets only cost $200,000 each use. Teleporting would be used for things too big for the rockets. I expect this machine to take some time to "spin up" before it is usable, at least some time to start pumping all that coolant through and run a POST. $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Aug 28 '15 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @DeveloperWeeks There's quite a bit more to space (that we're interested in) than LEO. Teleportation can remove the need for planetary-bound items to go through space at all -- that's a major bonus for design and a huge source of savings. SpaceX's rockets only get us out of the atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Aug 28 '15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ True, there is lots of space and teleporting things out there, or bringing out there close to here for better study/mining is handy. But I think the threat to national security would be seen as more important than any of the exploration benefits in the eyes of the groups who fund both. $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Aug 28 '15 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ If you teleport a satellite to (say) 400km above ground, all it does is fall straight back down. To put it another way, the expensive bit about LEO isn't the altitude, it's the horizontal velocity of about 8km/s needed to keep the payload there when you let go. The OP says you can use the cheat codes to apply directed force, so it can still be done - but it'd develop some very interesting orbital insertions, trajectories designed to get the satellite up to orbital velocity, while it's falling, without accelerating it so fast you crushed it, without hitting anything en route! $\endgroup$ – MadHatter Aug 30 '15 at 7:11
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The feasibility of what I’m about to consider depends on some unspecified factors (how long must the machine be running for each command, how does object size affect cost, etc).

The Users

The cost of operating this machine is definitely going to put most individual usage out of reach. There will be some exceptions for people with net worths close to and over a billion dollars, but the current usages of the machine aren’t terribly advantageous to a single person. Cloning might be an interesting one depending on its limitations, but it seems more likely that very wealthy individuals would reroute their philanthropic funding to research new commands. These people are going to be interested in figuring out how to get it to cure disease and, more importantly, expand the natural human life.

Corporations could definitely use this device from a purely financial standpoint. Many corporations have annual profits measured in the billions, so shaving off a billion a year wouldn’t be unreasonable if they could increase their profits even further with the machine. The problem here is the difficulty of finding a command or series of commands that would actually net them more profit than they burn to use the device. I don’t think the existing commands would provide that benefit, but I don’t want to speculate with new commands.

Governments are going to be the power users of this device, most likely for research. In practice it’s likely that all of the devices will be built and owned by governments, with corporations and private individuals renting time at the cost of operating them.

The Uses

Many of the uses that stand out seem to fall into the “for science!” category. Amazing research opportunities are opened up here, especially with the changing of the constants. After recently considering the realities of a galactic empire without FTL travel, the possibility of increasing the speed of light felt very attractive. Unfortunately, that would have some pretty bad side effects. The downside to changing constants is that other values need to change in response, often with terrible consequences. There was a media uproar when people thought CERN might accidentally create a black hole… imagine what people would think when scientists start talking about changing universal constants. One other conceivable scenario, however, might be an attempt to tweak constants to make it easier to modify the universe's source code.

Planetary defense against asteroids would become much simpler. Several of the commands would almost guarantee our safety from extinction-level impacts. Deletion would obviously be best (as long as we can simply give the machine coordinates). Alternatively we could add a nice amount of force to it in a particular direction, or simply teleport a spacecraft from the surface to its orbit.

I think the biggest and most important use, however, will be space exploration and colonization. It would be revolutionized. Current estimates put the cost of the first mission to mars (and the effort to get to that point) close to $100 billion. If you redirected that money into the machine, you could get 200-400 hours of operation… teleporting people, supplies, even entire pre-built structures right to the surface of Mars. No more rockets, no more 6 month flight. Depending on the limits of teleportation functionality, we could do some amazingly crazy things.

All in all, I don’t think the prices you’ve specified would render the machine useless. It would, in all likelihood, massively increase the odds of our species surviving.

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  • $\begingroup$ "imagine what people would think when scientists start talking about changing universal constants" ... Nothing at all, since black holes have been in the media often enough for Joe Redneck to think he knows what they are, but those constants are just some science stuff noone comprehends or needs anyways. $\endgroup$ – Guntram Blohm Aug 29 '15 at 20:15
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That machine is WORTHWHILE. You see an earthbound cheater's machine. I see a stardrive.

I don't think you understand what you truly have. We can alter c at will and induce phantom forces. We have a kraken drive with no upper limit on velocity.

I need operate it for only a few seconds to change the coupling constants so the ship is no longer forced balanced internally. It will undergo continuous acceleration until changed back. The minimum cold sink mass of several Olympic swimming pools (I'll use seawater) is cheap compared to the rocket fuel required to even reach orbit. There's no reason I can't activate on the ground.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very good point, the worlds first non-Newtonian drive. $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Aug 28 '15 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ Unless you can change constants locally, you would destroy the universe at the same time. (Which raises the question of what humanity would do with a device capable of accidentally destroying the universe) $\endgroup$ – immibis Aug 29 '15 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. My source of phantom forces is unbalanced physical constants. This is why they stay when the machine is switched off. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Aug 29 '15 at 17:05
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Depends on the specifics. If they are really able to modify "world's" source code, and the energy requirements are constant (do not scale with the magnitude of the "changes"), then the experiments are really, truly dangerous – from the description I guess the modifications work on spatial regions, maybe on elementary particles but it is easy to define spatial region (or "object"). The danger of issuing the command equivalent to "delete everything within 1 megaparsec" must not be underestimated. This means it should not be used unless there are damn reliable safeguards.

OTOH, establishing a research station beyond visible universe can become practical – modify space topology in that direction to shorten the distance by 14 orders of magnitude, send a spaceship, return the distance and you can experiment at a safely remote place. Just make sure the experiments do not modify the distance again... and you might do an equivalent of a segmentation fault and switch the universe off. Oops.

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Given that your machine obeys the laws of thermodynamics, the entropy generated by burning the fuel that powers it (e.g. free energy like electricity is dissipated to heat) must be equal to or greater than the reduction in the entropy of the universe due to the action taken.

So say we clone a 2KG block of ice, and the machine does this by taking liquid water molecules from somewhere on earth (you said that it doesn't create matter or energy, which is good). A block of ice has a lower entropy than liquid water thanks to its lower temperature. Thus, the new block of ice has lowered the entropy of the universe. Therefore we need to burn just enough fuel to raise the entropy of the universe by a corresponding amount.

Unless the machine is 100% efficient (which it can't be because its not magical) it will actually take more energy than that.

The energy consumed is dissipated in the machine, hence the need for cooling. But the 2KG block of ice isn't too much of a problem.

But now imagine you wish to clone a fighter jet. The massive complexity of this machine (all the electronics, metal, etc) means it has a very low entropy, compared with what the entropy of all its constituent atoms in a mixed and chaotic state would be. Basically any act that 'creates new order out of chaos' is reducing universal entropy and this is not allowed by thermodynamics, even if you borrow existing matter from the universe.

If you had a nearly 100% efficient manual process for building that jet (not using your machine but say using very effiient nanotech), how much energy would building that jet cost? That is the amount of energy that would immediately be dissipated in your machine when you clone the fighter jet. That is how much cooling would also be needed, and how much energy would need to be input into the machine.

If you used the machine to change a physical constant or law that had an entropy reducing effect over a given volume then the energy input to the machine and the heat produced would be at least be enough to counter that entropy reduction. If any such change had far reaching effects on universal entropy it would presumably be immediately vaporised, possibly melting the ice shelf where you have it installed in Greenland or wherever.

On the other hand, using the machine to fix a flaw in the wing material of the fighter jet isn't a big deal, since not that much has really changed.

So I suggest there is quite a simple metric to judge the cost of using the machine - look at the 'unlikeliness' of that which it has created!

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    $\begingroup$ "...simple metric...unlikeliness..." It's a Finite Improbability machine! All we need now is a smartarse and a nice hot cup of tea. $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Aug 29 '15 at 8:40
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Power costs are flexible. Use the machine to clone billions of solar cells and large capacitors, teleport them to distant stars and such. Let the cells charge the capacitors, then teleport the capacitors home to power the machine to make more cells and capacitors. Rinse and repeat until the stars are producing enough power to power all your god-machines for free. Dedicate one machine to managing the power of the other machines (and use any spare machine time to make more cells to expand the capacity and recharge rate of the power network further), use all the other copies of the machine to play God until you accidentally the whole universe.

Or get bored. Because that happens when you play a game with cheat codes turned on. I fear when the machine's controller decides to press the reset button.

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1) Clone some of the really big gems in the world.

You say "an object" with no indication of size and you don't indicate whether things like removing weight are permanent or not.

Assuming they are permanent and you can do large objects: NASA sure would love weightless spacecraft. Since the mass remains the same you still have to pay the fuel to boost it but you're not paying the fuel to boost it against gravity. That's IIRC about a 10% savings and given the brutality of the rocket equation they would pay a lot for a reusable weightless spacecraft.

Also, the applying force bit you don't indicate if this simply shows up as velocity or whether it experiences acceleration. Assuming the former NASA would love such a thing in orbit to boost interplanetary craft.

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I'm just looking at the clone mode. You say it can duplicate the Empire State Building in 20 minutes. It weighs 365,000 tons, or 730,000,000 pounds, and the duplication would cost 166 million (using your high value). That gives me a dollars/pound value of $4.40/lb.

Gold currently costs around 16,000 dollars/lb. With this machine, you could get the cost down to around 5 dollars/lb. Not only that, but you could get the cost of any object down to about this range.

To look at it another way, the Empire State Building cost $635 million to make in 2015 dollars. You can now duplicate it at about a quarter of the price.

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Whoever has this machines and the resources to operate it, basically has absolute power. It is the ultimate weapon (just delete your enemies). It will allow you to go to space easily. It will allow you to mass produce any item (which of course will rise a few interesting questions: If you perfectly clone an original Rembrandt painting, is the clone also an original Rembrandt painting?). Basically, the first one who gets to operate this machine and has no qualms will rule the world.

Once you rule the world, economic questions are, of course, moot.

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How far can teleportation go, and how large can an object be? Because if the machine can, in an hour or less, transport a large manned colony to Mars soil, then it's actually cheap.

Very, very cheap.

Like, mind-bogglingly cheap.

And we're not yet talking about distant stars...

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Someone brought up thermodynamics, so expounding on that, I'd say that the cost to run is relative to the absolute energy required to create an item plus the inefficiency penalty. Presumably, the machine can cool itself, so it just needs an enormous amount of energy.

For the absolute energy required for an item, think about it this way. The sun has been beating down on the planet for however many umteen million years (approximate value) and so has created an environment in which, for example, corn is relatively easy to grow. It has evolved from whatever other plants, also taking an enormous amount of energy, and the building blocks and mechanisms have also taken an enormous amount of energy. You don't care about how much energy that takes. What you care about is the amount of energy, knowing corn right now, to pop a piece of corn out of your machine.

It's the same idea of popping, say, a Ford Pinto out of your machine, rather than reinventing every advance in Mechanical, Materials, and Electrical Engineering required to create a Ford Pinto. And presumably, you can even use the carbon, oxygen, hydrogen etc already present in your "reality printer." I'm not sure if that's allowed in the rules. Otherwise, you'd have to create things from whatever quarks are made of.

So where it would be worthwhile to run is if you could find something to create that has a lower absolute energy than the relative energy to create it. For example, creating corn would not make sense. It is relatively easy to go to the store and get corn. Costs you very little. What it does make sense to do is create uranium or other fuels to store energy in. If someone could hack the universe that way, then those would be the conditions to run this machine under.

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