Similar to I duplicate the U.S. President. What happens?, but much much worse.

Okay, so teleporters have become common. How it works is you step into a police box, dial in a location, and then it teleports you to that location. In particular, the contents of the box are switched. You experience this as a flash of light. Convenient right?

In particular, you are constructed on one end, and deleted at the other.

Although some people were terrified at the implications, most people were fine with it. People could work anywhere, commute anywhere, hangout with distant friends. It was a small world after all.

One day, there is a global communications crash. People, in panic, teleported home. Something horrible happened though. Somehow connected to the crash, the teleports stopped deleting the old copies! When people teleported, they did teleport home, but an old copy was left. The old copy, frantic, would try to find another teleporter, not telling others that it didn't work. Since communications were done, no one knew what was happening?

The immediate consequences was a ton of economic damage. The communications were eventually restored though, and the teleporters started operating normally.

There was one problem left to be solved though: when most people finally made it home, there was two or three other thems!

How does Society react?

What do people do about it? What do governments do about it? What does the law say about this situation?

  • Copies were identical when they were copied. They can diverge after that.
  • An original copy would generally tried two or three times to get home before they stopped malfunctioning, making two or three new copies, making for a total of three or four of most people. It could be more complicated if someone tried to teleport to other places to see loved ones.
  • What happens to the programmer(s) who failed to write robust code?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This should be a movie. Earth: The Clone Wars $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to answer this, but then I realized I don't have the legal background needed to really grapple with how the law would interpret some of the solutions I was coming up with... $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like an interesting story. It's been done repeatedly on Star Trek. Riker was beamed up and left behind, as an identical copy (not an evil twin or mirror image etc.) $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ If you haven't read the Schlock Mercenary webcomic from the beginning, you really, really should. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ I made a comment on a very similar question earlier, but yours is an even closer match: what you describe is one variant of a series of thought experiments pondering "what is the self?" When picking answers, its worth noting that no answer can possibly be "right," because there is literally no consensus on the fundamental philosophical questions raised, which can trace their history all the way back to Plutarch's era (or even Socrates or Plato) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 4:58

2 Answers 2


On the matter of "Robust code," likely nothing would be done to the programmers. To keep a system like this operating efficiently, the code itself is already going to be complex, with built in safeguards. Before this technology could even be introduced to the general public, it will have gone through years of testing, both to work out any bugs, and to demonstrate to the community that it is indeed safe.

Legally, this would become a test case of international interest and a matter of great controversy. Under U.S. law, these copies should be guaranteed the same rights and representation as any other human being however, they were meant to be deleted at the point of transit. Their best chance is to seek help from a group like the ACLU. The first matter of business would be how to define the copies from the intended result (the individual meant to come out on the other side, and still be the only one in existence). This would be further complicated as some copies would lie to preserve their own lives. Most of these would be caught in their lies. Secondly, there is the matter of how or if they should be represented at all. Nothing like this has happened before; they fit all the criteria to be represented as individuals however, they were meant to be deleted – they shouldn’t even exist.

What begins as a matter of law would spiral into other matters. How do we handle this influx of new people? New people who are exactly the same at this point, as the “original” and will need gainful employment, housing, and most importantly, an identity separate from the “original” and other copies … I would advise you to look into how the Inuit and other Native American tribes fought for equality, as well as the fight for black Americans to gain equality in America. These should give you plenty of insight into how such cases can go. The programmers would likely be called to testify. General questions about how something like this could happen, whether sufficient safeguards were in place, etc. As I mentioned above, it’s unlikely the programmers would be charged.

If you direct things to go favorably for the copies, you will need to address the matters of identity, housing, and employment. If you direct things to go unfavorably for the copies, it may be interesting to see what happens to copies of prominent scientists vs. the average person. Perhaps Operation Paperclip 2.0?

  • $\begingroup$ Which would be considered the original? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 14:51

I would say that there are strong parrallels between teleportation cloning and sexual intercourse. Both activities can be engaged in without complete understanding of the potential consequences; and both activities can result in the creation of new life.

As with intercourse, ignorance does not excuse the participants from their responsibility for any life created as a result.

One could argue that the malfunctioning teleporters are more analogous to rape, but I disagree. The teleportees entered into the police boxes willingly. They may have been ignorant of the risk, but their participation was consensual.

So in the wake of the accident, the society is faced with a sudden baby-boom, only the babies are mostly adult, of working age, and employably well trained. They were mostly workers returning home during a crisis and this is what makes the consequences survivable.

On average, each household affected by the accident will find itself with one or more new adult member with all the training and skills necessary to be an income producer. Over all, the society will have a sudden increase in the need for food and other resources to support this new population; but since those new members are mostly productive, the increase in resource demand should be quickly balanced out by the availability on a larger workforce.

All that is left to do, is figure out who is the original "parent" of the other clones. The legal system would need to establish a ruling on that issue. Probably, the oldest clone would be declared to be legally, the original and all the others would be legally seen as that original person's children.

Strangely, in most cases, this would make the product of the first failed teleportation attempt into the parent. The oldest instance of the person, having eventually teleported home after the system had been repaired, would actually be the youngest child, even though that instance would have the most complete memory of the "now deceased" original, that instance who having failed multiple times (and sired a child with each attempt) finally succeeded in teleporting home and being destroyed in the process.

As for what would happen to the programmers, legally probably very little. Any venture as complicated as providing teleportation services would have lawyered up before installing the first police box. The "use at your own risk" wavers that each first-time teleportee would have to sign would be iron-clad. Legally, very little would happen to them.

...but Anonymous would fry them.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that the person who originally tried to get home would be deemed the Origional. After all, his body is the oldest. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ no it isn't. when he stepped into that last functional police box, that older body was destroyed and a new body was created which is even younger than the ones who were created during the failure. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, this is supposed to be super complicated. Noted. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not trying to complicate this. The civilization in the OP's story have accepted and utilized a technology which is equivalent to continuous mass murder. The fact that the human being in the sending police box is capable of continuing independent life, makes the disintegration of that being, murder (or at least assisted suicide), performed repeatedly for the convenience of instantaneous travel. I've deliberately ignored the bigger legal issue of whether source-destructive teleportation should be illegal. Who among the survivors is the original, comes first... then the bigger picture. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ Of course you're not making it complicated, it just is. Look at the length of the paragraph you wrote. There are the questions of what is murder and who is the Origional along with what to do with people. But it can make sense put in the proper light. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 14:16

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