Teleportation will change, not destroy transportation industry

Suppose all humans could exercise what we today consider supernatural abilities, such as teleportation (moving objects by the force of thought) or self-healing (correcting medical conditions by the force of one’s own will). What would be an economic impact of such universal super abilities?

Sci-Fi grandmaster Robert Heinlein explores this problem at least twice: first, briefly, in Lost Legacy novel, a part of Assignment in Eternity book, then at length in Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein’s teleportation is without apparent limits – anyone could do it, with any object and at any distance. Heinlein believes the impact would be a total transformation of society. Granted, in both books these 2 abilities are only some of the superpowers he describes as part of larger framework of human empowerment. Yet the implication is there – super abilities would do more than disrupt certain industries or even the economy as a whole. They would profoundly change the way people live and organize their society.

Alfred Bester in The Stars My Destination limits his query to teleportation (jaunteing), which would be teachable to everyone. A person can only jaunte himself and there are minor limits on this ability – the necessary to know geographic location, elevation and situation of the origin and destination. Yet even this more limited ability is so disruptive to economy and society that it results in a war.

I suggest that the impact will be more limited. In his book The Witling Vernor Vinge describes a humanoid species who developed ability to sense densities remotely (seng), attack other beings by force of thought (keng) and teleport objects (reng). Importantly, degree of people’s ability varies widely, from extraordinary to nearly non-existent. Doesn’t this variation sound more reasonable? Vinge also posits very real physical limits to teleportation – quite understandable, given that he was in Computer Science before he was a professional writer. Vinge’s teleportation is subject to the law of linear momentum conservation remains in force, which has profound implications. Planet’s rotation means that “stationary” objects in different points on the surface of the globe actually move with a different speed (highest on the equator, zero on the poles). Movement direction (velocity vector) also differs: objects on the opposite sides of the globe would move in opposite directions. Because of that object teleported a significant distance across the surface of the globe would arrive at their destination traveling at a high speed. Rocks can withstand being thrown at high speed, but anything valuable would be destroyed. Because of this, teleportation is practical only at a short range. Take difference in abilities and limited range together and you arrive at very reasonable conclusion, explained by Vinge this way: “and really, most people depended on professional rengers for long-distance jumps, anyway”.

So there you go: even if teleportation was available for everyone, transportation industry will still exist, because it wouldn’t be easy for everyone to teleport everything one needs accurately. No one wants to find himself in Joe’s garage to explain: “Oh hi Joe, I didn’t mean to visit you – I actually wanted to drop in on Bob to check if I by mistake sent my new chair to his house instead of mine”. All people are different, and some people will leverage their superior abilities into profession. Compare it to driving – even though most people in the US own cars, there is still a lot of commercial drivers, especially filling niche needs: taxi, school buses, transit buses, truck and so on. There will still be a need for professionals and transportation industry.

Professional medical help would be even in higher demand. Suppose one could amputate an appendix or fix a broken bone all by force of thought. Clearly these would be highly complex actions, requiring a thorough understanding of one’s own body. If you make a mistake, you could break additional bones or jumble your intestines beyond repair! We suppose all humans would be able to achieve it, yet I suspect most would stop their progression way short of that. Regular person would be able to deal with simple situations, maybe not much different from what we can do today with the home medical cabinet. Doctors would still exist, even if their methods changed quite radically.

Even with these wildest imaginable human super powers , transportation and healthcare industries will still exist.

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