Towards Teleportation, Time Travel and Immortality
March 5, 1997
Introduction by James Burke
I was going to say that our next speaker is going to take another way out look at things,
but having heard Bruce, let's say relatively way out. He ear
ned a doctorate in computer
science back in 1963, when he came to America from his native India via another
degree in Australia. After teaching for a while at Stanford, he moved to Carnegie Mellon,
where he was named a professor in 1973. He is now the He
rbert A. Simon University
Professor of Computer Science and Robotics. And he is recognized worldwide for his
work on speech recognition and as the founder of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics
Institute, which he ran until he took up his present position as dea
n of the School of
Computer Science there. He’s a member of the National Academy of Engineering and
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was president of the American
Association for Artificial Intelligence from 1987 to 1989. In 1984, he was aw
French Legion d’Honor for his work on bringing advanced technology to developing
countries, and he was awarded the ACM Turing Award in 1995. His ongoing interest is
in human computer interaction. He has projects running at the moment on speech
recognition, multimedia collaboration techniques, just
time lectures and automated
machine shop. With a background like that, it’s all the more interesting that he should
choose to talk about something like teleportation, time travel and immortality.
I think it
promises to tickle the fancy. Ladies and gentlemen, Raj Reddy.
As we look forward to the next fifty years, it is interesting to note that when the
Association for Computing Machinery was being formed fifty years ago, the sense of
citement was no less palpable than it is today. Vannevar Bush had proposed MEMEX
with hyperlinks between documents. Turing, having successfully broken the German
code using a special
purpose digital computer, proposed the construction of a universal
uting engine called Ace. John Von Neumann had recently formalized the idea of a
program computer. Eckert and Mauchly had created ENIAC, the first electronic
digital computer in the U.S. There’s no question that the last fifty years have been
ting, dramatic and, in many ways, full of unanticipated events which have changed
What will the next fifty years bring? Given the continuing exponential rate of change, it is
reasonable to assume that the next fifty years will be even more dram
atic than the last
hundred years. When you recall a hundred years ago, there were no cars and no
highways, no electric utilities, no phone system, no radio or TV, and no airplanes, so you
can well imagine the magnitude of the change that awaits us!
is talk, I‘d like to share my thoughts on how our dreams about teleportation, time
travel and immortality are likely to be realized. One of our most compelling, enduring
fantasies of the future has been
, where the themes of teleportation, time t
and immortality have captured the imagination of generations. Will technology make this
possible in the next fifty years? We’ve heard several possible futures in the last two
days. I’d like to provide you with one more.
Technology over the next 5
By the year 2000, we can expect to see a giga
PC, a billion operations per second, a
billion bits of memory and a billion
bit network bandwidth available for less than two
thousand dollars. Barring the creation of a cartel or some unforeseen tech
barrier, we should see a tera
PC by the year 2015 and a peta
PC by the year 2030
The question is, what will we do with all this power? How will it affect the way we live
and work? Many things will hardly change; our social s
ystems, the food we eat, the
clothes we wear and mating rituals will hardly be affected. Others, such as the way we
learn, the way we work, the way we interact with each other and the quality and delivery
of health care will undergo profound changes. Fir
st and foremost, we can hope that
Microsoft will use some of this computing power to create computers that never fail and
software that never needs rebooting. And yes, I can do without the leisure that I get
during the boot time and at the closing time o
, thank you.
The improvement in secondary memory will be even more dramatic. Many of you know
that while the processor and memory technologies have been doubling every twenty
months or less, disk densities have been doubling every ei
ghteen months or so, leading
to a thousandfold improvement every fifteen years. Today, you can buy a four
disk memory for less than four hundred dollars. Four gigabytes can be used to store
about ten thousand books of five hundred pages each
rger than most of our personal
libraries at home. By the year 2010, we should be able to buy four terabytes for about
the same price. At that cost, each of us can have a personal library of several million
books, a lifetime collection of music and a life
time collection of all our favorite movies
on our home PC. What we don’t have on our PC will be available at the click
of the mouse from the universal digital library containing all the authored works of the
If you choose to, you w
ill be able to capture everything you ever said from the time you
are born to your last breath in less than a few terabytes. Everything you ever did and
experienced can be stored in less than a petabyte. All of this storage will only cost you a
ollars or less by the year 2025
So how will all this affect our lives? We’ve heard a number of scenarios for the future in
the past few days. I’d like to share some of my dreams on how this technology will be
used to save lives, provide education and en
tertainment on a personalized basis,
provide universal access to information and improve the quality of life for the entire
The first invention that will have a major impact on society will be the
. Let us look at the c
urrent state of this technology.
Video of Navlab narrated by Dr. Charles Thorpe
. The Carnegie Mellon Navlab Project brings
together computer vision, advanced sensors, high
speed processors, planning and control to build
robot vehicles that drive themsel
ves on roads and cross
country. The project began in 1984 as
part of ARPA’s Autonomous Land Vehicle program
the ALV. In the early ‘80s, most robots were
small, slow, indoor vehicles tethered to big computers . The Stanford cart took fifteen minutes to
map obstacles, plan a path and move each meter. The CMU Imp and Neptune improved on the
cart’s top speed, but still moved in short bursts separated by long periods of looking and thinking.
In contrast, ARPA’s ten
year goals for the ALV were to achieve ei
ghty kilometers per hour on
roads, and to travel long distances across open terrain.
With the Terragator, our first outdoor robot at CMU, we began to make fundamental changes in our
approach. The Navlab, built in 1986, was our first self
contained test b
ed. It had room for onboard
generators, onboard sensors, onboard computers and, most importantly, onboard graduate
students. The next test bed was the Navlab II, an army ambulance HMMWV. It has many of the
sensors used on earlier vehicles, plus cameras
tilt mounts and three aligned cameras for
trinocular stereo vision. The HMMWV has high ground clearance for driving on rough terrain and a
one hundred and ten kilometer per hour top speed for highway driving. Computer
motors turn the st
eering wheel and control the brake and throttle.
Perception and planning capabilities have evolved with the vehicles. Alvin is the current main
following vision system. Alvin is a neural network, which learns to drive by watching a human
lvin has driven as far as a hundred kilometers and at speeds over a hundred and ten
kilometers per hour. Ranger finds paths through rugged terrain. It takes range images, projects
them onto the terrain and builds Cartesian elevation maps. Smartee and D
star find and follow
country routes. D
star plans a route using A* search. As the vehicle drives, Smartee finds
obstacles using Geneesha’s map, steers the vehicle around them and passes the obstacles to D
star adds the new obstacles to it’
s global map and replans the optimal path.
Currently, Navlab technology is being applied to highway safety. In a recent trip from Washington,
D.C. to San Diego, the Navlab 5 Vision System steered autonomously more than ninety
percent of the way. I
n a driver
warning application, the vision system watches as a person drives
and sounds an alarm if the driver falls asleep and the vehicle drifts off the road. The same
autonomous navigation capability is a central part of the automated highway system, a
is building completely automated cars, trucks and buses. Automated vehicles will improve safety,
decrease congestion and improve mobility for the elderly and disabled.
Every year, about forty thousand people die in automobile accidents, and
repair bill is about
five billion dollars
! Even if this technology helps to eliminate half
of these accidents, the savings would pay for all basic research in information
technologythat has been done since the founding of ACM fifty years
The second area of major potential impact on society is
. Remote medical
consultation is already beginning to improve the quality of care for people located in
remote areas. With increased bandwidth and computati
onal capabilities, it will become
possible to perform 3
D visualization, remote control of microrobotic surgery and other
sophisticated procedures. It’s not quite teleportation in the classical sense of
but consider the following: If you can w
atch the Super Bowl from the vantage point of a
quarterback in the midfield, or repair a robot that has fallen down on the surface of Mars
or perform telesurgery three thousand miles away, then you have the functional
equivalent of teleportation
the world to us, and bringing us to the world, atoms
Let us look at some recent advances in 3
D modeling and multibaseline
stereo theory that are essential for being able to do these functions. Can we show this
short video please?
Video of 3
D modeling narrated by Dr. Takeo Kanade
. A real
D modeling system using
stereo theory has been developed by Professor Takeo Kanade and other
researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The virtualized reality studio dome is fully cov
many cameras from all directions. The range or depth of every point in an image was computed
using the same multibaseline
stereo algorithm used in the video
rate stereo machine. The scene
can be reconstructed with the depth and intensity informat
ion by placing a virtua, or soft camera
from the front, from the left, from the right or from the top, or moving the soft camera as the user
moves freely. For this baseball scene, we can create a ball’
eye view. A one
scene has also be
en virtualized from a number of viewpoints.
Currently this system requires about a teraflop per second for the 3
D reconstruction of
the basketball scene at the video rate. Instrumenting a football field with a dome
consisting of ten thousand high
nition cameras will require twenty petaflops of
computation and a hundred gigabytes of bandwidth to transmit the 3D Model.
Universal access to information and knowledge
Another area that will have a major impact on society will be the creation of a
. We already have access to a broad base of information through the Web, but it
is less than one percent of all the information that is available in the archives. We can
envision the day when all the authored works of the human race will be ava
anyone in the world instantaneously. Not just the books, not just the journals or
newspapers on demand, but also music, paintings, and movies. Once you have music
on demand, you can throw away all of your CDs and just use the Web to access
hing you want. You may just have to pay five cents each time you listen to it
could be the way it works. This will, in turn, lead to a flood of information competing for
the scarce resource of human attention. With the predictable advances in
arization and abstraction techniques, we should be able to see
Gone With The
in one hour or less, and the Super Bowl in less than a half hour and not miss any
of the fun, including the conclusion in real time.
Besides providing entertainment on deman
d, we can expect the Web to provide learning
and education on an individualized basis. The best example of this is demonstrated by
the reading tutor, which provides help to students who might otherwise run the risk of
growing up illiterate. Can we show t
he next videotape please?
The Listen Project narrated by Dr. Jack Mostow.
Illiteracy costs the United States
over 225 BILLION dollars annually in corporate retraining, industrial accidents and lost
competitiveness. If we can reduce illiteracy b
y just twenty percent, Project LISTEN could save the
nation over 45 BILLION dollars a year.
At Carnegie Mellon University, Project LISTEN is taking a novel approach to the problem of
illiteracy. We have developed a prototype automated reading coach that
listens to a child read
aloud and helps when needed. The system is based on the CMU Sphinx II speech
technology. The coach provides a combination of reading and listening, in which the child
reads wherever possible, and the coach helps wh
a bit like training wheels
on a bicycle.
The coach is designed to emphasize comprehension and ignore minor mistakes, such as false
starts or repeated words. When the reader gets stuck, the coach jumps in, enabling the reader
te the sentence. When the reader misses an important word, the coach rereads the
words that led up to it, just like the expert reading teachers whom the coach is modeled after.
This context often helps the reader correct the word on the second try. When
the reader runs
into more difficulty, the coach rereads the sentence to help the reader comprehend it. The
coach's ability to listen enables it to detect when and where the reader needs help.
What has been a real plus for the teachers in schools is the
fact that children can use it
independently. They enjoy reading the stories, and they can prompt the story along. And
they’re getting some help with individual words that they’re struggling with, and they’re picking
meaning of the stories.
ments to date suggest that it has the potential to reduce
children's reading mistakes by a factor of five and enable them to comprehend material at least
six months more advanced than they can read on their own.
Towards Time Travel
So this brings us to t
he prospect of using time travel as an educational tool. In the
future, it will no longer be necessary or essential for the teacher and the student to be at
the same time and place. Let us see an experiment in which Einstein is talking to
Video of a synthetic interview created by Dr. Scott Stevens and Dr. Don Marinelli.
ALBERT EINSTEIN SYNTHETIC INTERVIEW VIDEO, MARCH 1997
ACTION: The large classroom/auditorium is filled with students. Th
ey are quiet, intensely
watching Dr. Einstein explain the equation E=MC(squared). Einstein is being projected onto a big
screen directly from the computer. He is in the middle of his lesson.
The equation E for energy is equal to MC squared. Hmmm
. This equation for the equation of mass
and energy through the coupling power of light is...
CLOSE UP OF TWO STUDENTS:
ACTION: The two students are seated on the left side of the auditorium. One student turns to the
STUDENT # 1
Can you believe tha
t we are actually sitting here taking a class from the great Albert Einstein?
STUDENT # 2
It really is incredible, but I do have one question. Who grades us for this course? I mean, sure,
that is Einstein up on the screen, but who is actually going to gr
ade our work?
STUDENT # 1
Have you checked out the teaching assistants?
STUDENT # 1
Teaching assistants? No. Why?
STUDENT # 2
Look! (He motions to the other side of the classroom.)
ACTION: Three or four students are leaning up against the wall on
the far side of the classroom.
Each is dressed exactly like Albert Einstein: wild grey hair, moustaches, lined faces, and each is
holding a pipe. They are nodding in agreement with Einstein. The effect should be both funny and
STUDENT # 1 (V.O.)
A SMALL CONFERENCE ROOM, PERHAPS AT A LIBRARY
ACTION: This is a room where individuals can access the computer for the purpose of conducting
synthetic interviews. We see a computer terminal on a desk. The computer has a mic
attached to it. There are a few chairs in front of the terminal occupied by elementary school
students. They are wearing parochial
STUDENT # 1
Excuse me Dr. Einstein, we’re writing a paper about your life and would like to ask y
questions about your childhood. Could you tell us where you were born?
CUT TO EINSTEIN:
I was born on March 14, 1879 in a small town in southern Germany called Ulm. I don’t remember
it. I remember Munich, whereto my Papa moved the famil
y when I was just one year old. In
Munich, my Papa Hermann and his brother, my uncle Jakob, went into business together
manufacturing and selling small electrical appliances.
SAME COMPUTER ROOM
Professor Einstein, wh
y don’t you accept and believe in quantum mechanics?
CUT TO EINSTEIN ON SCREEN:
Quantum mechanics is very worthy of regard. But an inner voice tells me that this is not the true
Jacob. The theory yields much, but it hardly brings us close to the
secrets of the Ancient One. In
any case, I am convinced that He does not play dice.
I admire to the highest degree the achievement of the younger generation of physicists which goes
by the name of quantum mechanics and believe in the deep level of truth
of that theory; but I
believe that the restriction to statistical laws will be a passing one.
Well, don’t you think the quantum theory is correct?
The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks.
ACTION: Younger physicist makes face
SAME COMPUTER ROOM
Professor Einstein, having escaped from Hitler’s Germany, how can you explain the persecution
against the Jews?
The Nazis saw t
he Jews as a nonassimilable element that could not be driven into uncritical
acceptance, and that threatened their authority because of its insistence on popular enlightenment
of the masses.
ACTION: Two Indian students
a man and
have replaced the professor from the
MALE INDIAN STUDENT:
Dr. Einstein, I recall reading that you met and became very good friends with Mahatma Gandhi.
FEMALE INDIAN STUDENT:
Can you tell me what impressed you most about Mahatm
CUT TO EINSTEIN ON SCREEN:
I believe that Gandhi held the most enlightened views of all the political men in our time...a man
who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at
all times r
Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood
walked upon this earth.
ACTION: A housewife is now seated at the computer screen.
Is it true that yo
u never wore socks?
CUT TO EINSTEIN ON SCREEN:
When I was young, I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So, I
stopped wearing socks.
END OF VIDEO
So, if we had captured Einstein in living color and 3
D when he was a
live, it would be
technically possible today to have an imaginary conversation with him. The people
responsible for this synthetic interview at the Grand Illusion Studios, which is a spin off
from Carnegie Mellon, are hoping to create a service which will
permit you to converse
with your great, great, great grandchildren in the same way. This is not quite the time
travel that you’ve grown to expect from
, but it’s another example of substituting
bits for atoms
to achieve an equivalent experience.
With some pre
appropriate data capture, future generations will be able to experience historical events
hand and interact with the past generations.
There is work underway in areas such as geriatric robotics that
will help senior citizens
with simple disabilities lead normal lives well past their prime. And you may ask, can
this go on forever? Transplant surgeries are one way of extending life expectancy
beyond a hundred years or so, and given advances in cloning
, we may be getting closer
to achieving the dream of immortality. But as Nathan Myhrvold pointed out, you need to
download extragenetic experiences
the software in your brain, not just the DNA
system. One possibility would be to bring you back to
life in the fourth millennium using
a frozen embryo of your clone and then infusing you with all the experiences you’ve
undergone in this lifetime. Immortality should not be thought of as some mystical
transfer of atoms from one brain to the other as in t
movies. It should be
viewed from an information
technology perspective whereby you provide the clone with
all the important extragenetic experiences of everything you ever said and did. Then
you create a rapid, simulated learning environment
in which the new clone, with a new
brain, which can live on for another generation, gets all of your experiences
It’s not quite immortal in the classical sense of the word, but close enough,
especially given that the cloning process can
go on every millennium. That way you will
live forever, except you will be learning the cumulative experiences of all the
In conclusion, the advances of the next fifty years will undoubtedly be as dramatic as the
last fifty. Capabilities su
ch as accident
avoiding cars, universal access to information
and knowledge, entertainment on demand, learning on demand, reading tutors,
telemedicine and geriatric robotics will clearly come to pass. More esoteric capabilities
such as teleportation, time
travel and immortality will also become possible, raising a
number of social and ethical questions. As a society, we have to find ways of dealing
with these things. As we find ways to transform
atoms to bits
, that is, substitute
information for space, t
ime and matter, many of the constants of our universe will
assume a new meaning and will change the way we live and work. This means some of
us will have superhuman capabilities, like getting a year’s worth of work done in a week.
Such capabilities can b
e used to further increase the gap between the haves and have
nots, or to help the poor, the sick and the illiterate. The choice, I believe is up to us.