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Monday, December 26, 2011

Implications for a future with wormholes

Holiday down time brings me around to some different topics. This one is far less concrete than usual.

Not all of my ideas revolve around technology which is attainable now. Sometimes I wonder about the implications of a future technology which may or may not happen. One whole set of thoughts stems from the notion of wormholes, and what we might have to consider about them.

Disclaimer: I originally thought about this some years ago, long before Portal (the game) happened. I've also never played it, so aside from some meme-tastic things like the end-game song, I have no idea if any of this has been discussed before.

Let's say at some point in the future, we will be able to create connections between arbitrary points in space in a coherent fashion. In other words, you could buy a pair of doorframe type things, split them up, and then hang them on walls in two parts of the world.

Maybe you'd put one up at home and another one at your office so you can commute to work just by walking through. After a while, people will start running out of room. There are only so many blank spaces in houses, apartments, and offices to add a "door" where there wasn't one before. Soon, you might have to build an entire room which is nothing but walkways and flat spaces for hanging these portals, and that would be ridiculous.

The logical solution would be to just have one end in your house and the other end in some place where you keep the others. Your house, office, vacation home, fishing hole and others would also have links back to this place -- call it the hub. To go somewhere, you'd just stroll through your house portal into your hub, turn slightly, then walk through another portal to pop out in the other location.

You'd only travel a few feet, even though the locations would normally be hundreds or thousands of miles apart. It's essentially instant access to any other point, assuming you can get there once to install it in the first place, of course!

Continuing with this theme, let's say the hub concept takes off, and people start targeting lots of interesting locations. Maybe a bunch of people like to travel to the same ski resorts, fishing holes, or whatever. Why duplicate links when multiple people can share? Now you wind up with a hub where some people can get into some portals, and others can't.

Beyond that, there's the possibility of linking hubs so you don't ever need to directly link anywhere just to get the benefit of it. I'd walk into my hub, the jump into another hub that services a friend's house, and then walk to her house from there.

We can also back out of this particular tangent and consider something else, which is what this will do to transportation in general. With so many things close by, walking would become the primary mode of transportation again, and cars would just not be necessary for most needs. Anything you'd want to get to would become accessible after long enough.

The exact utility of the system would depend on how well-linked you happen to be. If your network doesn't link to a network with the nodes you want to reach, then you will have to do a lot of walking or even driving to get to a part of that other network. Many lessons learned from the Internet will probably apply here.

This would also do some strange things to the field of space travel. You could launch a portal on a spacecraft or other probe, and then have it land on some distant planet. Have it deploy and fire up and now you have instant access to that faraway place. You only have to get there once! It's the ultimate intergalactic bootstrap.

My example of linking to a distant planet brings up something else which would probably also apply on Earth to a smaller degree: weather differences. If I have a portal here with the other end on the moon, as soon as I open it, my house is going to try to blow itself through there, right? I can't see how you'd keep it from blowing the entire atmosphere into lunar orbit.

Even if we stick to terrestrial portal use, the pressure differential between a place at sea level and something up on a mountain would probably push a nice breeze through the hole at all times. If you want a nice demonstration of the pressure difference, try moving from one place to another with something in a bottle like shampoo. It'll either bulge out or get all squished down, and it'll be obvious.

This says nothing about whether gravity would try to "work" across such a link. If my end was way down in the Earth's gravity well, would pieces of the moon start flying toward the portal to crash-land here?

Finally, I wonder about what we might do if we could just open tiny wormholes which are far too small for any of the above problems to arise. If we could just get them big enough to push through radio signals, they would still be very useful. You could use them to set up communications which are effectively faster than light with only the initial investment in time for portal placement.

For example, if you put one of these things on a probe and park the earth-side antenna near the other portal, the telemetry and control would never lag no matter how far away it gets. It also would never get any weaker. You could use crazy amounts of bandwidth since you basically have zero distance to worry about and you can use the lowest power levels since the whole contraption can be shielded on both ends.

That is, the only radio signals inside the box (boxes?) would be from your antennas.

Maybe we'd even use this to establish relay stations to reduce power utilization to our earlier deep-space probes. Instead of trying to talk to Voyager 1 or 2 from Earth, our signals would start from wherever the far-end relay station had reached, and those probes would only need to reach that station.

Just for the sake of clarification, I'm not talking about a magic glowing boundary or a huge swoosh thing like in Stargate or Sliders. We'd just be making points in space adjacent to each other much like they are now. It would just be a doorway from one room to the next, with no "middle" or "in-between". There's no lag involved.