Written July 2010
Imagine a laboratory. What do you see? Microscopes? Vials filled with mystery liquids? Wires without a specific origin or destination? Maybe a light mist that comes up to your knees? Somehow, that has come to be the collective understanding of where our scientific frontier is created. How such a laboratory was imagined, I do not know. I can only assume it came from the mind of an, until recently, unemployed screenwriter in Hollywood. I can assure you that no such place exists.
When you think of a laboratory, think of it more as a storage facility and less like a place where magic is created and bottled. Take this place as an example. There is little of significance in this room. It is well lit aside from the dark corner by the cabinets. It has its fair share of computers. Several diagrams are pinned up on the far wall. In the center of the room is an oversized archway that looks out of place. If someone were to sneak a peek into this room, they would be unaware that they just laid eyes upon the most groundbreaking invention in centuries. Probably even longer.
For the past decade, this room has been teeming with scientists. Not today. Today, Dr. Hermon Ziegler stands alone. He has been working on this project his entire life. It was only ten years ago that he made enough progress to win a grant that would fund his research. Now, at the age of 62, Dr. Ziegler can stand before his creation—tested to perfection—and know that his life’s work has not been in vain. He will get to see his work spread across the world—changing forever the course of human history.
Today, Dr. Ziegler should be celebrating. This is not the case. The aging man spent his life imagining how his creation would change the planet for the good. When not daydreaming, he worked on the science and math that would make it possible. Now, standing before the prototype, he curses his mental lapse. How had he failed to realize that this device could be used for evil as well? Now, with his work complete, he knew not whether to look at it in awe or in fear.
Hoping to make up for his mental lapse, Dr. Ziegler organized three meetings. The first is in London. There he will speak with Kerry Jackson—the chief city planner. Washington D.C. is next. There he will meet with Paris Kaplan. She is one of the foremost NASA scientists. Sydney will be last. There he will meet with Joanne Clinefeltter. Joanne is a close friend of Dr. Ziegler’s and one of the most well-known historians in the world. If all goes well, Dr. Ziegler will know what to do when the final meeting concludes.
Dr. Ziegler steps up to the archway in the middle of the laboratory. Sensing his presence, the machine lights up with a small hum. A soft voice asks him, “Where would you like to go today?” He smiles at the question. He knows he made the right decision when he asked the beautiful young physicist to do the recording. Now her voice will live in infamy. Plus, he is reminded of a beautiful girl every time he uses his creation. “London,” he responds. Dr. Ziegler knows such a simple response will work only in this early setting. Eventually, specific identifiers will be necessary—much like phone numbers. Until then, his simple answer turns the empty archway in front of him into a doorway to a laboratory in London…thousands of miles away.
Folding space to create the first instantaneous transport wasn’t easy. Once Dr. Ziegler and his team of physicists completed the first one, however, replicas were simple. So easy, in fact, that it will only take a matter of years to go from announcing its existence to having one in every living room around the world. Today’s conversations are important for that very reason. An invention of this magnitude will literally affect every crevice of life. It is impossible to gauge the social, economic, and scientific ripples that this device will create without consulting the experts. Even with their help, much will be left up to chance.
Dr. Ziegler takes a step through the archway. His laboratory vanishes behind him without a sound. In its place, a new laboratory appears. London. It’s been a year since the first time he used the archway. The simplicity still amazes him. There is no wormhole pull or sonic boom. Instead, it’s as if these two rooms are connected through the archway. By folding space, that is exactly what he has done.
Kerry Jackson does a double take when he spots Dr. Ziegler in front of the archway. Dr. Ziegler arrived silently and nowhere near the only entrance to the room. Mr. Jackson is unable to contain his curiosity and confusion. He fails to form words the first couple of times he opens his mouth. When he finally forms a word, the wonder in his voice is evident. “How?”
Dr. Ziegler spent the better part of an hour explaining his prototype. When Mr. Jackson’s questions finally conclude, he stares at the archway in a sort of awe. It is easy to see that the questions are still piling up in Mr. Jackson’s mind. He is trying to work something else out. It only takes him a couple of minutes to understand why he is one of the first people in the world to be told about the prototype. Mr. Jackson is the principal city planner of one of the largest and most advanced cities in the world. Along with a team, he makes sure his sprawling city isn’t just slapped together helter-skelter. Staring at the archway, Mr. Jackson realizes that everything about his job is about to change.
“Ah. Now I see why you brought me here. You spent your time on equations and variables. Now that it’s actually here, you want to make sure you didn’t create a monster. Though I cannot speak for those outside my field, I am one of the few experts within the field. I suspect that’s why you brought me here. If what you say is true—that one of these can be brought into every home within a decade—the impact will be widespread. Cities will never be the same again.
“The initial impact will resemble a sort of catastrophe, I presume. Imagine a world where roads, highways, subways, trains, and sidewalks all become obsolete overnight. All of them will go from overused to barely used to deserted. That is what you have created. I would expect the ripple effect almost immediately. Police will need to find another mode of income other than traffic tickets. Construction crews will be put out of the job. Truckers and cab drivers too. That’s not even mentioning the instantaneous death of the automobile industry. On the other side of the same coin, prices for most products will drop dramatically without the added transportation cost. Items ordered could be delivered within seconds.
“The short term will keep the media consumed. It is the long term—what I specialize in—that will change the face of our cities. Density will greatly increase. Without the need for transportation, the only places that will not be developed will be parks and the like. Without roads to space the buildings we create, cities will gradually cease to be a collection of buildings. Older cities will grow together into a singular, ever-expanding building that could span for miles and miles. New cities will be built as one with the thought of endless expansion in mind. Newer cities will be able to prepare for the future and lay down miles upon miles of support. New heights will be attained that once were thought impossible. Imagine a city as a single building spanning multiple square miles on the ground and rising a mile skyward. With what you’ve created, that is what the new face of the metropolis will be.”
Mr. Jackson pauses for a moment. He will spend much of his time in the weeks that follow just thinking over how one invention could change the face of the planet. Dr. Zeigler thanks him for his time and makes his departure. Standing in front of the doorway again, the archway asks him where he wants to go. This time he steps through the frame into a more confined lab in Washington D.C. He goes through the motions again—this time with Ms. Kaplan—a top scientist inside NASA. When her amazement dies down, Dr. Zeigler explains everything she needs to know. It takes a significantly shorter time for Ms. Kaplan to process the possibilities. Excited, she dives into a new world of possibilities.
“This will change everything. If the portal is a malleable size like you say it is, this will change the space industry and mankind will change with it. The Apollo missions will be a thing of the past. ‘One mission is enough’ will become the new mantra of the space industry. With an invention like this, space will truly become the new frontier. One mission to the moon is all we need. With one of your transports, we could bring material directly to the moon. A moon base has never been so simple. In the course of mere years, we could successfully begin colonization of a second celestial body.
“From there, the possibilities are endless. With an aggressive schedule and program, we could be on Mars and her two moons within twenty, thirty years. Imagine the change in our lifetime! With humans colonizing five celestial bodies, the new space race will begin. An invention like this could also speed up the terraforming process on Mars. Imagine having two living, breathing Earths in our solar system. The face of our species and our future will change in untold ways. Humanity has learned to live without a frontier in recent years. We will have to learn how to live with it once again—and a much bigger one this time. Everything will change. Everything.
“It is most exciting when you figure in what to expect for the long-term. Honestly, think star travel. It’s possible with what you’ve created. All you have to do is send out an automated craft that can leave behind checkpoints in case something goes wrong or a faster craft is created. If we organize it well, we could send out ten missions to the ten closest star systems. It would still take thousands of years to get there. However, with your ‘one mission is enough’ invention, it will be a trip well worth the effort.”
With that she pauses in wonder. She will spend months on end pondering just what the prototype means for space travel and the human race. Though still lost in her thoughts, Dr. Ziegler thanks her for her time. He returns to the prototype and it purrs out its question in his presence. With a single word—Sydney—he steps into a bright and wide open laboratory. The woman waiting for him there is an old friend—Dr. Clinefeltter. She smiles brightly when she spots him. She knows what he has created and doesn’t need to guess what their meeting is about.
“I’m sure you’ve already figured out the importance of what you have here. Without a doubt, a new era will be ushered in. This one will be more important that the Renaissance. All history will be divided into before and after. If you present your prototype to the world, little will be left unchanged. Remember that you have that choice. The world can live without your invention. You need to consider silence and disposal as an option.
“You’ve already realized the numerous upsides, no doubt. Energy conservation is an easy one. It will allow for easier care in poverty-ridden areas. Sheer convenience could be written up as an upside or a downside. I bet you’ve heard the numerous downsides as well. Overcrowding will be among the worst. Who would want to go to a mediocre beach when the best beaches in the world are just as close? It will also make a mess of border security, sovereignty, and immigration. It’s impossible to fathom the effect it will have on the economy. How does a global economy function when every job in the world is at your fingertips? With billions of people in the world, how many will apply each time a position opens up? You have to accept that this new era will be born out of the chaos that it creates.
“What I need you to consider is beyond simplicities and inconveniencies. Your prototype has further implications then the mundane and the petty. What if Hitler had one? All he would have had to do is tell the Jews they had to go to a specific bakery for their day’s bread. Preprogram the exit to send everyone to an underground incinerator and you have a one day secret Holocaust that could wipe out an entire people.”
She looks at Dr. Zeigler with worry in her eyes. She gives him a silent warning to reconsider making his life’s work public. Dr. Ziegler, lost in a new visualization of the future, returns back to his office—covering thousands of miles in a single step. Back in his lab, he takes a seat and looks at his prototype. He had learned much in what had turned into a long, exhausting day. He knows that the effects of his prototype are larger and more complex than what he has been told. No field will be left untouched. Like each of them predicted: Everything would change.
With too much to contemplate, he grabs a small rubber ball from the desk beside him. It is blue with specks of green on it. As he stares off at his prototype, he bounces the rubber ball again and again and again. Each time the ball returns to him without problem. On the final bounce, however, Dr. Zeigler finds himself rather preoccupied. The ball takes a bad bounce. He watches as the ball bounces more chaotically each time it hits the ground until it slows to a roll and disappears in the dark corner of the laboratory.