On June 4th, 2010, a piece of news surfaced on the website of Xinhua News Agency, starting with a rather exciting and disturbing paragraph:

“A safe with confidential document inside was put into a special device. All of a sudden it vanished, and reappeared inside another device a long distance away in the same split-second. Our journalist was told by University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), recently the joint effort by USTC and Tsing Hua University made significant breakthrough in quantum teleportation, making said scene frequently employed by sci-fi movies come true.” Additionally the article said Chinese scientists teleported *something* over 16km from Beijing to Huailai, Hebei Province.

We suppose, like us, you found news of China’s successful teleportation of matter quite surprising. This was exactly our team’s response. The news story was quietly picked up by Chinese Twitter users, and spread a across the internet. We know human technology can now transfer information really fast. But to tear one object into atoms on one end, send the particle sequence, and reassemble it at the other end? It’s too sci-fi to be true.

Out of curiosity and doubt I checked it around the web, since Xinhua said the experiment and essay was covered by international magazines like Nature Physics. The finding is a bit unsurprising, as one of the closer-to-fact story here.

In summary, what happened at the teleportation experiment was basically:

  • They created a 16km long open space from Beijing to Huailai, or in plain language they uncreated everything between the two locations to remove potential obstacle
  • With the tunnel established, they teleported *something* from here to there
  • The *something* is QUANTUM INFORMATION, in other words, a few bits of data instead of anything physical
  • The transmission accuracy and distance set world record
  • End of story

To enlighten myself a bit, your Allegravita analyst blogger turned to Wikipedia. Enlightenment didn’t really come since I can’t make any sense of those equations. But it’s rather clear as the encyclopedia made it that quantum teleportation is all about teleporting “qubits” (basically good old bits with a nice quantum hue), sending information (as sending data frames across internet), and can’t lead to anything so fancy as beaming physical objects or faster-than-light communication (duh). In short, the whole trouble sending bits in quantum state is about finding a new way to transfer data between quantum computers. It’s like re-inventing optical fiber, or making the first telephone call ever in human history. Scientifically biggie but won’t shorten the travel time of you or your luggage by a tiny bit.

It’s really disturbing seeing a state-owned, state-controlled, news agency as Xinhua publishing such severely misleading content. It’s kind of a fact that being a media folk in China you don’t have to be very knowledgeable in your field. This Xinhua incident reminds us again: if you want media to publish you something, make sure they get the whole thing right. Prepare your own news release whenever possible, hide difficult and boring theory, eliminate all ambiguity, try to make it as reader-friendly as possible. Because chances are pretty good the journalist will publish your news release as it is, or worse still, try to breathe more life into the otherwise bone-dry story on their own accord.

Journalists fresh to media industry can be creators of frustration, from small ones to serious bombs, some examples are:

  • A LOT of tech journalists like to call Windows Phones “Wphone”, Androids “Gphone”, Nokia S60s “Nphone”, and come up with an abused conclusion “nah, those copycats are not half as good as an iPhone”.
  • A rather big state-owned newspaper fully quoted The Onion about “US congress moving out of Washington” and published it. You know what it’s like when you get too serious with America’s Finest News Resrouce.
  • Also state-owned newspaper. The journalist or editor there found a rather serious-looking idiom “卧槽泥马”, and wrote lengthy article teaching college graduates “be patience on job hunting adventure, like a humble mud horse in its stable, you will rise and shine someday”. Sadly this is no idiom but common curse slang slightly tweaked to entertain the netizens.
  • The whole plot of the video game Alan Wake was taken for a piece of real life crime news, translated, published, copied, quoted, and spread all across Chinese web. You see misled visitors commenting “Hell, the United State is a dangerous place!”

Thus if you are living here in mainland China, don’t be too serious about those media stories way too shocking. Or if you are in media-dense industry like PR, be sure you communicate with journalists and editors really well.

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