According to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine, the American public anticipates that the coming half-century will be a period of profound scientific change, as inventions that were once confined to the realm of science fiction come into common usage. 59% of Americans are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better, while 30% think these changes will lead to a future in which people are worse off than they are today.
81% expect that within the next 50 years people needing new organs will have them custom grown in a lab, and 51% expect that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans. On the other hand, 39% expect that scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects, and 33% expect that humans will have colonized planets other than Earth. 19% of Americans expect that humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future, says the report.
At the same time that many expect science to produce great breakthroughs in the coming decades, there are widespread concerns about some controversial technological developments that might occur on a shorter time horizon:
The public is evenly divided on whether or not they would like to ride in a driverless car, says the report: 48% would be interested, while 50% would not. But significant majorities say that they are not interested in getting a brain implant to improve their memory or mental capacity (26% would, 72% would not), or in eating meat that was grown in a lab (just 20% would like to do this).
Describing in their own words the futuristic inventions they themselves would like to own, the public offered three common themes:
At the same time, 11% said that there are no futuristic inventions that they would like to own, or that they are “not interested in futuristic inventions.” And 28% weren’t sure what sort of futuristic invention they might like to own.
Of the four potential developments measured, public attitudes towards wearable or implanted computing devices are the least negative. Though 53% of Americans think it would be a bad thing if “most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them,” 37% think this would be a change for the better.
Men are evenly split on whether this would be a good thing: 44% feel that it would be a change for the better and 46% a change for the worse. But women overwhelmingly feel (by a 59%–29% margin) that the widespread use of wearable or implanted devices would be a negative development.
The public is largely unenthusiastic about the legal and regulatory framework for operating non-military drones, says the report. 63% of Americans think it would be a change for the worse if “personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace,” while 22% think it would be a change for the better.
Of three inventions discussed in the report:
In addition to specific inventions or future outcomes, the respondents offered, in their on words, which futuristic invention they themselves would want to own:
At the same time, many Americans seem to feel happy with the technological inventions available to them in the here and now, concludes the report.
The survey, conducted by landline and cell phones among 1,001 adults, examined a number of potential future developments in the field of science and technology, some just over the horizon, others more speculative in nature. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
For the complete study from Pew Research, please visit here.