Future Friday: Most Americans Have Optimistic, But Contradictory Views on Tech 50 Years From Now - Pew
The Pew Research Internet Project just released one of the most interesting reports in a while -- a study of American views on the future of technology in the next 50 years. What Pew found was that most Americans are optimistic, but interestingly, a lot are skeptical about some technologies that Google happens to be working on.
Overall Optimism About The Future of Technology
Of the 1,000 U.S. adults Pew surveyed, nearly 60 percent are optimistic that advances in technology and science in the next 50 years will make life better, with only 30 percent pessimistic that they'll collectively make life worse than today.
Pew asked the survey takers about a wide range of possible technological advances, including robots, bioengineering, wearable devices, and other possibilities that remain firmly in the realm of science fiction, like teleportation and space colonization.
Case-by-Case, Contradictory Pessimism
According to the survey, Americans have somewhat fickle views on the future of technology, with a wide range of optimism, pessimism, and positive and negative responses to technology, based on the particulars.
For example, a full 81 percent believe that in the next 50 years, people who need organs won't have to wait on transplant lists, but instead will have the parts they need custom grown in a lab. But at the same time, 66 percent of Americans think that it'd be a bad thing if parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce healthier, stronger, and smarter progeny. Meanwhile, the general category of "health improvements" that cure major diseases and extend human life was the third most common "futuristic invention" that people said they would like to see.
Similarly, the most common, generalized category of future technology that Pew's respondents said they would like to have for themselves would be "travel improvements" like flying cars or personal space crafts, but 63 percent said that opening U.S. airspace to personal and/or commercial drones would be a bad thing.
Skepticism on Future Google Tech
Interestingly, a couple of technologies that Google happens to be working on right now were met with skepticism by Pew's survey group.
Following in the same category of transportation, a full 50 percent of Americans, according to the survey, would not ride in a driverless car. Autonomous vehicles, running on artificial intelligence, happens to be one of Google's oldest "moonshot" projects, and one that's making progress: Starting about a year ago, for example, Google began testing the self-driving cars on public streets in San Francisco.
Another Google project that is closer to consumer fact than science fiction is Google Glass -- the company's internet-connected smartglasses. Google Glass is already being used by an increasingly large pool of beta testers, and is expected to have a wide release for consumers sometime this year.
Pew asked if Americans think it would be a change for the better or worse if "most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them." Only 37 percent said it would be good, while 53 percent thought it would be a bad thing.
Robot caregivers, especially for the elderly, isn't a Google initiative, but it's being experimented with in Japan. And Google recently announced it was interested in developing humanoid robots, snapping up robotics companies for their latest "moonshot." However, in the U.S. people are generally creeped out by that proposition, where 65 percent think widespread use of robots for care-giving would be a decidedly bad thing.
More Skepticism, and Differences in Expectation Based on Education
Americans were skeptical about a lot of other possible scientific and technological breakthroughs.
Only 20 percent of Americans would eat meat grown in a lab, with 78 percent saying they wouldn't, for example. But college graduates were about three times more likely to say they'd give it a try than those who hadn't attended college.
Similarly, with the self-driving cars, almost 60 percent of college graduates would give them a try, while 62 percent with a high school diploma or less would not.
There are a lot more interesting details and reactions -- including American's views on time machines, brain implants, controlling the weather, and more -- in Pew's full study. Check it out here.
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