Americans are optimistic about future technology, according to new data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, even if some of that technology freaks them out.
Some 66 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center believed that altering their children’s DNA “to produce smarter, healthier, or more athletic offspring” would represent a change for the worse. Majorities seemed similarly reluctant to embrace lifelike robots taking care of their aging parents, personal and commercial drones running amok in U.S. airspace, and implants “or other devices” that constantly display information about the world (designers of Google Glass, take note).
But Americans seemed considerably more upbeat about other technologies, especially those that would allow them to commute to work at 15,000 feet or travel back to 1920 in order to kill Hitler. “Asked to describe in their own words the futuristic inventions they themselves would like to own,” Pew’s report stated, “the public offered three common themes: 1) travel improvements like flying cars and bikes, or even personal space crafts; 2) time travel; and 3) health improvements that extend human longevity or cure major diseases.”
Indeed, 59 percent of Americans expressed optimism that future technology will improve their lives, while only a minority (30 percent) believed the march of progress could end up making things worse. “Despite having much different rates of technology use and ownership,” the report added, “younger and older Americans are equally positive about the long-term impact of technological change on life in the future.”
While many Americans seemed positive that computers will eventually create art as masterful as anything produced by humans, and a supermajority (81 percent) thought that lab-grown custom organs for transplant will be available within the next fifty years, a relatively small number (19 percent) believed that humans will eventually harness the ability to control the weather. There are limits to what we think we can do, in other words.
The main takeaway here is that, no matter how apprehensive Americans might feel about technologies only beginning to mature (such as drones, wearable electronics, and designer babies), they still feel confident about where things are going. The survey (executed in conjunction with Smithsonian magazine) took place in February 2014 and involved 1,001 adults; the data has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.