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Pew Survey Finds Mix of Feelings on Future of Technology
Posted April 18, 2014
Pew Survey Finds Mix of Feelings on Future of Technology
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By Barry Levine. Updated April 18, 2014 1:55PM

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Nearly two-thirds of Americans are optimistic about technological and scientific changes in the future, while about a third believe it will make people worse off. That's a key takeaway from a new study by the Pew Research Center.

The study, "U.S. Views of Technology and the Future," looks at how Americans think about science and tech in the next five decades. While there is much optimism, there are also widespread concerns about some technological developments.

There are certainly high expectations for what tech can deliver. Eighty-one percent say that new transplant organs will be grown to spec in a lab. Fifty-one percent say that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from human-created art -- which may also be an indirect comment on the quality of modern art.

Colonizing Other Planets

Nearly 40 percent believe technology will exist to teleport objects, a leap of faith since that technology has not currently gotten beyond sending a few subatomic particles. A third say earthlings will colonize other planets in this time frame, and 19 percent expect weather will be controllable.

But the future is not entirely seen through rose-colored enhanced reality glasses. Two-thirds believe it would be a turn for the worse if parents could change the DNA of their children to improve them in some way. Sixty-five percent don't like the idea of lifelike robots becoming the primary caregivers for elderly and people in poor health, and 63 percent don't like the idea of personal and commercial drones flying through most U.S. airspace.

And look out, Google Glass. More than half -- 53 percent -- believe it would be a change for the worse if most people were wearing devices, or had implants, that showed them information about the world they inhabit.

Driverless and Flying Cars

Would you like to ride in a driverless car Relevant Products/Services? Forty-eight percent said yes, 50 percent declined. Want to get a brain implant to improve your memory or mental capacity? Slightly more than a quarter said sure, while nearly three-quarters said no thanks. Want to eat meat grown in a lab? We only need to set the table for that dish for one-fifth of us.

When asked about what inventions they would like to see, three perennial wishes were articulated: new travel options like flying cars and personal spacecraft; time travel; and health improvements to cure diseases or extend human life. Eleven percent are either completely satisfied with the present, or totally pessimistic about the future, because they said there were no futuristic inventions they want to have, or they are not interested in that subject.

Overall, men are somewhat more optimistic than women about the future, with 67 percent of men feeling that way compared with 51 percent of women. Interestingly, that optimism is similar across age groups, with 59 percent or 60 percent of those between 18 and 64 feeling optimistic, and 56 percent of those 65 or older. However, optimism does increase by annual household income, and by education.

The survey was conducted in February in cooperation with Smithsonian Magazine, and employed landlines and cellphones to reach 1,001 adults.

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