April 18, 2014
Americans Express Excitement For Future Technology, But Also Fear
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Technology is exciting and scary. That's the findings of the report, "U.S. Views of Technology and the Future: Science in the next 50 years," released by Pew Research Internet Project.
The first half of the century will be filled with scientific breakthroughs and technology advancements, most respondents in the survey believe.
In fact, advancements are already reaching a realm once reserved for science fiction. Those who took part in the survey have shown mixed feelings about some of these advancements.
Most Americans believe technology advancements will have a net positive effect on society over the next half-century. Roughly 59 percent of respondents are optimistic about emerging technology and scientific changes and believe those advancements will improve quality of life in the future. However, 30 percent believe the changes will lead to a future where people are worse off than today.
While a minority believes that technology and scientific advances could lead to a downturn in quality of life, many Americans have a long-term optimism and high expectations for inventions.
"Fully eight in ten (81 percent) expect that within the next 50 years people needing new organs will have them custom grown in a lab, and half (51 percent) expect that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans," the report said.
Still, there are limits to what science can achieve over the next 50 years, according to the report.
"Fewer than half of Americans—39 percent—expect that scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects, and one in three (33 percent) expect that humans will have colonized planets other than Earth. Certain terrestrial challenges are viewed as even more daunting, as just 19 percent of Americans expect that humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future," the report said.
Several breakthroughs are expected in the time covered in the survey. And some controversial technological developments bring up concerns among the American public.
Advancements in DNA could make it possible for parents to alter the DNA of their children with the intention of producing smarter, healthier and more athletic offspring, among other examples. As many as 66 percent of those surveyed believe it would be a change for the worse. Sixty-five percent believe lifelike robotics becoming the primary caregivers for the elderly and people with health conditions would be a change for the worse.
While commercial drones are likely to become more of a reality, 63 percent think it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly though US Airspace. A number of commercial entities including Amazon.com, Google and Facebook are developing drone fleets as well as other technologies to perform tasks such as delivering packages, providing Internet to remote regions and enhancing imaging. While the technology sounds promising, if commercial and consumer drones are approved the skies could become quite crowded.
Just over half of Americans (53 percent) believe that it would be a change for the worse if most people wear implants and other devices -- wearable technology -- that feed information about the surrounding world to the user. "Women are especially wary of a future in which these devices are widespread," the report stated.
While some technologies might not be viewed as a change for the worse, many Americans don't want to be the first to try it.
Driverless cars are one example; 48 percent would be interested while 50 percent would not be interested in riding in an autonomous car. Regardless of sentiment, many Americans with newer cars already use features of autonomous driving, such as park assist and lane awareness.
Autonomous driving is one example of technology advancements slowly creeping into current lives in an acceptable way. Many of the technologies that worry people are introduced slowly in order to handle integration into society in ways that society can accept.
The report is derived from a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, which asked Americans about a range of potential scientific developments. Developments discussed included near-term progress such as robotics and bioengineering to more "futuristic" advances such as teleportation and space colonization. The study asked respondents for predictions about the long-term future of scientific advancements as well as their feelings and attitudes toward new developments that are becoming more of a reality.