Good news ahead for tech and science innovators: American’s are overwhelmingly optimistic about future tech, according to a new study.
Conducted by Pew Research and Smithsonian Magazine, the study polled 1,001 adults between Feb. 13 and 18 via phone.
Asking respondents a wide range of questions that covered everything from edge technology to far-out science-fiction scenarios, the study revealed a surprisingly upbeat view future tech — despite the many movies and books depicting dark technological dystopias.
However, it also revealed several counterintuitive takes on developing technologies that point to the need for more research into how some of them will be deployed commercially.
When asked about the prospect of driverless cars, 48% of respondents were interested in the invention, while 50% said they had no interest.
Despite the nearly evenly divided opinion on the topic, however, 48% likely represents enough interest from the public to bolster the efforts of major automakers (and Google) currently working on the technology.
Wearable tech and implants
Another surprising finding is that wearable tech isn’t as much of a mass-market slam dunk as some might think: 53% of the survey’s respondents said we’d be worse off in a future in which “most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them.” Compare that to just 37% of respondents who said such a future would be a positive development.
Of course, because the commercial development of wearable tech is at such an early stage, most respondents are only imagining what kinds of devices might be available in the future; so, fear of the unknown could be playing a part in this category. Still, the largely apprehensive response is worth noting, particularly in light of recent negative public reactions to Google Glass.
While the Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on a legal framework to accommodate commercial ventures such as Amazon Prime Air, which would rely on drones, the study found the public less than enthusiastic about this prospect.
63% of the respondents said that if “personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace,” it would be a change for the worse. The FAA has promised to have new guidelines in place for commercial drones by 2015, so we’ll know soon just how accurate this particular piece of research is on a major scale.
One of the most frequent assumptions made by science-fiction movies depicting a reality in which humanoid robots are the norm is that humanity would welcome these tireless, wageless workers. But the study didn’t find that to be the case, with 65% of respondents indicating that such a reality would be a change for the worse.
But this could be a cultural quirk unique to the U.S. In Japan, where the population is rapidly dwindling and the government is ramping up efforts to encourage the development of humanoid caregivers for the elderly, such robots will likely be far more welcome, particularly considering the country’s long love affair with robots in fiction and in reality.
While the study doesn’t specifically mention the singularity, it does touch upon one area that will likely coincide with so-called sentient robots. Asked whether “computers will soon match humans when it comes to creating music, novels, paintings, or other important works of art,” 50% of respondents said it might be possible within the next 50 years, versus 45% who said it would not be possible in the same timespan.
However, even the study’s predicted 50-year timespan would be considered conservative by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, an inventor currently working for Google, who has an amazing track record for accurate technological predictions. Kurzweil puts the year of the singularity at 2045, just 31 years from now.
Objects in the mirror, closer than they appear
No matter how you look at the study, it seems that Americans aren’t convinced that technology will change radically within the next few decades.
But this conservative view isn’t really consistent with the last 30 years of technology development — see the Internet, the iPhone, 3D printing, etc. So it could be that Americans are mostly optimistic about future tech because they simply don’t realize how rapidly things can and will change.