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We Say We're Optimistic About the Future, But Don't Want Anything to Do With Future Innovations

By Greg Scoblete

Predictions, a wise man once observed, are difficult, especially about the future. But that hasn't stopped Pew Research from pigeon-holing us to guess the innovations we see coming 50 years down the road.

What's interesting about the Pew poll is that while the survey reported a general optimism about the trajectory of technological development over the next 50 years (59 percent said it would be positive vs. just 30 percent who felt it would be negative) very few specific technological breakthroughs seemed either possible to the general public, or desirable. In fact, just lab-grown organs and computer-generated art seemed both possible and desirable.

By contrast, here are the technologies we don't think are likely or aren't interested in if they do come to pass:

  • Controlling the weather (only 20 percent thought this would be possible).
  • Getting a memory-enhancing brain implant (only 26 percent expressed interest).
  • Eating lab-grown meat (only 20 percent would bite down).
  • Teleportation (39 percent think this Star Trek-inspired tech possible).
  • Long-term colonies on other planets (33 percent see that happening).
  • Driverless cars (this was a close one with 50 percent saying they weren't interested in driving in one vs. 48 percent who said they were).

The survey also found that Americans want to own futuristic travel devices, but go deeper and you'll see that the numbers are actually miniscule -- just 6 percent want a flying bike, 4 percent their own personal space craft, 3 percent a personal teleporter and just 1 percent want their own jet pack or hover-board. Then we get to even more theoretical territory, time travel. Only 9 percent - 9 percent! - of respondents said they would like to do it if they could.

Pew also found a cross-section of technology that provokes even deeper unease:

  • 66 percent think it would be a change for the worse if prospective parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce smarter, healthier, or more athletic offspring.
  • 65 percent think it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.
  • 63 percent think it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace.
  • 53 percent of Americans think it would be a change for the worse if most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them. Women are especially wary of a future in which these devices are widespread.

Interestingly, all four of the negative bullet points above are almost certainly coming to pass, with the possible exception of the first, which may become possible but will likely provoke far more social and political push back than the others.

So why, after all this, are we still so optimistic about technology? Maybe Steve Jobs was right and people don't know what they want until you show it to them.

Greg Scoblete (@GregScoblete) is the editor of RealClearTechnology and an editor on RealClearWorld. He is the co-author of From Fleeting to Forever: A Guide to Enjoying and Preserving Your Digital Photos and Videos.

(AP Photo)

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