Americans are hopeful about the future of technology. But don’t release the drones just yet. And forget meat grown in a petri dish.
Pushing new tech on a public that isn’t ready can have real bottom-line consequences.
That’s the takeaway from a new study released by the Pew Research Center looking at how U.S. residents felt about possible high-tech advances looming in the not-too-distant future. Overall, a decisive majority of those surveyed believed new tech would make the future better. At the same time, the public doesn’t seem quite ready for many of the advances companies like Google and Amazon are pushing hard to make real.
If the stigma surrounding Google Glass (or, perhaps more specifically, “Glassholes”) has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how revolutionary technology may be, ultimately its success or failure ride on public perception. Many promising technological developments have died because they were ahead of their times. During a cultural moment when the alleged arrogance of some tech companies is creating a serious image problem, the risk of pushing new tech on a public that isn’t ready could have real bottom-line consequences.
Lab-Grown Organs: Yes
In the Pew study, researchers asked 1,000 respondents to predict how soon certain major technological advancements, from space colonies to teleportation, would occur. They were also asked to say whether they believed more near-term advancements such as wearable technology were good or bad for society.
Overall, the results show that people are realistic when it comes to predicting the future. The majority of respondents, for instance, were doubtful that sci-fi tropes like teleportation, space colonization, time travel, and the ability to control the weather would be possible in the next 50 years.
But when it came to technology that’s already being developed, they were much more confident. About 80 percent of people, for instance, said they believed lab-grown organs would be available for transplant within 50 years. That’s a promising sign for the biotech companies and researchers currently working on regenerative medicine. Meanwhile, 51 percent of people believed that computers will soon be able to create art that’s indistinguishable from art created by humans. That’s also good news for the machine learning industry.
Lab-Grown Meat: No
Yet when the subjects were asked to decide whether certain new technologies would be good or bad for the future, they were decidedly more hesitant. More than 60 percent, for instance, said it would be a change for the worse if the U.S. were to open its skies to personal drones. If they’re that opposed to unmanned aerial vehicles in the skies, it’s not hard to imagine the resistance multi-billion dollar companies like Amazon and Google will face as they attempt to launch drones themselves.
The wearable technology industry is also likely to see resistance — a little more than half of those surveyed said it would be a change for the worse if most people wore implants or other devices that constantly feed them information. And while there are several research institutions across the country currently developing robots to care for the elderly, this idea was widely rejected by respondents, with nearly two-thirds saying such automated care would be bad for the future.
These findings, of course, can’t be taken as a sign that these industries are outright doomed.
Driverless cars, technology that Google has also been spearheading, but that Elon Musk recently said is a goal for Tesla, were slightly more popular, with nearly half of respondents saying they’d be willing to try one out. That’s compared to the mere 20 percent of people who said they’d eat meat grown in a lab.
These findings, of course, can’t be taken as a sign that these industries are outright doomed. After all, if someone had told people 50 years ago that we’d all have tiny glass-and-metal boxes in our pockets that could take pictures, pinpoint our exact location anywhere in the world, and hold the contents of thousands of books all at the same time, it would have seemed impossible, if not downright scary. But the findings show that tech companies still have a lot of work to do to educate a public hardly willing to put blind trust in tech giants. Innovation can be a powerful force for positive change, but it goes down easier when the people whose lives will be affected feel like they have a say.