Drones, Glass, Implants, Driverless Cars, and Robots, Oh My: American Attitudes About Future Technology

We live at a quizzical time in technology. The tech boom has revolutionized the world, and the innovations that are pouring out of brilliant minds are incredible in both their frequency and content. But there is also a backlash against a lot of technology, perhaps highlighted best by the curious rage that Google Glass seems to engender in a startling number of people.

To gauge attitudes about technology’s future, the Pew Research Center did what it does and conducted a survey. Primarily, the study looks at our collective level of excitement or fear over current and future technologies.

“Overall, most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society,” reads the report. “Some 59% are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better, while 30% think these changes will lead to a future in which people are worse off than they are today.”

Google Glass

People appear most excited, personally, about future innovations that pertain to travel improvements (flying cars, etc.), time travel, and health technologies that can preserve the quality and length of life.

Wait a minute--time travel? People are excited to try time travel? It seems downright bizarre, then, that 53% of Americans surveyed believe that it would be a bad thing if people had implants of some kind that showed them data about their surroundings, and 63% are not keen on personal or commercial drones in U.S. airspace.

65% don’t want robots to care for the elderly or ill, and 66% are against people customizing the DNA of their unborn children.


It’s fascinating to see research data like this, but more than anything this makes me ponder what it all means. If tech is your passion or profession, you typically have a far greater insight into and understanding of emerging technologies than the average person, and it’s easy to forget that so many of your friends and family don’t have a clue what the cloud is, or how Google Glass works, or what an email phishing scam entails, or why they really should upgrade from Windows XP already.

(I’m haunted by an anecdote I read about a woman who recently had the chance to get some hands-on time with a Nexus tablet at a special mall kiosk and told the rep that she hadn’t realized that there were tablets that aren’t iPads.)

Pew Research future tech

Most illuminating is that so many people in this survey are giving equal weight to technologies that more or less already exist (such as an implanted HUD and drones) and those that are either incredibly far away or impossible (such teleportation, time travel, and living on Mars).

Still, a majority of Americans surveyed see technology as making our future mostly better. 67% of men and 51% of women are upbeat about technology’s promise for a better tomorrow. Let’s hope the majority is correct.