We are now more than a decade into the 21st century, yet we still haven't received our long-promised hovercrafts and robot butlers — and perhaps for good reason. A new report from Pew Research Center indicates that while most Americans anticipate great technological changes in the next few decades, many have doubts that new inventions and advances will help humanity in the long run.
In general, 59% of the 1,000 participants interviewed said technological changes would lead to a better future, while 30% said things would get worse. Many said they expected revolutionary advances in the next 50 years, such as lab-grown organ transplants.
But there was also a lot of healthy skepticism in the responses. Nearly 40% said they couldn't think of a future invention they would actually like to own. There was also a lot of pushback on controversial ideas such as "designer babies" and wearable computer devices like Google Glass.
Many were especially concerned about inventions that could jeopardize their personal safety, such as driverless cars.
"Even though people are optimistic about how this will all work out in the long term, there's a lot of concern about social norms, such as surveillance and privacy," said Pew senior researcher Aaron Smith.
As devices like Google Glass become available mainstream, it has become increasingly clear that the future is now. Ongoing controversies over GMO foods and domestic drones are likely to be compounded with future breakthroughs, and surveys like this help to gauge how receptive the American public will be in the coming years.
Amazon delivery drones may make life a lot easier, but most Americans don't want to worry about more unmanned vehicles in U.S. airspace.
Perhaps it's all the social stigma attached with being a "Glasshole." People are concerned not only about the potentially alienating effects of having a wearable computer, but also about breaches in privacy.
This could cut down on DUIs and reckless driving, but half of Americans would still prefer to handle the steering wheel themselves.
Again, sci-fi has taught us well. Asimov's "three laws of robotics" don't apply to Futurama's Bender — or any of these other evil robots.
Even as concern over climate change escalates, most Americans doubt we can stop polar vortexes in the future.
Perhaps that Mars reality show will really take off.
Hopefully we can all say one day, "Beam us up, Scotty" — although you really don't want to end up creating your own evil clone.