Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Future tech? America's not so sure

Pew researchers check in on US attitudes toward driverless cars, brain implants, robot caregivers, meat grown in labs, and of course, time travel.

Jon Skillings Director of copy editing
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is director of copy editing at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing tech publications back when the web was just getting under way. He writes occasionally, on topics from GPS to James Bond.
Expertise language, grammar, usage Credentials
  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
3 min read

Terrafugia's concept for a VTOL vehicle
Is a flying car in your future? Startup Terrafugia sure hopes so. Terrafugia

Lab-grown meat in every pot and a driverless car in every garage? Not so fast.

A new Pew study on "science in the next 50 years" suggests that while Americans are favorably disposed to future technology in the abstract, they're less certain about actually bringing tomorrow's tech into their houses and their daily lives.

The questions posed to 1,001 adults in the US ran the gamut of popular science fiction notions, from time travel and teleportation to space colonies and robot helpmates. They also touched on technologies that are in the thick of today's on-the-cusp high-tech efforts, including driverless cars, personal and commercial drone aircraft, and wearable computing devices.

Americans' ambivalence on futuristic machinery suggests that Google may be wise to continue a go-slow pace in getting its Google Glass eyewear out to the masses. "Public attitudes towards ubiquitous wearable or implanted computing devices," the Pew's Aaron Smith wrote, "are the most positive, or more accurately, the least negative" of several near-term technological changes. While 37 percent of respondents think it would be a change for the better if most people could "wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them," significantly more -- 53 percent -- think it would be a turn for the worse.

The future tech America expects (pictures)

See all photos

Self-driving cars, also a most-favored future technology at Google, drew diverging responses as well. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent would like to own a self-driving car. (That's half as many as would like to own a flying car, which could be a good sign for "="" maker="" terrafugia"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="fe2ed72c-67d3-11e3-a665-14feb5ca9861" slug="at-oshkosh-terrafugias-flying-car-finally-soars-for-the-public" link-text="" section="news" title="At Oshkosh, Terrafugia's flying car finally soars for the public" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"fe2ed72c-67d3-11e3-a665-14feb5ca9861","slug":"at-oshkosh-terrafugias-flying-car-finally-soars-for-the-public","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"culture"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Culture","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> .)

On the neo-biology front, Americans seem even less enthusiastic: An overwhelming 78 percent said they would not eat meat grown in a lab; 72 percent would not relish a brain implant, even to improve memory or mental capacity; and 66 percent feel it would be a change for the worse if parents could alter the DNA of prospective children.

Even amid all that reluctance, Pew researchers detected currents of optimism. "Overall," the report claimed, "most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society."

Other findings from the survey:

  • US airspace opened to personal drones: 63 percent say it would be a change for the worse, 22 percent say change for the better.
  • Robot caregivers for the elderly: 65 percent say change for the worse, 28 percent say change for the better
  • Getting around: 4 percent would like to own a personal spacecraft, 3 percent a teleportation device, 1 percent a jet pack, and 1 percent a hover board.
  • Time travel: 39 percent say scientists will solve that problem in the next 50 years; 56 percent say no, they won't. Meanwhile, 9 percent of respondents would like that ability.
  • Space colonies: 33 percent say humans will have long-term space colonies in the next half-century, but nearly twice as many -- 64 percent -- say it won't happen.

The Pew survey, done in conjunction with Smithsonian magazine, took place February 13-18 via landline and cell phone.