Americans cool with lab-grown organs, but not designer babies

Americans are optimistic about scientific inventions on the horizon, though are cautious about future uses of DNA, robots, drones and always-on implants, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey on future technology.

The landline and cellphone survey of 1,001 adults in the United States was designed to get a sense for what sorts of advances Americans anticipate and how they feel about them. More than half (59%) of those surveyed are optimistic about technological and scientific changes ahead, while about a third think such change will be for the worse. Age wasn't a huge factor in broad attitudes toward change, though younger respondents were more open to developments such as new transportation options.

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Asked about the likelihood of certain advances 50 years from now, survey respondents were most sure that lab-grown custom organs for transplant will happen (81%).  Only 19% expect humans will be able to control the weather by then.

Americans seemed particularly skittish about health-related advances, with two-thirds saying it would be a change for the worse if prospective parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce super-smart and athletic progeny. Two-thirds also say handing over the job of primary caregiver to the elderly and sick to robots would be a step backwards from today. Implants that go beyond Google Glass and that would give people constant information about the world around them also received a lukewarm reception, with 53% saying this would be a change for the worse, and women were particularly leery about this possibility.

Survey respondents were split on whether they'd like to hand over the keys to driverless cars, and 72% appeared freaked out about brain implants to improve memory or mental capacity. Though in general, those surveyed are interested in travel improvements including time travel.

Pew Research Center conducted this survey in conjunction with Smithsonian magazine.

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog.  

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