Americans (Finally) Believe in Technology

Huge acquisitions are taking place left and right by technology giants this year. Google now owns the drone company Titan Aerospace, robot-maker Kiva Systems is now a subsidiary of Amazon and Facebook paid nearly 1 billion dollars for Instagram, just to name a few.

In these purchases, corporations are attempting to expand their markets and profits. This growth in technology will no doubt have a profound impact on the future. However, no speculated change is greeted without some concern.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report exploring “public attitudes about a variety of scientific and technological changes” in the American people today. The report is based on a phone poll of 1,001 adults led by Pew and Smithsonian magazine.

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center/Facebook.

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center/Facebook

The study gathers that the majority of the general public is optimistic about technology’s impact on future life. 59% of Americans feel technology advancements will improve people’s lives for the better, while 30% believe it will have a negative impact.

When asked to predict future technology, respondents seemed confident in the technological developments currently underway. For instance, eight in ten respondents believe that lab-grown organs will be obtainable for transplant patients within the next 50 years.

Although predictions in technology appear plausible and optimistic, the ethical boundaries in these advances remain subject to controversy.

The study additionally asked questions regarding four disputed areas that lie ahead for technology: wearable computing devices, drone operations, robots as caregivers and designer babies. For each of these technologies, the majority felt that society would be worse off.

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center/Facebook.

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center/Facebook

This area of Pew’s report sparked discussion among technology website contributors. Several commenters noted that the gap between the actual plans of technology companies and what the public is willing to accept would affect future outcome.

“Take the development of copyright laws, which followed the creation of the printing press," wrote Vivek Wadhwa, a Fellow at Stanford University, for MIT Technology Review. "Debates about the ownership of ideas raged for about 300 years before the first statutes were enacted by Great Britain.”

Furthermore, Wadhwa believes legal and ethical problems will result if data collected by Google, Facebook, drones, robots and similar operations are not regulated appropriately to respect people’s privacy and rights.

Motherboard contributor, Jason Koebler, had a difference in opinion.

“It seems crazy now, but when railroads were first introduced, people were scared to ride on them. They were outright hostile towards the technology,” Koebler writes. “America wasn’t ready for John Fitch’s train in 1780. It’s hard to argue we even exist today without it.”

The findings of the Pew study suggest that technology companies still have their work cut out for them in terms of convincing the public that their future products serve the overall good. Change may prove difficult to apply without public embracement.

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Gemma Wilson