April 17, 2014

From teleportation to robot servants: Americans’ predictions and dreams for the future

Americans see the next half-century as a period of profound scientific change, according to a new Pew Research Center survey in partnership with Smithsonian Magazine, but they don’t agree on what will or won’t come to pass, and whether certain future developments would have a positive or negative impact on society. Here are some key findings from the survey:

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Opening U.S. airspace to drones: After Amazon founder Jeff Bezos revealed plans for 30-minute package delivery via drone in a “60 Minutes” episode, critics derided the idea as nonsense, citing a number of technical, economic and regulatory hurdles. Another hurdle may be that the public is largely unenthusiastic about the idea of giving drones permission to fly through most U.S. airspace: 63% of Americans think this would be a change for the worse, compared with 22% who say it would be a change for the better.

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Devices feeding most people information: Google hopes to begin selling its futuristic Google Glass eyeglass-like computers later this year, but it may confront a market of skeptics: 53% of Americans think it would be a change for the worse if most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them. Women are especially wary of a future in which these devices are widespread. Americans may have good reason to be wary: 53% say they have been involved in a technology-induced distracted walking encounter.


Time travel: About one-in-ten Americans (9%) say the futuristic invention they would most like to have is a time machine. But time travel holds little appeal for older adults—just 3% of seniors named a time machine as their future invention of choice.

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Driverless cars: Americans are split on the idea of riding in a driverless car: 48% say they would, while 50% say they would not. Opinions vary by education and urbanity: 59% of college graduates would give driverless cars a try, while 62% of those with a high school diploma or less would not. And half of urban (52%) and suburban (51%) residents are interested in driverless cars, compared with just 36% of rural residents.

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Personal robot servants: Some middle-aged Americans just want a little help around the house—8% of those ages 30–49 named a personal robot or robot servant as the futuristic invention they would most like to own, at least double the share in other age groups.

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Controlling the weather: Will scientists rid us of catastrophic hurricanes and frigid polar vortexes by developing the ability to control the weather in the next 50 years? No, say more than three-quarters (77%) of all Americans. But there are a few optimists: one-in-five (19%) Americans say this probably will happen.

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

Long-term space colonies: One third of Americans expect to live in a world in which humans have long-term colonies on other planets. Young adults are especially likely to see space colonization as a viable future possibility: 43% of 18-29 year olds see this happening in the next half-century, compared with about a quarter of those over age 50. Among the pessimists are high-income Americans: just 20% of those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more think space colonization is a realistic prediction.

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Teleportation: The idea of teleportation has long been a common science fiction trope, but Americans are relatively pessimistic about abandoning their planes, trains and automobiles: less than half (39%) say scientists will have solved teleportation in the next 50 years, while 56% say they won’t have.

Topics: Science and Innovation

  1. Photo of Andrea Caumont

    is the social media editor at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Aaron Smith

    is an associate director for research at Pew Research Center.