April 17, 2014

Reality check: How close are we to teleportation and Mars colonies?

Americans tend to be optimists when it comes to new technologies. According to a new Pew Research Center survey in partnership with Smithsonian Magazine, 59% of Americans think scientific and technological innovations over the next half-century will, overall, improve people’s lives. We recently asked Americans about their views on a variety of scientific developments, including some innovations that are already moving out of the lab and into the real world, such as Japan’s robotic attendants for the elderly and self-driving cars.

We also asked Americans how likely they thought five things were to happen by 2064. Here’s what they said, presented in the order of those that Americans think most “definitely” and “probably” will happen, as well as a summary of current developments and research:

1People in need of an organ transplant will have new organs custom-made for them in a lab.

organ creation in lab pew report
Dr. Anthony Atala holds the scaffolding for a human kidney created by a 3-D printer in a laboratory. Credit: Allen Breed/AP/Corbis

What the public says: 22% definitely will happen, 60% probably will happen

What science says: The first lab-grown bladders were transplanted into patients in 2006. A Boston company, Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology, is building synthetic tracheas by growing a patient’s own stem cells on lab-made scaffolding in “bioreactors.” HART says its proprietary technology “gives us substantial expertise and intellectual property for developing products addressing diseases impacting other organs like the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, heart valves, and heart.” Doris Taylor, director of regenerative medicine at the Texas Heart Institute, has built “bioartificial” hearts from rat tissues, and is testing the approach with other organs. She expects it will be at least a decade before such hearts would be ready for clinical tryouts, but simpler tissues such as blood vessels and cardiac valves could be in use sooner. And just last week came news that four teenage girls have received artificial vaginas grown from their own cells.

2Computers will be as effective as people at creating important works of art.

computer generated artwork
“Sadness” by the Emotionally Aware Painting Fool. Credit: Professor Simon Colton

What the public says: 16% definitely, 35% probably

What science says: Artistic judgments on “importance” are best left to critics. However, Simon Colton, a British computer scientist, has developed The Painting Fool, software he says generates its own artwork and can digitally “paint” in several styles. Programmers at the University of Malaga in Spain have created Iamus, described as “the first computer-composer that doesn’t require any human intervention” (you can listen to one of its compositions, for harpsichord and viola d’amore, here). But while computers might do well at writing sample business news and sports stories, the prospects for artful novels are not too promising yet. There have been several experiments with computer-written books, (including a 2006 variation on “Anna Karenina” titled “True Love“), but none of them are exactly what most people would call literature.

3Scientists will have developed a way to teleport objects — i.e., move them from one location to another without traversing the physical space in between.

future teleportation science pew report
Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy. Credit: CBS via Getty Images

What the public says: 7% definitely, 32% probably

What science says: A 2003 Air Force study examined the physics behind five hypothetical means of teleportation, from altering the geometry of space-time to using extra space dimensions, parallel universes or quantum entanglement. While scientists have been able to “teleport” individual atoms — essentially transferring quantum information from one atom onto another — that line of research is more likely to lead to quantum computing than to “Star Trek”-style transporters. (Though it would make interplanetary colonization, discussed below, a lot easier.)

4Humans will build colonies on another planet that can be lived in for long periods.

space colonies in future pew report
Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

What the public says: 5% definitely, 28% probably

What science says: The most likely candidate for an off-Earth planetary colony is Mars, given its relative accessibility (36 million miles at its nearest approach) and similarity to Earth. In the past, NASA and the European Space Agency talked about sending manned missions to Mars by the 2030s, but now they are only discussing nearer-term unmanned missions. One private group, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, wants to send a two-person crew on a Mars flyby in 2018. Another, a Dutch nonprofit organization called Mars One, aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, starting with a 2025 landing. Last year, more than 200,000 people from around the world applied for one of four one-way tickets on the first Mars One mission; 1,058 candidates have made it to the second round of the multi-part selection process. However, the latest data from the Curiosity rover indicate that radiation exposure would be a significant (though not necessarily insurmountable) challenge to any Martian expedition.

5Humans will be able to control the weather.

will humans be able to control the weather?
Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Gustav in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: U.S. Navy/Handout/CNP/Corbis

What the public says: 6% definitely, 13% probably

What science says: Humans already are affecting the climate, and not in a good way, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But weather, unlike climate, is a near-term phenomenon. And while weather forecasts have become much more accurate in just the past few decades (as noted by, among others, Nate Silver), controlling the weather (or even just producing rain) has eluded humanity for centuries. Even cloud seeding, which has been practiced for decades, may be not as effective as once thought. Not that we’ve stopped trying: In 2010, a Slovak researcher named Jozef Solc patented a method for reducing a hurricane’s destructive force by pumping seawater near the eyewall and diffusing it into the wind.

Topics: Science and Innovation

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jerry Greelis3 years ago

    Real teleportation is at our fingertips today, if we could start thinking outside the box. We have events happening that points to teleporting, but since they cannot be explained from inside our box, they either do not exist, are alleged, or paranormal. We do have the science and the technology to make it happen today, we just need to change our thinking.
    go to BmeupTeleport.com and review the videos of a teleportation project proposal.

  2. Bob Reynolds3 years ago

    A good bit of our technology is oriented towards rewarding the people that need it the least.

    1. Juliska3 years ago


      1. Juliska3 years ago

        Witness the self-checkout lanes at grocers.

        1. Gene in L.A.3 years ago

          How does that reward people who least deserve it? Please explain.

          1. Anonymous1 year ago

            really. Think about it.

  3. Russell Scott Day3 years ago

    Apparently the teleportation method needs to be decided on to affect the success. I thought it was just about reassembling the materials from instructions. I thought the other day about it as if the MRI were data for reassembly. I figured you’d make a safety copy,keep in place, and send the info to the materials box. As said in some movie sending your luggage would be more acceptable than sending yourself. You would never be exactly you for instance. Instructions for the living being on Mars to a 3 D printer like are one route. How complicated could it be!? I mean now that we have 3 D Printers it is a real step and a jump in the old puddle there chap aye what about it!

  4. Nathan Wright3 years ago

    Very interesting write up. Milestones of civilization are often identified by the introduction of new technology (internet, automobile, vaccinations, indoor plumbing). There is a ton of technology that will have disruptive impact on small groups of society, but I am most looking forward to the self-driving car.

  5. Robert Balcombe3 years ago

    1- In the research of cloning or building human organs well be a fact of every day life by the year2025. It is being done in some areas of human and animal research today.
    2 – computer designing has bee around sense computers. Art lies in the eyes of the beholder.
    3- Teleportation in one form or another is a Quantum Physics fact. The only thing missing is the power that is needed to perform this feat.
    4- Living on a distant planet would take 3 major items The supply of a water source Water canbe broken down to supply Hydrogen for fuel and heating, Oxygen for breathing and growing food and nutrients. Then we have radiation which our cosmonauts have to deal with now. Then we have weightlessness. The last 2 is of great concern, because these 2 effect all forms of life and it is not for the better. Without weight our bone density decreases and bones become brittle. Radiation poisoning is a big concern.
    5- Now the Weather takes many forms, the Sun (magnetic storms (Sun Spots)) the angle and speed of the Earth, decompression of Organic materials and industrial pollutants. All these contribute to making our weather. Then we have the ocean currents and Barometer Pressures. Remove or change just one and you can change the weather world wide. I read some where that there are test, using magnetism to make storms. I believe these test are being done in the Northern areas of the planet. Look at the climate change that has happened in the US and Canada when the Jet Stream moved further South than in the past years. As you can tell I have written this with out any scientific knowledge to back up my comments. This was done from observation, books and no research.

  6. Carrie McCann3 years ago

    That 32 percent of respondents think teleportation probable within 50 years is a damning indictment of the USA’s pathetic state of scientific education.

    Once we implement Core Curriculum, that percentage will rise to 60.

    1. slk3 years ago

      it could be 100%, but without funding, they”l all want 10 bucks an hour to flip burgers!!!

      1. Gene in+L.A.3 years ago

        Why shouldn’t people who make your hamburgers get a living wage?

        1. Vincent2 years ago

          A crude but interesting reason why we shouldn’t increase incentives for these jobs is that nobody should be flipping burgers. Tasks that can be easily done by machines should be given to machines.
          Human must find a system in which its energy is spent exclusively on tasks and endeavours that aren’t easily and cheaply accessible.

  7. slk3 years ago

    without a space program…about a hair above zilch!!!