Recently the Pew Research group did a survey
on public views on near future technologies. Particularly on whether they feel changes will have a positive or negative effect. While this is a single survey and thus inconclusive I do feel it can help get a rough idea of how the mainstream views technology. After all the point of this magazine is ultimately the push of transhumanism and its good to be aware of the current acceptance.
The best news that this survey has to offer is that Americans view over all progress of technology as positive. Regardless of age, education, income, or sex the majority supports the progress of technology. This information provides context for the rest. They are not opposed to specific technologies due to a general fear or apprehension to technology itself but the implications and social mores it affects.
Technologies that directly affect social norms are the ones people are least comfortable with. Being continually fed information through a device or implant, most (53%) viewed that as a bad thing. This is unfortunate as its also the technology we are closest to having commercially available. Fortunately a good number do support the technology (37%) which is hopefully enough for it to gain a cultural foothold. Like with smartphones I believe people will be more willing to adopt it once they see the advantages of a device.
AI on the other hand is something people seem very distrustful with. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed were against both commercial flying drones (63%) and robotic caregivers for the elderly (65%). The survey was intended to grasp general feelings towards new technology so it does not address the reason for public resistance. However it is clear people are resistant to robots having roles that require autonomy, specifically roles where an error could mean injury or death of a human. Strangely enough the idea of using a driverless car is split almost exactly (50/48%)
The technologies people were most against was altering a child’s DNA (66%), intelligence augmentation through a brain implant (72%), and lab grown meat (78%). While I personally do not support “designer children” I can understand why other transhumanists do. The most interesting thing is there was more support for designer children at lower income levels. You’d assume this would not be true since they would have less opportunity to enhance their children.
As someone that recently wrote about Intelligence Augmentation
, I am sad to see such strong opposition to using implants to enhance intelligence and memory. The question however was phrased “would you get one” so it is possible it was the fear of the surgery. Regardless most would not get such an implant.
Among all things Americans were most opposed to eating lab grown meat. A mere 20% saying they would try it. This is a technology that is objectively good, meat that does not require the death of an animal but also one that goes against very fundamental mores. It also greatly eases the ability to produce and distribute meat. Despite this it seems it will be hard to get people to accept such products.
I brought this to everyone’s attention for a simple reason. The development of transhumanist technologies will do little good if it is not acceptable in our culture. It is not even a simple matter of ubiquity. If those that oppose a technology greatly outweighs support we can also see regulations put into place to limit or even outlaw technologies. Far too many of these technologies show little support.
Often we focus on extreme examples and long term goals such as AGI and immortality. However it will be very hard to achieve these goals when we are having such a hard time getting people to accept robots tending to the elderly and google glass. We need more attention to integrating near-term technology into the mainstream if we want transhumanism itself to be desirable.