RIBA lifts a person. (C)RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research

A RIKEN-TRI care robot, under development in Japan

And maybe soon won’t be allowed to.

At Wired, Issie Lapowsky puts it succinctly: “Americans Aren’t Ready for the Future Google and Amazon Want to Build”:

That’s the takeaway from a new study released by the Pew Research Center looking at how U.S. residents felt about possible high-tech advances looming in the not-too-distant future. Overall, a decisive majority of those surveyed believed new tech would make the future better. At the same time, the public doesn’t seem quite ready for many of the advances companies like Google and Amazon are pushing hard to make real.

And here, we’re not talking about Silicon Valley’s “resurrection of the head” either; just stuff Google or Amazon might be marketing to our mailboxes one of these days.

Okay, what did Pew Research Center and co-sponsor Smithsonian Magazine find?

Overall, most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society. Some 59% are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better, while 30% think these changes will lead to a future in which people are worse off than they are today.

Many Americans pair their long-term optimism with high expectations for the inventions of the next half century. Fully eight in ten (81%) expect that within the next 50 years people needing new organs will have them custom grown in a lab, and half (51%) expect that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans. On the other hand, the public does see limits to what science can attain in the next 50 years. Fewer than half of Americans—39%—expect that scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects, and one in three (33%) expect that humans will have colonized planets other than Earth. Certain terrestrial challenges are viewed as even more daunting, as just 19% of Americans expect that humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future.


* 66% think it would be a change for the worse if prospective parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce smarter, healthier, or more athletic offspring.

* 65% think it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.

* 63% think it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace.

* 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. More.

We can unpack these concerns in future posts, in terms of how soon, how serious, and at what cost.

For now, I’d like to comment instead on the greatest problem the Internet poses, one that is underreported: The growing belief that knowing everything about everyone and limiting freedom to think differently, will reduce violence and tension.

The firing of the Mozilla executive Brendan Eich, for donating to a no-gay-marriage cause, is a case in point. Commentator Mark Steyn points out three significant aspects of the case that many people miss:

I would doubt Mr Eich’s views have changed. He appears to hold the same definition of marriage that 99.99 per cent of the civilized world held until the day before yesterday, and which even today half of America still quaintly believes in. But the author of this piece, “senior reporter” Casey Newton, seems to think it entirely normal that in order to keep his job a man should be bullied into a false public recantation of his personal beliefs. Mr Newton’s publication covers all the cool stuff – “the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture” – but the assumptions underpinning the story are as thuggish and totalitarian as any state commissar prescribing re-education camp for ideological deviancy. And nobody young and hip seems to find that in the least bit weird.

The Internet is built by people who are smart and savvy and “think outside the box” in technological terms – and on everything else are as conformist as the dreary obsolescent hacks at the dullest Gannett monodaily. And at some point or another, on abortion or “climate change” or Islamic imperialism, they’ll yank the rug out from under you to “enforce a culture of respect and consideration”.

By the way, let’s not forget how all this targeting of “homophobic” contributions started. The IRS leaked “traditional marriage” donor lists to the gay enforcers at the “Human Rights Campaign”… And the alliance between the IRS and the gay enforcers is a foretaste of where things are headed. If your confidential financial information can be leaked to those who want to take you down, why should your medical information or your vote by “secret ballot” be any more secure?

It won’t be. More significantly, few will care.

The Internet was not built by great thinkers but by good engineers. And culture matters.

Next: What’s the problem with robot caregivers?


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...