Americans are deeply ambivalent about emerging technologies

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Whether you’re a luddite or a tech solutionist, whatever—that’s your business. But new research from Pew provides a window into where a broad swath of the American public—10,260 US adults, to be exact—falls along that spectrum.

Zoom in: The report, which is extensive and worth taking a look at yourself, highlights the medley of excitement, uncertainty, and anxiety the US public feels as it hurtles through an age of exponential technological change.

  • Pew’s report focuses on three specific applications of AI and three specific applications of “human enhancement” tech, from gene-editing to brain implants. Uncertainty and ambivalence are key themes in the findings, its authors write.

Still, there is at least one point of consensus: Fewer than half of the respondents believe these technologies will usher in an improvement over the status quo.

By the numbers…

Pew asked respondents whether they thought widespread use of a given technology would be a good or bad idea for society. Take a breath, let’s dive in…

  • Facial recognition technology used by police to locate potential suspects or monitor crowds was thought to be a good idea by 46% of respondents and a bad one by 27%. And 27% were unsure.
  • Using algorithms To locate false content on social platforms was viewed as good by 38%, bad by 31%, and 30% were unsure.
  • Fully driverless passenger vehicles were viewed as good by just 26% of respondents, bad by 44%, and 29% were unsure.
  • Robotic exoskeletons that would augment manual laborers’ strength were viewed as good by 33%, bad by 24%, and 42% were unsure.
  • Gene editing to reduce a baby’s risk of developing a serious disease was viewed as good by 30%, bad by 30%, and 39% were unsure.
  • Brain implants that would allow people to process information more quickly and accurately were viewed as good by just 13% of respondents, bad by 56%, and 31% were unsure.

Big picture: Respondents said that these technologies would be more acceptable if some mitigating steps were adopted (eg, regular reporting of AV accidents, licenses for exoskeleton operation, additional training around the potential bias of facial recognition). They also generally believed that these technologies should be held to a higher standard of scrutiny than what exists today.

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