How America Sees The Future

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2010 11:59 am

No, I’m not just talking about the economy. The Pew Organization and Smithsonian teamed up to poll us about where we think technology will take us, and I’m struck by the results:

Large majorities expect that computers will be able to carry on conversations (81% say this definitely or probably will happen) and that there will be a cure for cancer (71%). About two-thirds (66%) say that artificial arms and legs will outperform real limbs while 53% envision ordinary people traveling in space.

At the same time, most say that war, terrorism and environmental catastrophes are at least probable by the year 2050. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) see another world war as definite or probable; 53% say the same about the prospect for a major terrorist attack on the United States involving nuclear weapons. An even higher percentage (72%) anticipates that the world will face a major energy crisis in the next 40 years.

The public is evenly divided over whether the quality of the earth’s environment will improve over the next 40 years; as many say the environment is not likely to improve (50%) as say it is (47%). There continues to be a widespread belief that the earth will get warmer in the future, though the percentage expressing this view has declined by 10 points, from 76% to 66%, since 1999.

Moreover, 60% say the world’s oceans will be less healthy 40 years from now than they are today; just 32% say the oceans will be more healthy.

What do you think of these findings? I can tell you the prediction I’m most confident in–that the world will be warmer.


Comments (5)

  1. GM

    The findings don’t really support the idea that the public “gets it”. But they hint at the faint possibility that the public might get it one day, if it is properly communicated to them.

  2. Guy

    My prediction is that in a few hundred years school children will be reading about this period in time. What they read about us is still uncertain. Either we will pull our act together or not. If not, they will be reading about the decline and fall of civilization. If we do manage to get past the crisis, they might be reading about how we began exploring the galaxy aided by some the most advanced technology we can only dream of today.

  3. GM

    If there are schools and people knowing how to read…

  4. Brian Too

    OK, I’ve gotta comment on the artificial arms and legs thing.

    Remember “The Six Million Dollar Man”? Some of the exoskeleton work going on today is reminiscent of that. However I have problems with the idea of super strong artificial arms and legs. Doesn’t the strength of the skeleton you have to attach them to, limit their potential safe power range?

    Make an arm capable of lifting 10 tons and it will tear right out of the shoulder it’s connected to. Make legs capable of running 200 km/h and they will probably damage your pelvis. Plus the bug impacts will hurt. And if you only have 1 artificial leg like that, you’ve got a big problem with your two wheel drive system there!


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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