Self-Driving Cars and Teleportation: What Americans Expect from Future Science

Lab-grown organs, immortality, flying cars and time travel are among the futuristic inventions Americans would like to see, according to a new survey. (Image credit: alphaspirit | Shutterstock)

When it comes to scientific developments over the next 50 years, the majority of Americans have high hopes for ready-to-use, lab-grown organs, but only a minority of people are as optimistic about controlling the weather, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Researchers asked 1,000 Americans about a wide range of scientific developments, from drones that are already here, to concepts that may never leave the realm of science fiction, such as teleportation and time travel.

The majority of those surveyed were enthusiastic about driverless cars, flying bikes and medical advancements that prolong life. About 80 percent expected custom-grown organs in the future. Nearly 40 percent of responders said they expect scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects in the next 50 years. [Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars: 10 Coolest Defense-Tech Projects]

Although most responders had high expectations for the futuristic inventions, they didn't show wholehearted faith in scientific advancement: Just 33 percent expect that humans will have colonized other planets, and only 19 percent expect that humans will be able to control the weather.

For better or worse?

With some ideas, the majority of respondents were not happy at all. About 66 percent said it would be a change for the worse if designer babies were to become a reality, and people could pick and choose the genes of their children in favor of smarter and healthier offspring.

Some 59 percent of those polled were optimistic, while 30 percent thought the changes would make people worse off. [View full infographic] (Image credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

Similarly, about 65 percent said they'd be concerned if robots were to become the primary caregivers for the elderly and the infirm, and 63 percent said it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones were to become a common feature of future life.

People were divided on the idea of widespread wearable tech. Fifty-three percent said it would be a change for the worse if most people wore devices that constantly showed them information about the world around them, according to the survey. [How Americans View Future Tech (Infographic)]

However, overall about 60 percent of those surveyed were optimistic that technological and scientific advancements would make life in the future better, whereas 30 percent expected a worse future.

"In the long run, Americans are optimistic about the impact that scientific developments will have on their lives and the lives of their children — but they definitely expect to encounter some bumps along the way," said Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report.

"They are especially concerned about developments that have the potential to upend long-standing social norms around things like personal privacy, surveillance, and the nature of social relationships," Smith added.

What do people want from future science?

When asked about trying specific technologies in the future, driverless cars were the winners, with 48 percent of Americans saying they would be willing to try them. However, only 26 percent said they would opt for brain implants to improve their memory or mental capacity, and only 20 percent said they would eat lab-grown meat.

In general, new modes of travel, improved health and longevity, and the ability to travel through time ranked highest on the list of futuristic inventions Americans would like to have, the researchers said.

About 19 percent said they wanted travel improvements like flying cars and bikes, or even personal spacecrafts. About 9 percent wanted the ability to travel through time, and 9 percent mentioned health improvements that extend human longevity or cure major diseases.

Hoverboards, immortality, inventions to make household tasks easier, new energy sources and world peace were mentioned in 1 percent to 2 percent of things people said they wanted in the future.

At the same time, 11 percent said they are not interested in futuristic inventions, or that there's nothing futuristic they would like to have, according to the survey.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.