Americans are deeply ambivalent about emerging technologies

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Whether you’re a Luddite or a tech solution specialist, it doesn’t matter, it’s your business. But new research from Pew opens a window into where a large swath of the American public — 10,260 American adults, to be exact — falls on that spectrum.

Enlarge: The report, which is extensive and worth examining for yourself, highlights the mixture of excitement, uncertainty and anxiety felt by the American public as it navigates an era of exponential technological change.

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

Yet there is at least one point of consensus: less than half of 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 the company. Breathe, dive…

  • Facial recognition technology used by the police to locate potential suspects or monitor crowds was seen as a good idea by 46% of respondents and a bad idea by 27%. And 27% were unsure.
  • Use algorithms locating fake content on social platforms was considered good by 38%, bad by 31%, and 30% were unsure.
  • Fully driverless passenger vehicles were considered good by only 26% of respondents, bad by 44% and 29% were unsure.
  • Robotic exoskeletons that would increase the strength of manual workers were considered good by 33%, bad by 24%, and 42% were unsure.
  • Gene modification Reducing a baby’s risk of developing a serious illness was rated as good by 30%, bad by 30% and 39% unsure.
  • Brain implants that would allow people to process information faster and more accurately were rated as good by only 13% of respondents, bad by 56%, and 31% were unsure.

Big picture: Respondents said that these technologies would be more acceptable if certain mitigation measures were adopted (eg regular reporting of audio-visual accidents, licenses for the use of exoskeletons, additional training on the potential bias of facial recognition). They also generally believed that these technologies should be subject to a higher level of control than exists today.

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