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Problems with Americans' Expectations of Life in 2050

25 June 2010 (updated 5 January 2021)

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Problems with Americans' Expectations of Life in 2050

Today, I was browsing the results of the Pew Research Center survey of Americans’ expectations of life in 2050. There were a couple problems that jumped out at me.

The first is that our expectations of technology are certainly too low in some areas. For example, only 42% think scientists will be able to tell thoughts from brain scans. The other 48% probably have no idea that computers can already tell thoughts from brain scans. And brain scan technology is already on the consumer market, although there is still much room for improvement.

Another example is that only 48% think human beings will be cloned. And only 51% think an extinct animal will be brought back through cloning. The other half of Americans must not be aware that extinct animals have probably already been cloned. And if humans haven’t already been cloned outside the public eye then it’s more a matter of time than technical ability.

On the other hand, there are some areas where our general expectations are probably right. For example, 81% think computers will be able to converse like human beings.

The second thing that jumped out at me was the passive attitude expressed by Republicans. This passivity cut in two directions. On the one hand, Republicans are generally less pessimistic than others regarding environmental trends. On the other hand, they are generally less optimistic than others regarding economic and social trends.

Republicans tend to think the atmosphere and oceans will be better off than our standard of living, health care, and education. This disturbs me because their pessimism correlates with our power, and their optimism with our impotence. Basically, they’re communicating that we’re better off not acting because our actions will probably make things worse.

This is anti-humanism and even a subtle nihilism. Maybe we can’t fix the problems we face. But if we can then apathy and pessimism certainly are not the answers.

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