Imagine a future in which cancer becomes a memory, ordinary people travel in space, and computers carry on conversations like humans. Now imagine a darker future – a world beset bywar, rising temperatures and energyshortages, one where the United States faces a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons.
Most Americans think that these developments and many others are likely to unfold over the next 40 years. In the public’s view, this promises to be an era of technological progress. 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 acure 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 sixin-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. The survey was conducted just after the Imagining Life in 2050 Probably/DefinitelyIn next 40 years… Will Will not
Science/technology happen happen DK
Computers will be able % % %
to converse like humans 81 18 1=100
Cancer will be cured 71 27 2=100
Artificial limbs will perform
better than natural ones 66 31 3=100
Ordinary people will travel in space 53 45 2=100
Most of our energy will not
come from coal/oil/gas 74 24 6=100
World will face major energy crisis
Earth will get warmer
Another world war
Major terrorist attack on U.S.
involving nuclear weapons
Pew Research Center/Smithsonian magazine
April 21-26, 2010. Figures may not add to 100% because of rounding.
April 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico but before the full extent of the massive environmental damage caused by the oil leak became evident.
These are among the findings of a new survey of attitudes and expectations about the future, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Smithsonian magazine in conjunction with the magazine’s 40th
anniversary (see "40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years"). The survey, conducted by landline
and cell phones April 21-26 among 1,546 adults, was informed by a 1999 survey on the future that explored
many of the same topics (see “Optimism Reigns,
Technology Plays Key Role,” October 24, 1999).
Despite the current economic slump and the widespread anticipation of crises to come, most Americans remain upbeat about the future, both for themselves and the nation. Today, 64% say they are very or somewhat optimistic about life for themselves and their family over the next 40 years, while 61% are optimistic about the future of the United States.
Moreover, 56% say the U.S. economy will be stronger than it is today.
Today’s recession-weary public is less sanguine about the long-term future than it was in May 1999, a time of very strong economic growth. Still, majorities across most demographic and political groups see things getting better – both for themselves and the nation – over the next four decades.