Gene editing holds the promise of preventing disease. Brain chip implants may restore mobility after paralysis and improve our ability to concentrate. Synthetic blood could give us much greater speed, strength, and stamina.
But we appear more concerned about these new developments than enthused, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
“Americans are largely cautious about using emerging technologies in ways that push human capacities,” said an expert.
The nationally representative survey of more than 4,700 U.S. adults focused on public views about the three fields mentioned above: gene editing, implantation of brain chips, and transfusions.
The findings show a majority of Americans would be “very” or “somewhat” worried about gene editing (68 percent); brain chips (69 percent); and synthetic blood (63 percent) — while no more than half say they would be enthusiastic about these developments. While some people are both enthusiastic and worried, concern outpaces excitement overall.
“Developments in biomedical technologies are accelerating rapidly, raising new societal debates about how we will use these technologies and what uses are appropriate,” said lead author Cary Funk, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center, in a statement. “This study suggests Americans are largely cautious about using emerging technologies in ways that push human capacities beyond what’s been possible before.”
A majority of those polled added they felt the enhancements could exacerbate the divide between haves and have-nots. Seven in 10 people predicted each technology would become available before it was been fully tested or understood.
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And many aren’t even sure how to process some of these potential new interventions — 49 percent of adults, for example, said transfusions with synthetic blood for much-improved physical abilities would be “meddling with nature,” while a roughly equal share said the idea is no different from other ways humans have tried to better themselves.
People’s reactions to any enhancements were more positive if the effects were controllable or temporary. On average, women were more wary than men.
The survey found similarities between what Americans think about these potential enhancements and their thoughts on enhancements already available today.
Cosmetic surgery, specifically, is an enhancement that 61 percent of Americans said people are too quick to have — changing their appearance in ways that are not really important. Meanwhile, 36 percent said, “It’s understandable that more people undergo cosmetic procedures these days because it’s a competitive world and people who look more attractive tend to have an advantage.”