Warning: Poll reveals public wary of some smart technologies

Wed, 2014-04-23 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

When electric utilities started implementing smart meters, the public backlash was swift and vehement in many parts of the world. And to this day health and privacy concerns continue to fuel the debate over smart meters.

So what other smart technologies are likely to rub John and Jane Q. Public the wrong way?  A new poll released by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian Magazine hints at a few.

The poll covered a wide range of futuristic technologies (teleportation, space colonization or being able to control the weather, for example) that we may or may not see in the next 50 years. But we were most interested in how the public reacted to some of the more near-term technologies that we're already seeing deployed or at least discussed in cities today. And though the polling was limited to the U.S., there are no doubt take-aways for city leaders and planners everywhere.

Here are a few examples of results showing whether people perceive certain technologies would be a change for the better or for the worse:

Personal or commercial drones: 63% of respondents think it would be a change for the worse if non-military drones get permission to fly through most U.S. airspace. Men and younger adults, the researchers found, are a bit more enthusiastic than women and older adults. We recently told you that Dubai is contemplating using drones to deliver government documents.

Driverless cars: 48% said they would be interested in riding in a driverless car; 50% said they would not be. College graduates (at 59%) seem most willing to give them a try and roughly half of urban and suburban residents are interested. Just 36% of rural residents said driverless cars appeal to them. Read more about how driverless cars will transform cities.

Wearable or implanted computer devices: 53% think it would be a bad thing if "most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them" and 37% think it would be a change for the better. The results indicate men are pretty evenly divided on whether ubiquitous wearable or implanted computing devices are a good thing or not, but 59% of women see it as a negative. Google Glass (shown here) is probably the most widely known technology in this space so far, and we've reported on cities that are experimenting with it, including the New York City Police Department.

Read more poll findings on how the U.S. public views technology and the future >>


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free.