U.S. Public Wary About Human Enhancement Technology, Survey Shows

  • December 05, 2016

Editor’s Recommendation

Is Human Enhancement the Next Revolution?

by David Masci

Fall 2016

Most Americans greet the idea of cutting-edge biomedical technologies—which could push the boundaries of human abilities and make people sharper, stronger, and healthier—with more wariness and worry than enthusiasm and hope.

A Pew Research Center survey released in July focused on public attitudes about gene editing to reduce babies’ risk of disease during their lifetimes, implantation of brain chips to help people better process information, and transfusions with synthetic blood to give people more speed, strength, and stamina. Some highlights from the findings:

  • At least 7 in 10 U.S. adults predict that each of these new technologies will become available before they have been fully tested or understood. Some 73 percent say this about gene editing, while an identical share says the same about synthetic blood; 74 percent say this about brain chip implants.
  • Majorities also say these enhancements could exacerbate the divide between the haves and have-nots. For instance, 73 percent believe inequality will increase if brain chips become available, because initially they will be obtainable only by the wealthy.
  • Many U.S. adults think recipients of enhancements will feel superior to those who have not received them; 63 percent say this about synthetic blood transfusions in particular. At the same time, half or more think recipients of enhancements will feel more confident about themselves.
  • Substantial shares of U.S. adults say they are not sure whether these interventions are morally acceptable. But among those who express an opinion, more people say brain and blood enhancements would be morally unacceptable than say they are acceptable.
  • More adults say the downsides of brain and blood enhancements would outweigh the benefits for society than vice versa. Americans are a bit more positive about the possibility of gene editing to reduce disease; 36 percent think it will have more benefits than downsides, while 28 percent think it will have more downsides than benefits.
  • Opinion is closely divided on the fundamental question of whether these potential developments are “meddling with nature” and cross a line that should not be crossed, or whether they are “no different” from other ways that humans have tried to better themselves over time.