Pew Research has an interesting new poll about people’s opinions on technology and the future, but I think the question most relevant to current policy debates is how optimistic people are about technological advancement. By a margin of two-to-one Americans think technological changes will make people’s lives mostly better, yet if you look into that number you will find a large income divide.
67 percent of Americans making $75,000 or more are optimistic about the power of technology while only 52 percent of people making less than $30,000 are. You might attribute some of this divide to educated people being more inclined to read news about promising new scientific research, but the income divide on this question is actually larger than the education divide. That would imply there is an economic element at play.
I suspect we are seeing the results of decades of bad policy. With good policy a rising tide should lift all boats. Improvements in technology that increase efficiency could easily make everyone better off, but that is not what we have been seeing. Wages have been stagnant even as we have become much more productive. Technology in the form of outsourcing and computerized efficiency has resulted in some at the lower end working harder for less.
At the same time, these big gains in wealth created by technology are being captured by a very small group of people at the top. Technology is significantly growing the overall wealth of the country, but few people are getting any of it. Lower income people being less optimistic is a natural response to the current situation.
I fear the anger that should be focused on politicians, corporatism policies, and a corrupt political system will be misdirected at science and technology in general. People may start thinking this is a natural result of technological advancement instead of being the product of specific policies that wealthy people lobbied to have put in place. That would be very unfortunate for the country given how much promise technology holds to improve lives.