Americans are generally optimistic about the future of science and technology, though they're concerned about some of the details, according to a new poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
More than eight in 10 Americans said researchers will be able to grow replacement organs within the next 50 years; half said computers will be sophisticated enough to make human-like art; and one-third said Americans will have colonized planets other than Earth.
They are worried, though, about parents altering their children's DNA, robots becoming caregivers and implanting devices that work like cell phones, according to the survey, done in collaboration with Smithsonian Magazine.
Philip Sharp, a Nobel laureate and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he wasn't surprised by the public's optimism.
"This country has been more receptive of new technology than any other in the world," he said.
Sharp shares the public's optimism about growing replacement organs, though he said some organs will be easier to replace than others. (Last week, scientists published a paper in The Lancet about using lab-grown cartilage to repair the noses of five older patients with skin cancer.)
As to the viability of some other sci-fi-like technologies, Sharp said, "Teleporting and other things one sees in the movies, I think physics says is very unlikely to happen. Probably the public's view of that is influenced by how unlikely it is to occur."
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said teleportation was likely to be solved in the next half-century.
Today's technologies were the stuff of science fiction less than a generation ago, said Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center's Internet Project, who helped lead the survey.
"If you'd told me in 1995 that I would have a device in my pocket that gave me access to all the world's information and let me communicate with anyone I knew at a moment's notice ... I would have been dumbfounded," he said. "And now I complain because it doesn't do those things fast enough!"
Geraldine Richmond, a physical chemist who holds the Presidential Chair in Science at the University of Oregon, said the poll showed her that Americans remain inspired by science.
"As a scientist, I get really excited to sit back and think about the opportunities that are ahead," said Richmond, who sits on the National Science Board and is scheduled to take over the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science next year. "This survey shows that other people fantasize in the same way about what might be possible."
The poll asked what invention those surveyed would like to see. More than a quarter did not have an idea, while nearly 10% each said improved health and cure for diseases or time travel would be the best inventions.
Richmond said her fantasy would be to fly: "To just sort of go up into the air and go to where you want to go, without having to go through security on an airplane."