Feelings on science by generation from the 3m State of Science Index Survey

The future is now

People have high expectations for what science can achieve in their lifetime

  • When you were a child, how did you picture the future? Did you imagine yourself making friends with human-robot hybrids? The concept of “the future” has always been fueled by a mixture of speculation and imagination. There isn’t one defining moment that beckons the future—it’s a collection of scientific advances and societal movements that happen in rapid succession to shape our interactions with one another.

    Today, scientific breakthroughs such as smart cities and autonomous vehicles are about to become the norm. Ideas that once seemed far-out are now visible and exciting. As a result, expectations for the future of science are high around the world, and thinking about the future elicits a positive response.

  • man working on a robot

    Those effects are amplified beyond industrialized countries—in fact, 66 percent of those in emerging countries feel excited about the future impact of science on society and 56 percent think the best days of science are still to come. This suggests that despite economic shifts—for better or for worse—spirits for science remain strong.

    When we asked to get a bit more specific and identify what science will achieve within their lifetime, people gravitated to common ideas with which they might have experience: robots in the workplace, robots in every home and flying cars. Once considered space-age novelties, robotics and flying cars are currently in development at top R&D facilities across the world.

    These achievements may not feel personally relevant, however. 42 percent of people believe their country is falling behind in scientific advancements compared to other countries. 34 percent believe their country is the same/equal to others and just 23 percent say their country is leading in scientific advancements. This could be explained by the adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” The issue may be rooted in the lack of communication about positive scientific advances in their country.

  • Unsurprisingly, younger adults (18 to 34 year olds) have the highest expectations for science compared to their older counterparts. Adults born in the mid-1980’s through the mid-1990’s are digital natives who can’t imagine anything other than an on-demand world with the scientific knowledge and technology to solve the world’s biggest problems. While it isn’t fair to say older generations have a more jaded perspective, they didn’t express as much confidence as the younger generation.

  • Regardless of age, about three-quarters of people believe science can solve challenges such as disease treatment, energy and internet access. People are less confident about the ability for science to reduce unemployment, solve online data breaches or make roads safer.

    At 3M, a problem solving mindset instills a sense of confidence toward the future. According to Jayshree Seth, a Corporate Scientist and Chief Science Advocate (CSA) at 3M, “Whenever I’m tackling any new challenge, I get highly focused and think of ways the solution can improve on what’s come before or possibly lead to a ‘new-to-the-world’ breakthrough.”

    If one thing is clear, it’s that the word “future” isn’t a nebulous term—advancements are happening now, even if we can’t see them. Whether it’s resources dedicated to helping eradicate diseases or ensure clean water is accessible, science can help mitigate some of the world’s most pressing problems. As more positive scientific breakthroughs happen, optimism will likely carry the momentum that helps usher in those moments we consider the future. 


Related stories