So why did America become less future-oriented in policy at the very same time, interestingly, that its culture began to embrace science fiction? Fair is doubtful the shift can really be explained, not that he doesn’t float some possible explanations. Lots of them, in fact, all boiling down to the possibility that lots of stuff happened in the late 1960s — among them the early baby boomers moving into their 20s; the assassinations of MLK and RFK, and the escalation of the Vietnam War — that may have somehow increased “the impatience of the country” in a permanent way. Or not.
Anyway, it’s a half century later and the national debt is still growing, and infrastructure spending is still in decline. Moreover, U.S. spending on science research has fallen to 0.7 percent of GDP from 2 percent in the mid-1960s.
But it’s not all about taxpayer dollars. Polling shows how that the 1970s retreat from futuristic optimism has warped into technology pessimism. A 2017 Pew Research poll found that Americans generally express more worry than enthusiasm when asked about automation technologies. Strong majorities expect artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to create empty, jobless lives in an increasingly unequal society. A large share of us, nearly 60 percent, even think there should be limits on the number of jobs businesses can replace with machines.