50 Ideas to Change the World

The FT enlisted the help of readers, researchers and entrepreneurs to find 50 new ideas that will shape the world in the future. The ideas address the challenges of a growing world population, resource scarcity, handling information as well as healthcare, and look beyond our planet to explore new frontiers and solve common challenges.Supported by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group

Nature and the Universe

How to make a carbon pricing system work

Compensation for those who lose out and sanctions on non-compliance are needed

‘Invisibility cloak’ metamaterials reach the market

Wave-bending materials revamp satellite antennas and drones — as a start

Tackling plastic pollution needs policy and science

Cleaning up the oceans rivals climate change as a global problem

Constellations of satellites increase space junk risk

Systems needed to manage up to 750,000 potentially dangerous objects in orbit

Satellites, lasers and bots track global carbon

Technology improves understanding of forests’ and oceans’ role in climate change

Phones or AI to modernise early disaster warnings

Networks of sensors can predict earthquakes with greater precision

Deep sea trenches eyed for carbon storage

Ocean ravines offer space and lower costs for projects to mitigate climate change

New membrane provides drinking water and lithium

Metal-organic frameworks allow precision filtering with less energy

Asteroids to be refuelling stations in space

Minerals, metals and water on planetoids could support missions into the solar system


Search for life beyond Earth intensifies

Space signal detection project and astrobiology boost hunt for extraterrestrials


Nanobots used to kill off cancerous tumours

Researchers inject tiny devices into the bloodstream to deliver drugs with precision

Crispr gene editing ready for testing in humans

Biotech companies plan to use the technique to treat blood diseases and blindness

DNA sequencing unlocks secrets of rare diseases

Dame Sally Davies

Routine genetic testing would save healthcare system money, says UK medical chief

DNA tests personalise mental health treatment

Precision psychiatry studies genes to see which treatments work best for individuals

Brain implants allow patients to move robotic arms

Bill Kochevar

Prosthetics controlled by human thought via computer show promise in clinical trials

Cheap tests needed to stop antibiotic resistance

Rapid detection would reduce unnecessary use and make drugs effective for longer

Liver success holds promise of 3D organ printing

Small ‘organoids’ grown in the lab could be used to treat chronic conditions

Smartphones speed recovery of surgical wounds

Apps alert doctors to infections and help them keep an eye on the healing process

Immunotherapy: beyond melanoma and lung cancer

Scientists are seeking combination drugs that would make for more effective treatments


Exoskeletons to become common for factory workers

FT’s west coast editor Richard Waters tries on ‘Iron Man’ wearable robot

Skills and Education

How DNA could store all the world’s data

GERMANY - NOVEMBER 01:  BERLIN  Photo of Miles DAVIS, performing live onstage  (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

Scientists see capacious and stable medium as potential answer to mountains of information

Wearable scanners will be able to read our minds

Pair of false-colour Magnetic Resonance Images (MRI) of mid-sagittal sections through the head of a normal 42 year-old woman, arranged face-to-face. Profiled features of the main part of the brain include the convoluted surface of the cerebral cortex & the corpus callosum, the curved band of nervous tissue at the centre of the brain (blue on right image) that connects the two cerebral hemispheres. Beneath the corpus callosum are the pons & medulla, the structures of the brainstem, which are continuous with the spinal cord (gold, both images). The cerebellum, the centre of balance & coordination, appears to the rear of the brainstem. Left image: P332/130, Right image: P332/140

Tiny pixel sizes, light analysis and blood flow maps mark big advance on MRI machines

Early quantum computing investors see benefits

Tech revolution’s promise ranges from online encryption to modelling new molecules

Holograms change the way we interact with computers

3D images that can be manipulated with hand gestures blur the digital and real world

Why sleeping more will help the national economy

LOS ANGELES ,CA AUGUST 18, 2015: Students line-up for their buses at a district bus stop next to  Jefferson High School in Los Angeles on the first day of classes August 18, 2015. The buses transport the students to middle schools and other high schools in the area  (Photo by Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A new understanding of circadian rythyms is helping combat the silent sleep-loss epidemic

Why we are in danger of overestimating AI

A man walks through the Watson Premier display to learn about IBM Watson at CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

Data-heavy computers have ways to go to catch up with human thought and common sense

Personalised learning takes over in classrooms

Silicon Valley loves the idea but evidence is mixed on whether all children benefit

Neural networks allow us to ‘read faces’

Woman in grid/checker light

Facial analysis software is being used to predict sexuality and security risks

Digital distractions are making us dumb and twitchy

Glimmers of hope in search for means to conquer information overload


Classroom robots stand in for children

Avatar enables pupil to watch and participate in lessons from home via a tablet

Energy and Resources

Europe’s landfill sites potentially worth a fortune

A worker and backhoe loader tractors move garbages and rubbish on a landfill site on September 1, 2015, at Propriano on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. The island is already drowning under waste and the problem is aggravated by the influx of millions of tourists in summer. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE LANFRANCHI (Photo credit should read PASCAL POCHARD CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images)

Waste can now be mined for metals and to create fuel

Biomimicry unleashes wave of materials innovation

Bolt Threads spider silk woven hat

Artificial retinas and synthetic spider silk are among the lab breakthroughs

Machines that get their energy from thin air

F1AEH4 Piezoelectric Buzzer and Sensor with Lead Wire.

Wake-up receivers, energy-harvesting offer electricity for billions of ‘smart’ things

Alternative to silicon offers cheaper solar power

A worker inspects photovoltaic solar panels in an array at the Senergy Santhiou Mekhe PV solar plant in Thies, Senegal, on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The electricity produced at the 30 megawatt site, West Africa's largest to date, will be bought by the Senegal National Electricity Company (SENELEC) and injected into the national network. Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg
Solar energy array in Senegal

Scientists believe perovskite cells would get costs down to pennies per watt

Advances that make wind a better power source

An employee checks a cable on the nacelle of a Vestas A/S V136 wind turbine during operational testing at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Osterild, Denmark, on Monday, April 18, 2016. "The doubling of turbine size this decade will allow wind farms in 2020 to use half the number of turbines compared to 2010," said Tom Harries, an industry analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

New designs means turbines can be installed in more places and at lower cost

Superconductivity takes small steps forward

GOIANIA, GOIAS STATE, BRAZIL - 2016/09/22: Patient in medical MRI scanner, magnetic resonance imaging, a medical imaging technique used in radiology to image the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body in both health and disease - MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, radio waves, and field gradients to form images of the body. (Photo by Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Hydrogen and graphene show promise for zero electrical resistance at room temperature

Beyond lithium — the search for a better battery

Isle of Ulva
UK News, Mure Dickie article.

Graphene and salt water offer promising advances

Graphene filters change economics of clean water

Graphene membranes can be used for desalination, filtering out pollutants from drinking water.

Tight mesh removes chemicals, solutes, salts and compounds such as pesticides

Orkney shows potential of hydrogen fuel

Scotrenewables' prototype tidal energy converter - the SR2000 was used for the conversion of tidal energy to hydrogen gas

The gas may be best option for heavy transport such as trucks, ships and trains


Rich harvest from ocean as seaweed yields biofuel bonus

There is growing interest in exploring whether kelp could be used as an efficient new source of renewable energy. Maija Palmer visits a processing facility in the UK to investigate

Population Growth

Artificial sperm and wombs offer post-IVF promise

11-week-old mice created using eggs grown from stem cells

Scientists produce mice pups from synthetic sperm and eggs — and grow lambs in biobags

Universal basic income: 500-year-old idea returns

A view along Merisatama port and promenade towards the prestigious Merikatu Street in Helsinki. (Photo by: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Finland, California, Canada and Netherlands are among the countries staging trials

Six Japanese care robots to watch

TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 18:  A booth attendant holds a RayTron Inc. Chapit communication robot at the Robodex (Robot Development & Application Expo) trade show on January 18, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Approximately 160 exhibitors participated in the trade show which covers development technology of robots through to the application of robots.   (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Machines take the strain of careworkers’ mundane jobs

Hyperloop work begins before business case made

A Hyperloop tube is displayed during the first test of the propulsion system at the Hyperloop One Test and Safety site on May 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hyperloop One stages the first public demonstration of a key component of the startup's futuristic rail transit concept that could one day ferry passengers at near supersonic speeds. / AFP / John GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Rivals vie to be first to put in place a new system, but technology is unproven

Lessons on road congestion from Oregon

Vehicles sit in rush hour traffic on the Interstate 405 freeway through the Sepulveda pass in this aerial photograph taken over Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Friday, July 10, 2015. The greater Los Angeles region routinely tops the list for annual traffic statistics of metropolitan areas for such measures as total congestion delays and congestion delays per peak-period traveler. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

US state leads the way with dongle that charges drivers by the mile

A new toilet for areas without running water

COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH - SEPTEMBER 19: Refugees cross a flooded bridge in the Balukhali Rohingya refugee camp on September 19, 2017 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Over 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since late August during the outbreak of violence in the Rakhine state as Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her silence on the Rohingya crisis on Tuesday and defended the security forces while criticism on her handling of the Rohingya crisis grows. Recent satellite images released by Amnesty International provided evidence that security forces were trying to push the minority Muslim group out of the country. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

2.3bn people lack access to safe sanitation and women face additional risks

Six ways to increase uptake of family planning

TAIZHOU, CHINA - NOVEMBER 17: (CHINA OUT) People pass a poster printed with babaies' faces on November 17, 2013 in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province of China. China has decided to abandon its 35-year-old one-child policy, allowing all couples to have two children, the Communist Party of China (CPC) announced after a key meeting on Thursday.  (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

New, long-acting contraceptives, mobile services and incentives make programmes more effective

Near-perfect machine translation is almost here

MyManuClick translation earphones

Companies such as Unbabel and Mymanu are helping us understand each other

Precision farming to feed the world the green way

B4KMTN aerial above Gallo wine storage containers Modesto, California

Technology offers agriculture higher yields and reduced gas from cows


Creating a veggie burger that tastes just like meat

Western-style meat-rich diets will not be sustainable in 2050 when the world’s population reaches 9bn, so the search is on for alternative sources of protein.

How it all began…

Searching for the 50 ideas

The FT looked to find the new ideas that will shape our world in the future

Readers’ response to the call for suggestions

Paper chain figures bright ideas brilliant idea new innovation or invention eureka creative solution or new discovery

bright brilliant bulb business concept creative creativity discovery electricity energy eureka find glowing idea ideas illumination image imagination innovation inspiration intelligence intelligent invention lamp light motivation new power problem problems search shine shiny smart solution solve solving success suggestion think thinking vision watt white

From roads paved with energy-generating crystals to molecular modelling

How companies draw on science fiction

Illustration from the box of a science fiction-related children's toy. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Volkswagen, Hersheys and Capital One are among the companies hiring futurists

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