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In September, we asked FT readers to help us find 50 ideas with the potential to change the world and we have received a large number of suggestions. The responses have been varied, ranging from a few words in a tweet to detailed diagrams.
Not only are the ideas themselves intriguing — anything from generating energy from kites to flushable wet wipes — but they have also told us a lot about the concerns of Financial Times readers.
The lists below are not our final selections, but an indicator of what we have received to date. There is still time for you to submit ideas — until October 13. To contribute your suggestion, either comment below, email email@example.com or tweet using the hashtag #FT50ideas. Thank you all, and please keep your suggestions coming. Remember, we are looking for inventions, prototypes or new policies rather than more general submissions such as making the UN work better.
Energy and resources
By far the largest number of suggestions have been for the resources category, reflecting widespread concerns about energy supply and fossil fuels running out. There are numerous suggestions for new ways to generate power: Conkers Farm in Stevenage, in the UK, wrote about its project to collect food waste from schools to turn into biogas. A company called Red to Blue told us about a proposal for tunnels that would generate energy from the rise and fall of the tide. Just 75 such installations could provide enough power for the UK’s energy needs, it says.
One particularly intriguing idea came from Vijo Varkey in Dubai, who proposes generating energy by paving roads with piezoelectric crystals that generate a small electric current when vehicles drive over them. Last May, the FT wrote about a Qualcomm technology for roads that could wirelessly charge electric cars as they drove over them. Might piezoelectric crystals be combined with this idea?
John Bruce wrote to us about ways in which nitrogen, which makes up some 78 per cent of the earth’s atmosphere, might be used as an energy source, using its expansion as it warmed up from a cooled state.
- Using solar energy to turn seawater and contaminated water into drinking water
- Artificial photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide and water into liquid fuel
- Using cooled, liquid nitrogen as an energy source
- Molten salt reactors for power generation
- Using food waste from schools to create energy
- Burning plastic waste instead of fossil fuels
- Tidal tunnels to generate electricity
- Kite networks generating energy
- Paving roads with piezoelectric crystals to create energy
- Using ammonia to store energy created by renewable energy plants
- Pay-as-you-go water taps connected to the internet of things
- Running air conditioning more efficiently with artificial intelligence and sensors
- 3D printing items instead of buying them
- Hydroponic systems for cultivating plants on Mars
- New ways to finance energy efficiency upgrades to buildings
- Textile recycling
- Irrigation systems across Africa
- Superconductivity at room temperature
Skills and education
Education suggestions had two strands. One was around teaching people new things — from IT and to how to launch a company to making better decisions. The second was about using new technologies to deliver education more effectively, from virtual worlds to feedback loops that let teachers see exactly how students are learning. Using technology to democratise access to education was a theme. One company, called Bongovate, got in touch to tell us about its platform that would deliver high-quality educational content free to the poor.
- Teaching people how to launch their own company
- Teaching people IT skills
- Teach children how to be better decision makers
- On-demand digital coaching and mentoring
- Algorithms to block cyberbullying and trolling on social media
- Teaching using 3D virtual environments
- Subtitling songs to promote literacy
- Learning platform that helps educators understand exactly how, when and why learning happens
- Software compression technology to make educational videos easier to download and more affordable
Some of the interesting suggestions for healthcare were for simple diagnostic tests — for example, using mass spectrometry to diagnose illnesses from a drop of urine and affordable clinical kits to test for genes linked with hereditary cancers.
The use of artificial intelligence in this field is also interesting. A company called Verseon got in touch about the molecular modelling engine it has created, which it says can cut the time and cost required to discover a chemical compound that could be used to combat a particular disease.
- Controlling refined sugar with a cap and trade mechanism like the one proposed for carbon emissions
- Glucose responsive insulin
- Laws to fight obesity
- Filming hospital appointments to better co-ordinate aftercare
- Technology to prevent people suffering long-term illness from feeling isolated
- Coloured surgical sponges to avoid any being left inside the patient during surgery
- Magnetic resonance mass spectrometry to cheaply diagnose diseases from a drop of urine
- Affordable, clinical grade genetic test that detects genes associated with increased risk of the most common hereditary cancers
- A molecular modelling engine to speed up drug discovery
- A “clean air barrier” for children in prams and car seats
- A voluntary credit greylisting scheme to prevent people with mental illnesses spending all their savings or racking up debt
Professor Robert Berry of Aston University presented a simple idea — stopping the practice of open-field burning by turning agricultural waste such as stubble into a heat product. Millions of tons of material are burnt at key harvest periods in places like India, creating high levels of pollution.
There were many suggestions around financing carbon emission reduction, and some one-sentence suggestions to say that humans should stop eating meat.
One interesting idea was the seawater greenhouse, where seawater is piped into desert regions, desalinated, and used for cooling and irrigation. A facility like this is already being used to grow tomatoes in South Australia and there are pilots in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
- Turning agricultural waste into heat products to stop the practice of open-field burning
- Ion propulsion for spacecraft (and travel on earth)
- New financing mechanisms for carbon emission reduction
- Seawater greenhouse — seawater piped into desert regions to cool and irrigate plants
- Flushable wet wipes
- Use of blockchain to set the price for all goods and services, including the cost of environmental damage
Universal basic income — possibly extended to cover the world — was proposed several times for dealing with the challenges posed by population growth. How this would be funded is not clear, but FT readers are certainly concerned about there not being enough work for all in an age of automation.
Many also suggested that some form of blockchain — a digital distributed ledger — could be used to make the financial system work more equitably. The Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance, a British not-for-profit think-tank, got in touch with a proposal to launch a digital currency that will be linked to values and ethics. In this system, called Seratio, a shirt made with sweatshop labour would cost more than one made using ethical practices.
- Using augmented reality and virtual reality to help urban planning
- Digital currency linked to ethics
- World Basic Income
- Create a global central bank
- Expand the EU into the southern hemisphere
- Launch hundreds of nanosats to bring communications to people around the equatorial region
- Equality of women
- Community action to restore degraded land
- Obliging people to obtain a licence to have children
There’s still time to contribute . . .
Discussion in the comments fields has been lively. Many suggestions have been around political solutions, rebalancing economic power and much debate about institutions such as central banks. While such solutions could indeed be world changing, we have left these out for the most part as we are really looking for specific technologies, discoveries and pilot programmes in this instance.
Thank you for the incredible feedback to date. We will continue taking submissions until October 13.