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

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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

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

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

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

Wearable scanners will be able to read our minds

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

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

Why we are in danger of overestimating AI

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’

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

Waste can now be mined for metals and to create fuel

Biomimicry unleashes wave of materials innovation

Artificial retinas and synthetic spider silk are among the lab breakthroughs

Machines that get their energy from thin air

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

Alternative to silicon offers cheaper solar power

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

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

Superconductivity takes small steps forward

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

Beyond lithium — the search for a better battery

Graphene and salt water offer promising advances

Graphene filters change economics of clean water

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

Orkney shows potential of hydrogen fuel

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

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

Universal basic income: 500-year-old idea returns

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

Six Japanese care robots to watch

Machines take the strain of careworkers’ mundane jobs

Hyperloop work begins before business case made

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

Lessons on road congestion from Oregon

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

A new toilet for areas without running water

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

Six ways to increase uptake of family planning

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

Near-perfect machine translation is almost here

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

Precision farming to feed the world the green way

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

From roads paved with energy-generating crystals to molecular modelling

How companies draw on science fiction

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

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.