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Looking Back At The World Changing Ideas Of 2015

From basic income to geoengineering, here’s what we predicted would change the world in 2015–and an evaluation of how we did.

In March, we launched our annual list of World Changing Ideas, a collection of stories about what we predicted would be some of the most important issues of the year.

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We had some hits and some misses–and many ideas that are still developing but will continue to grow in importance over the coming years. They’re all vitally important areas to watch, and we’ll be continuing to cover them in the months and years to come. Below, we’ve checked in on the progress of 2015’s ideas. Stay tuned in a few months for the 2016 edition.

Eric Palma for Fast Company

1: Can Treating Low-Wage Workers Well Become The Hot New Business Strategy?

Aetna, Gap, Starbucks—even Walmart—are making moves to pay and treat their employees better. Are we seeing the start of an age of friendlier big business, or is it all just PR?

Update: While individual companies might be making small changes to salaries and benefits for their low-wage workers, the general business trend is still toward paying CEOs incredibly well while forgetting the people at the bottom. The fight to raise the minimum wage has gained considerable momentumfueled largely by the Fight for $15 movement among fast food workers. Given that this hasn’t been enthusiastically embraced by employers, it’s fair to say that they may have missed the memo on the “hot new business strategy.”

Andrew J. Nilsen for Fast Company

2: A Universal Basic Income Is The Bipartisan Solution To Poverty We’ve Been Waiting For

What if the government simply paid everyone enough so that no one was poor? It’s an insane idea that’s gaining an unlikely alliance of supporters.

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Update: Universal basic income had a banner year in 2015, going from “radical economic idea” to “radical economic idea people have actually heard of.” Finland is running a national experiment to try out the idea, and government officials around the world are expressing interest. As the age of automation evolves, and more workers with machines, universal basic income might become a key ingredient in the transition to a new economy.

Richard Borge for Fast Company


3: Inside The Satellite Detective Agencies That Catch The Companies Destroying The Planet—From Space

Now that everyone has access to pictures from space, it’s time to use them to stop the hidden actions of nefarious corporations.

Update: As satellite imagery becomes more readily available, the possibilities for environmental protection are growing. Earlier this year, World Resources Institute used AI to comb through satellite images to find the early evidence of deforestation, so the organization could mobilize campaigns before major tree-cutting had begun.

Greg Kletsel for Fast Company

4: Peaceful Protest—Slow And Steady—Is Winning The Race To Create Change

Want to correct an injustice or topple a government? Nonviolent resistance, researchers say, is the way to go.

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Update: In a year which saw Black Lives Matter protest sweep the nation, peaceful protest is clearly alive, well, and a powerful force in American politics. After the Charleston shootings this year, we talked to Bree Newsome, who climbed a flag pole to remove the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol building.

Sam Island for Fast Company

5: Don’t Relax: Uncomfortability Is The New Convenience

To stop humanity from turning into useless, pleasure-seeking blobs, some designers are abandoning the quest to make everything easy, and introducing a little extra difficulty into our lives.

Update: We are still mostly using technology to turn us into inactive blobs, but the idea of uncomfortability as a virtue is continuing to gain traction. For instance, a collection of household devices make it harder to make bad choices in your life: If you take your car key off the key rack instead of the key to your bike lock, your bike lock key falls on the ground, forcing you to pick it up and reconsider.

Doug Chayka for Fast Company


6: Now That We Can Geoengineer The Planet, What If Someone Decides To Actually Do It?

The technologists’ dream of remaking the planet to live with our carbon emissions is here. How do we stop one panicked country from deciding it’s time to press the button?

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Update: Though China has recently seen some of its worst pollution ever, no country yet decided to create a unilateral geoengineering project. That’s not stopping scientists from proposing crazy ideas, however, no matter if they could kill us all before they save the planet.

Justyn Iannucci for Fast Company

7: The Perfect Urban Bike Is Just Around The Corner

After more than a century of tinkering, it’s almost ready to unveil.

Update: New bikes–folding ones, electric ones, folding electric ones–are still launching nearly every day. Is one the perfect urban bike? Probably not. But one is almost certainly the perfect urban bike for you. Get one today.

Byron Egg for Fast Company

8: Silicon Valley Meets America’s Salad Bowl To Create The Farm Of The Future

Though just down the road from each other, the country’s tech capital and one of the country’s largest farming regions are only now starting to work together—with only a little culture clash.

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Update: Read more about Salinas, California, a city in California’s salad bowl just down the road from Silicon Valley, that’s trying to become the ag-tech hub of California.

Suharu Ogawa for Fast Company

9: Physical Objects Are About To Become As Programmable As A Computer

Once we can control any material—from metal to wood to plastic—static objects will become a thing of the past.

Update: This was probably the most fanciful item on the list (especially because universal basic income seems to actually be happening). While we’re nowhere near being able to program our household objects, the rise of smart-home tech is the very beginning of the vision we outlined here. For example: MIT’s Amazing New App Lets You Program Any Object

Amanda Lanzone for Fast Company

10: You’re The Doctor Now, And Your Office Is In Your House

You can now own home versions of many of the tools you used to have to schlep to a clinic to get access to—and the doctor is just an Internet connection away.

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Update: Just a few days ago, the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize was extended until 2017, which means we won’t see the handheld home diagnostic technology we discussed here for another year. But with everything from 3-D printed pills to urine-sample collecting drones on the near horizon, the line between your house and the doctors office will continue to blur.

Tony Win for Fast Company

11: You Don’t Need An Energy Company When You Can Buy Power From Your Friends

Utility companies are getting disrupted as people sell each other their energy, without the middleman.

Update: The sharing economy for energy has taken off this year, with startups like Yeloha, Gridmates, and Vandebon all facilitating people selling excess power directly to other consumers, without the middle man of the utility company.

Julianna Brion for Fast Company

12: You’ll Wear Lab-Grown Leather Before You Eat A Lab-Grown Burger

No cows were harmed in the making of your new shoes.

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Update: We’re all eagerly awaiting Modern Meadow’s first lab-grown leather offerings. As of yet, the race between commercially available lab-grown burger and lab-grown leather is still on.

Glenn Harvey for Fast Company

13: Please Silence Your Cell Phone, Or We’ll Silence It For You

The rise of the intentionally disconnected space.

Update: Everyone is still on their phones all the time. Science now knows that just getting the buzz of an alert is as distracting as a phone call, but that isn’t stopping anyone. Perhaps this device–a phone that only makes phone calls and has no alerts–will be the phone of the future. At least we can be inspired by this man, who doesn’t have a phone at all, even though he’s an app designer.

David Cowles for Fast Company

14: Welcome To The New World Of Super-Low Oil Prices

If the price of oil stays low, what does it mean for the continued conversion to renewables?

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Update: Oil prices remain at incredible lows, but the spread of renewables continues apace. In much of the world, solar is now as cheap or cheaper than grid electricity. Driving may be on the rise given the low economic consequences, but at least since so many cities are experimenting with removing cars from their centers.

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly FastCoExist.com.

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