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Looking Back At The World Changing Ideas Of 2016

From the end of work to the end of cash, evaluating our predictions from the start of the year about the big ideas of 2016.

Each spring, we publish a series of essays about the ideas we see affecting us in the coming year. Prediction is not an exact science, and some of the ideas become vitally important while others fail to gain any traction at all (three years later, we're still waiting for our commercially available test-tube burger). After this topsy-turvy year, we're looking back at the ideas and seeing how they've fared since we said they were going to change the world.

Make sure you stay tuned for the 2017 ideas, coming in March, and the announcement of the winners of our inaugural World Changing Ideas Awards.

1: Your Data Footprint Is Affecting Your Life In Ways You Can't Even Imagine

Job decisions, college admissions, health care decisions: All are now being fundamentally altered by your big data, and you might not even know.

Update: The only update is that we're creating even larger piles of data about ourselves. New voice-activated home assistants from Google and Amazon are recording our conversations and police are using algorithms to try to stop crime (this doesn't always work out well). As the era of big data gets bigger, there may be little you can do to hide from what your data is telling marketers and the government. At the very least, put it to good use and donate your data.

2: Welcome To The Post-Work Economy

For the future economy to work, we need to get rid of our unhealthy fixation on what work and jobs mean to our self-worth.

Update: The automation part of the post-work economy is certainly getting closer, but the part where government support allows people to ditch their jobs and changes our cultural attitudes about the need to work bullshit jobs doesn't seem to be going anywhere. That said, support for a basic income, the key program underpinning the idea of a post-work economy, is growing. Here's why you should support it.

3: Fixing Mental Health In The Workplace Requires A Lot More Than A Yoga Room

Companies are recognizing that our work culture is incredibly damaging to employees' mental health. Now they need to fix it for real—not just plaster over it with gimmicks.

Update: The wellness craze is alive and well at work. As long as gimmicks work, companies will favor them over the harder and more expensive work of actually taking care of employees going through difficult times.

4: CRISPR Is Going To Revolutionize Our Food System—And Start A New War Over GMOs

The gene-editing tool could create drought-resistant grain or allergy-free peanuts. Will a society on edge about genetically modified food embrace this newest innovation?

Update: Gene editing had some big wins this year, making advances in defeating sickle cell anemia and some hope in the quest for a cure for AIDS. The coming years should see even more advances brought on by CRISPR technology. For now, you can read our year in genetics.

5: The Future Of Progressive Business Is Companies That Are Good, Not Just Doing Good

Responsible businesses today tout the idea of something called shared value—where profits, customers, and the environment all benefit from a company's success. But is that enough?

Update: Companies remain largely the same, and the question is whether the forces that had been pushing them to change their relationship to society, workers, and the planet will continue over the next four years. It may be that economic factors forces a change in how companies are run. As Douglas Rushkoff told us, in talking about his book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, "Big business and small business, extreme libertarians and Bernie Sanders people all are looking toward the same solution. … We're realizing that we don't really care about our ideologies as much as about the fact that we've let a system get out of control." At the very least, hopefully businesses can come together with workers and help us create a new social contract.

6: What Happens When We Become A Cashless Society?

Imagine a future where everything is seamlessly paid for via your phone. It's a beautiful vision—with some dangerous unintended consequences.

Update: The "dangerous consequences" part of this prediction of a cashless society has become very real for people in India this year. In an attempt to curb corruption and tax fraud, the Indian government very suddenly took 86% of its cash out of circulation, which has had horrible unintended consequences for the country's poorest. There's a utopian future where we pay for everything seamlessly with our phone, but what happened in India shows how far much of the world is from being able to see the end of cash as anything but catastrophic.

7: How The Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Going To Change The Lives Of The Bottom Billion

The blockchain is coming—and it's going to create huge benefits for the world's poorest people, from financial access to property rights to controlling their identities.

Update: From buying power from your neighbors to national elections, more and more transactions are starting to move to the blockchain. To see everywhere this tech might take us, please see our review of our favorite blockchain stories of the year.

8: Refugees Will Revitalize The Economy—If We Let Them

Despite the rhetoric, refugees can be a huge benefit for host countries and cities.

Update: Though anti-refugee rhetoric remains at a fever pitch in the United States—and will soon be further enshrined in official U.S. policy—there's no question that helping refugees is not only a moral imperative, but also an economic boon. Our series on refugees from September, Creating A Refugee-Ready, Refugee-Friendly World, spells out exactly how we can help both the current refugee crisis and the ones sure to come after it—and the benefits to the societies that do.

9: Can We Save Ourselves From The End Of Antibiotics—Or Have The Superbugs Already Won?

Standing on the last lines of defense in our battle against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Update: Antibiotic resistance continues to rise. There are some hopeful solutions, but brace yourself. The superbugs may have, indeed, already won.

10: What If We Paid People To Vote?

Low turnout drastically skews who is elected to lead our government. The best way to increase turnout might be cold, hard cash.

Update: More than 40% of eligible voters didn't vote in the election. Enough said.

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