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What innovations are most important to world's future?

This author thinks that cost-effective desalination technology could solve the world's water crises. What innovation do you think would best ensure our future?

A desalination plant built by IDE. Cost-effective desalination could help solve the worldwide water shortage crisis, but the technology is not widely available today. IDE

I was thinking recently about the many problems facing our fragile planet--economic crisis, global warming, massive water shortages, and so on--and got to wondering what can be done to solve them.

In part, this stemmed from the recent American election and what it meant for our country and the world, but also from thinking about the ongoing alternate-reality game being run by the Institute for the Future, Superstruct, which tasks players with coming up with ideas that could help stave off a fictional extinction of the human race.

One problem, it seems to me, is that there are so many critical issues to deal with we sometimes feel that unless we can solve all of them at once, there's no popular will to deal seriously with any of them.

But that mentality likely leaves us trapped in stasis, as it's almost impossible to imagine being able to tackle everything at once. On the other hand, if we grapple with one or two major issues at a time, we might start to make some real progress before it's too late.

So, I thought I'd put it out there publicly to see what readers like you think are the individual innovations and changes we could make that could most positively impact our world--and get us on the path to a stable future.

For me, I think the worldwide shortage of drinking water is the one that, if solved, could most benefit the planet. Because while water crises in countries like India and China are well-known, and while political battles between countries like Israel and Syria may in the end have more to do with water than ideology, there are less understood water problems everywhere, including here at home.

In the American West, for example, there are several states sharing water from the Colorado River basin. Yet, even as places like Las Vegas use more and more, the supply is rapidly dwindling as an extended drought gets worse and worse.

So, for my money, the single-most valuable innovation I can imagine would be cost-effective, massively deployable desalination technology. After all, there's a limitless supply of salt water available, but to date, there's simply no efficient way to convert it. Were such desalination possible, it wouldn't solve the crises overnight--you'd still have to figure out how to pay to pipe in the new supplies of fresh water to inland areas--but it would go a long way to a future in which everyone has suitable drinking water.

But that's me. I want to know what you think would be the single innovation that could make our world a better place.

I'm not looking for pure fantasy here, but rather something that is feasible, even if it's a ways off.

If you have an idea, please post it in the comments section here, or e-mail me at or Twitter me at

I'll post the best answers in the next few days.