Participants are encouraged to vote for their top choice of topics in each strand (Business/Economics, Science/Technology, and Social/Political) and two additional topics regardless of strand. Please read the descriptors for the fifteen topic choices and then voice your opinion by clicking the “Click Here to Vote” buttons below. Voting is open until April Friday, April 13, 2018!

Click Here to Vote on 2020 – 21 Topics

Business/Economics Topics


The need for global aid can be widespread. Following natural disasters, people may need aid to rebuild their homes and secure basic needs like food and water. At other times, aid is sent to poor or impoverished places to help communities survive. There are a number of ways aid can be deployed to those in need. Governments and charities have traditionally favored using cash grants and low-interest loans to improve living conditions and create jobs in developing countries. Such aid does not always reach its intended destination, often because of a lack of basic infrastructure, inappropriate distribution methods, and corruption on the part of both the givers and the recipients. The political motives of donors are often called into question, particularly when aid allocations are inconsistent with economic need. Many believe that aid can lead to dependency on the part of recipients. As an alternative, many policymakers have instead advocated that lifting trade barriers, such as reducing quotas and tariffs on imports, will be more successful in creating economic opportunities in poor regions.

What is the best way for policymakers to give aid? In what ways does the distribution of aid matter depending on what organizations and governments want to achieve? Most importantly, is aid helping those it is intended to help, or are alternative solutions needed?

Corporate Ethics

Corporate or business ethics guide businesses to discern between “right” and “wrong”. Demonstrating good ethical practice can be difficult for companies. A company has to balance making a profit with ensuring health and safety for people and the environment. Corporate responsibility is regulated by laws pertaining to transparency in business practices and respect for basic human rights.

Today corporate ethics often conflict with global standards. Data brokers, Telco’s and social media sites often don’t respect the ethics regarding confidentiality of personal information. Wars are waged over natural resources such as oil and gas, yet many corporations claim ignorance or say they are “conflict free” regarding the sources of raw materials in many of their products, citing “the complexity and size of our supply chain”. Many are in denial about child labor or worker exploitation in the manufacture of their products. There seems to be a vacuum between ethics and deliverables.
How much consideration is given to corporate ethics, given the uncertainties in politics and governments and powerful corporations backing them?

What guides corporate ethics today? What if corporations claim ignorance or are in denial about conflicts regarding their products? What will be the corporate citizenship challenges of the future?


Ecotourism – supposedly responsible tourism to natural areas – has become a major global growth industry in the 21st century. Ecotourism can raise awareness of endangered plants and animals as well as providing funds for conservation programs. There are many issues surrounding ecotourism. Often the areas visited are very remote, meaning that the travel needed to get there adds to carbon footprints. Human visitors can disrupt wildlife, resulting in changes to their feeding and mating habits. Some ecotourism businesses ‘greenwash’ their business, appearing to be eco-friendly when they aren’t actually environmentally responsible. Ecotourists and the necessary tourism infrastructure can disrupt or destroy fragile habitats and tourists shave been seen to harass animals. Often once an area becomes popular, international corporations and developers from outside the area flock to popular destinations. Hotels and other infrastructure need to be built to house the increase in tourists. Indigenous peoples can have their cultures exploited, traditional lands destroyed and may be forced into low paying jobs as tourist developers move in.

Can we really justify flying into some remote area to view native wildlife and habitats? Is eco-tourism sustainable?

Knowledge Economy

Throughout history, jobs have been created based on the needs society at the time and have changed or become obsolete as society has changed. In the Dark Ages, scribes hand lettered copies of important books and documents. When the printing press was invented, the jobs for many scribes were changed or eliminated. During the industrial revolution manufacturing jobs, yet today with automation, technology and robotics, many of these jobs are no longer filled by humans. Today, experts believe the world is on the verge of a knowledge revolution, where people will produce the greatest value by creating knowledge.

In almost every industry, jobs change over time. Surgeons use computers and robots to assist with surgeries more than they did just a few decades ago. The tech industry is exploring how artificial intelligence can replace job responsibilities currently being fulfilled by humans. Even though many people lose current jobs due to changes, new jobs emerge as the economy grows and changes. How can we balance knowledge–based jobs with those that require manual labor without devaluing either one? How will the economy and societal changes impact what types of jobs are needed in decades to come? In the future, how might major job transitions disrupt global economies?

Personalized Medicine

Personalized Medicine (PM) aims to provide individualized diagnosis and treatment based on personal genetic information. Technologies that analyze the human genome in detail and microarray biochips have made PM possible. Numerous aspects of healthcare will be part of PM: genetic predisposition, disease diagnosis, drug treatments, and patient monitoring.

PM can help predict the likelihood of developing certain illnesses so that intervention can begin earlier. Protein markers of a disease can be identified before symptoms appear. Diagnosis in PM is more precise than basing diagnosis on general factors, like age. Pharmacogenetics allows prescription drugs to be tailored to a patient’s genetic makeup, increasing efficacy.

Although PM has the potential to improve healthcare, challenges exist. Common diseases have numerous causes, so PM may require the development of multiple treatments for the same disease. External epigenetic factors like diet and lifestyle contribute to disease onset, progression, and response to drugs. PM requires collaboration among doctors who have been trained in PM techniques, biotech companies and laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry, and healthcare providers. With more genomic information, medical images, and bio-specimens being analyzed for PM, patients may find it difficult to protect their personal data. Personalized Medicine will shape the future of healthcare.

Science/Technology Topics

Autonomous Transportation

The development of autonomous vehicles, which operate without human intervention, will increase exponentially as alternative energies become cheaper. By 2016, Google’s self-driving cars had driven over 2 million miles. Autonomous vehicles ‘learn’ by utilizing artificial intelligence to access huge amounts of data and by surveying their environment with 360 degree ‘vision’. They need to be able to learn since all possible scenarios are not programmable. Autonomous vehicles will deliver on demand, refuel, park and store themselves. Car ownership may become a thing of the past. Autonomous planes are even easier to create than autonomous land transport and autonomous container ships have been mooted in the near future. Autonomous vehicles will have major impacts on industries from real estate to shipping and travel, whilst jobs such as creators of self-drive systems and sensors will be more available. Cities will change dramatically. Will people want to fly on planes without a human pilot or travel on a bus without a driver? How will autonomous vehicles cope with unexpected risk situations? Can autonomous vehicles make the same ethical decisions as humans? What if they are hacked? In what ways will autonomous vehicles impact on jobs, industries and lifestyles?

Citizen Scientists

Citizen scientists are amateur, non-professional researchers who contribute work to research projects. Often, they do not have formal training or careers in the project’s given field of research. Instead, they are individuals who enjoy dabbling in sciences, believe they have an innovative idea or approach to a problem, or would just like to experience something new. In the past, the belief that professionals know best prevented businesses and organizations from using new ideas from non-professional sources. More recently, organizations have started enlisting the public’s help on research projects. Organizations benefit from the crowd sourced ideas of amateur scientists, which saves time and money while verifying or advancing research. Already, non-professionals have been part of scientific breakthroughs on projects involving space, engineering, marine ecosystems, and more. As the global economy shifts to utilize volunteer researchers, what are the benefits and challenges of enlisting non-professional help? Is the work of amateur scientists reliable if they have access to most of the information that professionals do? How and when should amateur scientists be paid for their ideas? How do you know that the recruit understands the ethical nature of the work they “sharing in”? Might the use of citizen scientists’ skew research?


Neurotechnology is any technology that helps people understand the brain and its aspects of consciousness, thought, and high functioning activities. Neurotechnology also includes technologies that improve and repair brain function. It’s only since the beginning of the 21st century that scientists have made significant progress in the field of neurotechnology. Brain imaging, stimulation, measurement, and cell therapy all have promise for the future as does the developments in brain-digital interfaces. .Already, modern science can image almost all aspects of the brain and, to some degree, control functions of the brain. Neurotechnology can help control depression, over-activation, sleep deprivation and a number of other conditions. Today, scientists have made breakthroughs in translating brain waves to external actions. What will the challenges be as this technology continues to develop? What future uses of neurotechnology have not yet been explored?

Techno Trash

How does the increasing amount of techno trash affect the environment? What happens to your old cell phone, laptop, tablet or computer when it has been discarded? The amount of e-waste is increasing at a rapid pace. These devices contain toxic materials and heavy metals which could damage our environment, resulting in health issues. “Recycling” is usually done in low income countries by workers who are exposed to these toxic materials as they demolish the devices. This offloading puts developing nations at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials while developed nations can dispose of technology with little thought as to the consequences for both people and the environment. How can techno trash recycling be improved? Do the industries producing gadgets and technology need to take a new approach to recycling? Who should be responsible for techno trash disposal? Should it be companies, governments, or consumers?

Wearable Technologies

Clothing and accessories have all been developed to fill a need perceived by the humans willing to wear them. They provide warmth, protection from the elements or injury, and even serve to attract attention. By 2017, some clothing even contained heating elements, internet connections, body monitoring technology and much more. Personal flight suits already allow wearers to imitate soaring birds – will they take individual wearers zipping to work or play without using vehicles? Sports like football and cricket no longer subject players to injury because their clothing protects them completely as well as regulating their body temperature and supporting their muscles and tendons. Wearable technologies will constantly monitor vital signs and send instant reports to medical professionals. Soon clothing may even have a virtual reality function. Wearable technologies may allow for undersea living. What advantages or disadvantages are inherent in the inclusion of technology in our clothing and on our bodies?

Social/Political Topics

Aging Populations

Populations of people in places like Japan and Germany are decreasing, so the number of older people is rising. As countries’ economies become stable, their populations stop rising exponentially. In 2004, Japan’s population decreased for the first time. Soon the population of people in the post-reproductive ages will outnumber young people. (Is this globally or in Japan?) Economies, work forces and social institutions need to adapt and adjust to aging populations. There is an increased need to understand how to support the mental and physical health of elderly populations. How might positive relationships between young and old be fostered? How can knowledge and wisdom from older generations be shared with younger generations? What can difference cultures learn from each other about the ways they care for and respect seniors? What healthcare issues might arise for aging populations? What living facilities might work best for seniors? What is the likely impact on the workforce? Why is it so difficult to resource Aged Care Facilities?

Citizen Journalism

E-Technology and Visual Technology have all but replaced hard copy forms of sharing news. Reports of events are almost instantaneously recorded and broadcast everywhere. The immediacy of social media and the ability of anyone to post their take on events as they happen means that not everything is well written or reported, nor is everything accurate. All writing is influenced to some extent by personal views or bias. It is also limited by the writer’s knowledge of the topic. Almost anyone can write or record anything and post it for others to see. It’s a bit like the game of Telephone played in the 1900s, the information changes as it is passed from person to person. Like the flurry of false news during 2016-2017, could citizen journalism affect how we feel about the events happening around us and how people respond? Will this mean the end of journalism careers? How might future citizen journalism affect society as we know it?

Human Environmental Impact

Humans have always impacted the environment. These impacts increased as industrialization, urbanization, deforestation, processing of natural resources, the burning of fossil fuels and more developed. Feeding the world has adverse environmental impacts. Overgrazing and deforestation to provide land for agriculture induce soil erosion causing loss in soil moisture and fertility. Water pollution due to the use of pesticides and fertilizers is of major concern in many parts of the world. Clearing of land and over fishing result in loss of biodiversity and disturbances to ecosystems.

Industrialization and urbanization cause the release of toxic solid, liquid or gaseous waste materials and are the catalyst for serious environmental hazards. Water pollution as a result of poor disposal of sewage wastes, solid wastes and other industrial wastes, may spread diseases and create an unfit environment for human activities. Industrialization has also increased consumption of natural resources for production of goods, leading to a great loss of nonrenewable resources and excessive waste. Activities like mining and dam construction cause habitat destruction.

What are our challenges moving forward to create the balance between human basic needs and our need to preserve or create an environment that is fit for continued quality human existence and growth?

Nature-Deficit Disorder

Richard Louv, an American journalist created the term “nature deficit disorder” to lament the tendency among children not to spend time outdoors, that he believes has resulted in a wide range of mental and physical problems. He highlighted humans’ intrinsic need for outdoor spaces and nature without which they suffer. In the past, children in developed nations have spent more time in the outdoors, more closely connected to the natural environment. In some countries and societies, children still have these opportunities. The rise in urbanization and dependence on technology may have contributed to children spending less time engaged in nature. Many childhood conditions such as obesity, nearsightedness, hyperactivity, decreased creativity, and depression have all been increasing over the last few decades. How might these be connected to an increase in nature-deficit disorder? How do children who have little contact with nature perceive the world? How might this impact on their understandings and stewardship of the natural environment?

Some critics say it is important to understand dysfunctional cultural practices to adequately address the long term effects of the troubling trend. How does N-DD affect the health of future generations and the health of the planet, and can solutions cross global and cultural boundaries? What role does technology play?

Youth in Competitive Sports

Millions of children around the world are currently participating in competitive youth sports. Proponents report that involvement in sports promotes teamwork, confidence, and teaches important life skills. Competitive sports promote activity and a healthy lifestyle. Further, competitive sports teach young children discipline, the value of hard work, and the importance of teamwork. Opponents of children in sports say that many competitive sports may push young children too hard. Competitive sports can heighten aggression, pressure to do well, and put children at risk for injuries. Sports-related injuries, such as “Little League Elbow,” can plague young people who are still growing and developing. In many places, increasing costs of club sports membership and insurance exclude those who need it most for social interaction and fitness. The costs of maintaining and running facilities can also limit the accessibility to sport for youth. How much should we push young people to participate in competitive sports? Do the benefits of structured competition outweigh the costs of over competitive behavior and possible injury? How does participation in sports impact the well being of families?

Click Here to Vote on 2020 – 21 Topics