Tech Scholars and Innovators Honored in List of Top Thinkers


technology, innovators, scholars, awardsThe highly regarded journal Foreign Policy has released its list of the 100 most influential thinkers of 2012, and tech innovators claim a healthy portion of the list.

Coming in below just three other people in the world is Sebastian Thrun, the Google fellow and computer scientist behind the Google driverless car. “Not since Henry Ford’s Model T brought driving to the American masses at the turn of the 20th century has a motor vehicle so promised to revolutionize global transportation,” the editors wrote of Thrun.

In fifth place come Bill and Melinda Gates. They’re honored for their charitable work rather than for Bill’s work at Microsoft, but Gates’ splash in charity boils down to the way he has brought data-driven problem solving into the arena. Foreign Policy honors him “for daring to imagine a better everything.”

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg share spot 31, honored for showing that women can have high-powered careers and a family life.

“Between the two execs, the endless compromises and contradictions of the modern working woman were laid bare, prompting a searingly honest debate about women in power at a time when only a handful have made their way to its most exclusive corridors. Maybe the world is finally beginning to realize that a generation of mothers is going to need to figure out how to get to the top — and stay there,” the editors said of the women.

(Zuck was not on the list.)

Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, who now runs SpaceX, rounded out the top 30.

Stanford computer scientists Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, who are behind one effort to make college education more accessible with online courses, are also honored. Other such efforts exist, including one led by Sebastian Thrun. But only Ng and Koller’s Coursera partners with brick-and-mortar universities, including Stanford and Princeton University, and offers a wide range of courses not just in math and science but also the humanities.

Tech security expert Eugene Kaspersky earned the 40th spot for unwinding the DNA strands of the the Stuxnet worm and Flame Virus, illustrating that international cyberwarfare is no longer exclusively the domain of science fiction.

A second Googler made the list: Kai-Fu Lee, the head of Google China. As an investor, Lee has poured money into developing Chinese tech entrepreneurs.

Social media researcher danah boyd [she has legally de-capitalized her name] squeaked into the bottom of the list. Boyd studies the power dynamics of social networks, an important thing to do since so many of us use them.

In fact, several people on the list have garnered much of their influence over social media. Melala Yousafzai, the injured teen activist for girls’ rights under the Taliban regime who appeared in the top 10 most influential thinkers, first gained public attention with a blog post.

The political punk band Pussy Riot, who rank 16th, had their challenge to Russian authoritarianism amplified on social networks including Twitter and YouTube.

For Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, technology is his genre. Ai filmed himself in his apartment, mimicking state surveillance, and posted updates to his Twitter feed. The artist told Foreign Policy in a previous interview, “Twitter is my city, my favorite city.”

Brace for top 10, 50 and 100 lists to become an increasingly popular meme on social networks in the dwindling days of 2012.

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