Who are your all-time heroes of information technology?

My friend Jeremy Geelan has just posted an interesting question on his blog at Sys-con where he asks: “Who Are The All-Time Heroes of i-Technology?” He is attempting to garner a list of approximately 150 names and then find some means to winnow them down to the Top 20.

Personally, I think that the arbitrary number of 20 is too limiting. It makes more sense to me to catalog a list of names and their innovations over time, as much of the innovation was accomplished by individuals who stood on the shoulders of previous giants, as Einstein would have said.

To simplify and justify my own additions to the list, I went to Dictionary.com to get their definition of hero which was:

1. A person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his/her brave deeds and noble qualities.

2. A person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.


Based on that definition I would certainly nominate some of the following people to be added to the list:

Jaron Lanier: alleged coiner of the term “virtual reality” and generally interesting and eclectic social critic. Nominated for pushing the boundaries technologically but more importantly, having the will to speak up about culture at the same time.

Nicholas Negroponte: father of the MIT Media Lab which was the first place I know of that: didn’t accept military funding, had an open access license for sponsors (where every sponsor got to see every project), and which put a kindergarten near the robotics lab and beside the music studio “because they’re all related.” I’m nominating him for his long-standing dream of building the $100 crank-powered laptop that could be used to bridge the digital divide. It is “impossible” dreams like this that push the human race forward.

Steve Jobs: Nominated for his life-long ambition to unite technology and design, from the very first Mac-Plus (“the computer for the rest of us”), to the NEXT computer, bringing music to the world through the iPod, and through to the reinvention of cellular phones and PDAs with the iPhone.

Jeff Hawkins: For recognizing that in order for a PDA market to be created, he had to throw out all previous assumptions (such as those that drove the failed Apple Newton project) and start with three key principles that drove the entire design: it had to fit in most shirt pockets, it had to work all day without running out of power, and it had to be simple to operate. Even more importantly, in doing so, he sacrificed some key assumptions that had killed other products, namely, that it had to be able to deal with hand-writing recognition. He recognized that that one criteria required too much power and speed to make it a reality and sacrificed it in a bet that won him the fastest product ramp ever up until that point.

Who are YOUR heroes? If you have some, why not link to Jeremy’s blog post and tell us about your own heroes?