Most interesting people of 2015 in technology

Here are the movers and shakers who shape the tech universe around you

Published Date
28 - Dec - 2015
| Last Updated
31 - Dec - 2015
 
Most interesting people of 2015 in technology

 

2015 like every year was a year of some exciting scientific and technological breakthroughs. This article though is not to highlight these breakthroughs but rather look at the people who were the driving force behind them.  Think of this article is an ode to to all those awesome talents that are daily striving to push the envelope and in the process shaping the very way we live. Obviously, an entire book could be written about the most exciting people in tech/science, 2015, but we choose only an handful of them here. Make no mistake, these people are at the very edge of science and technology and the reason we label them as exciting is because given their recent exploits their contributions could indeed have a far reaching impact. Our list is a mix of various leaders who at the helm of these innovative efforts and engineers and scientists who are in charge of turning ideas to real tangible products.

1. Simon Segars 
While Simon Segars is the CEO of ARM Holdings, a leading semiconductor and software design company that is responsible for a majority of the processors we find in our devices today, that alone is not enough to put him on this list.  What sets Segar’s, an engineer by education, apart, is his effort to use modern technology to bridge the social and economic divide between various factions of the world and society.  In 2015, ARM teamed up with UNICEF to initiate innovation in wearable technologies and use wearable devices to actually help children and improve healthcare and education standards. Currently most innovations hardly penetrate down to underdeveloped countries and economics and geography play act as limiting factors. Segars, along with UNICEF aims build an environment that ensures that potentially impacting technology is scaled up and used for social welfare and benefit.  The ARM-UNICEF partnership is a multi-year one and the basic question that they want to address is -Can wearable technology be the next step in mobile revolution and can we design devices that brings this revolution to the people and children who need it the most?


Simon Segars: CEO, ARM Holdings

2. Chris Anderson   
Remember the quadcopter that Aamir Khan flies in the hit Bollywood flick 3 Idiots? Well, Chris Anderson flies quadcopters and much more.  Chris Anderson has quite the stellar resume. He has held positions at the Economist, Wired and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was also the editor for Nature and Science, the two leading academic journals. It is however his work at 3D Robotics, which he co-founded and is the CEO of, that puts him on this list. 3D Robotics is USA’s largest commercial drone manufacturer. Drones are basically unmanned aerial vehicles, typically small in size. They have applications in fields like reconnaissance, mapping and surveillance besides it’s more controversial application in warfare. Chris’s company released Solo, billed as the worlds first smart drone, in May 2015.  Solo has some amazing capabilities and is powered by a onboard computer that allows it to perform a variety of tasks. A smart drone of this nature opens up a multitude of avenues in exploration, filmaking, photography and even agriculture. What is even more impressive is that instead of patenting every minute addition in the product like other tech giants, 3DRobotics, under Chris takes an almost Android route by relying on open software and hardware. 3Drobotics is indeed one of the founding members of Dronecode – a platform to promote collaboration on open source drone technology. With an almost radical approach to innovation , Chris Anderson is an influential and exciting tech personality who is sure to create larger waves in the future.


CEO of 3D Robotics Chris Anderson with a drone

3. Demis Hassabis  
This child prodigy could have made the list last year when his startup Deep Mind got acquired by Google. But so revolutionary is his work in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that he features on our list this year. Demis is a lauded game designer and a champion mind ninja besides having a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience and AI. His work centers around taking inspiration from the miraculous power of the brain and translating it into computer algorithms to give machines intelligence. In 2015 Google reveled that it had made an AI system capable of learning video games. Now, while this has been done before for eg. IBM’s Deep Blue played Chess, Google’s AI learned and mastered more than one game. According to experts this versatility comes from the fact that the system  is based on the architecture of a brain and can learn from experience, gradually learning to master the task based on past experiences. The level of sophistication and closeness to the workings in the brain is a huge breakthrough in AI technology and Hassabis’s research division at Deep Mind is at it’s forefront. Application for such algorithms are easy to imagine. Google’s self driven cars could learn from experience rather then being hard coded or taught. The learning system can be adapted to allow machines to perform a wide range of challenging tasks that was hardly possible some time ago. Some scientists believe that these brain inspired algorithms can unravel mysteries, not only in computing but the brain’s working as well. Demis Hassabis research and work at Google’s Deep Mind is trend setting, exciting and revolutionary. He is arguably one of the hottest properties in the popular field of AI and the 2015 reveal of the Atari games mastering AI gives him a spot on our list.  


Google’s Deep Mind is where Demis works on cutting edge A.I technology

4. Elon Musk 
Musk has been called by some as the Tony Stark of our generation. More than anything else Musk is a visionary leader whose gutsy and revolutionary approach to engineering has led to pioneering breakthroughs. The scale at which Musk operates and his sheer bravado should guarantee him a spot on the list but then in 2015 Musk’s company Tesla launched Powerall – a home battery designed to ensure efficient use of power and grid independence. Critically, this battery technology will enable energy storage and thus hasten the introduction of other renewable sources of energy for commercial day to day usage. Powerall could start a paradigm shift in the way people, especially in developed countries, consume power. It is smart and exciting product and could very well be the game changer in the power market.  
Elon Musk dropped out from Stanford’s Ph. D program after just two days, in 1994 to pursue his entrepreneurial interests, and pursue them he did. Musk  co-founded PayPal which became a huge success in the Internet business sphere. Musk’s other companies namely Tesla and SpaceX however are far more revolutionary and rake up much attention these days. Tesla is pioneering innovations in electric cars and smart energy while SpaceX...well SpaceX aims to put people on Mars! At SpaceX, Musk and his team of brilliant engineers and Scientists are continuously raising the bar for rocket and space technology. In 2015 SpaceX almost succeeded at a reusable rocket launch test. Reusable rockets can be a short in the arm that space exploration needs and  it can drastically reduce the cost of space flight. Elon Musk has always gunned for innovations that can truly have global impact. Whether it maybe the announcing a futuristic design for reshaping travel systems (hyperloop) or announcing plans to send people (not 1 but 80000) to colonize Mars, this genius billionaire has not shied away from thinking and investing out of the box and it looks like that strategy is paying off great for him. 


Genius billionaire Elon Musk

5. Yunji Chen  
So far in the list we have paid to people who are innovators sure, but are mostly associated with a larger corporation like Demis Hassabis who is the Vice President of Engineering at Google. This entry on the list though is a professor affiliated with an institute rather than a billion dollar firm. Yunji Chen is young and brilliant. His research field is something that can radically alter computing devices and allow our current machines to make a massive generation leap. Yunji’s work focuses on a field in computer science called deep learning which has caught the fancy of everyone recently due to it’s widespread application. Deep learning basically allows a computing machine to sieve through large amounts of data and train itself to complete tasks rather then being manually trained. The catch is that this is extremely resource intensive and the current models are of little practical use. Yunji’s research team in China design processors specifically built for handling such neural network applications and his latest designs show that a multifold increase coupled with a large decrease in power consumption is not stuff of dreams. What Yunji Chen’s research does is create hope that someday our personal computers and even mobile phones and tablets will be equipped with such powerful processors that can collect data and learn on the move. Ever heard of the Google Brain project? Yes the same one that trained a system to recognize cats sometime back. Think of a mini Google Brain in each and every hand held device. The possibilities are endless. It’s a machine learning goldmine. 

6. Alex Kipman  
When Satya Nadella was announced as the new CEO of the tech giant Microsoft people in India rejoiced and others in the tech world wondered if Nadella would be able to shepherd Microsoft to restore it lost stronghold as the center of innovation and creativity in technology. In 2015 Nadella announced Microsoft’s latest baby – Project HoloLens which is clearly a very ambitious project which is pulled of could change the very way we interact with the digital world. Alex Kipman is the man however who is credited as this project’s chief inventor, the man largely responsible for all the wonderful technology leaps made in this project. Kipman made waves when he last created Kinect, Microsoft successful motion sensor which has since then allowed many developers to realize their ideas. Project HoloLens is  a whole different ball game. It is essentially a virtual reality headset and in that sense not too different from Oculus Rift’s product. But the level of sophistication, innovation and capability possessed by this project is awesome to say the least. Sample this. HoloLens packs a punch with not only an onboard CPU but an onboard GPU and first of its kind Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) that allows the headset to gather,process and project data realtime. An advanced light engine is designed for enhancing the perception of holograms and a combination of all this cutting edge engineering and computer science allows the user to experience a simulated environment and an augmented reality like never before.  While Project HoloLens has received a major boost under Nadella’s reign and he is after all the ultimate go to guy but it’s Alex Kipman’s innovation that is the very heart and soul of the project. Project HoloLens when announced created widespread frenzy and all eyes are on Kipman to see if he can truly deliver a tangible product. For this amazing promo however he makes it to the list of exciting people we are looking out for in the future.


Microsoft’s ambitious Project HoloLens

7. Herman Narula  
Narula is the son of a billionaire construction mogul but far from construction his interests lie in revolutionizing the gaming industry. Narula along with a few of friends from Cambridge University completed their education in Computer Science and decided to start a company called Improbable. Now most of you will be familiar with Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s) like the World of Warcraft. Making games of that scale wherein users actually play the game in an environment that is interconnected and dynamic is incredibly difficult. Rules of physics and biology usually take a backseat in order to bring the game to life. Improbable aims to change that by creating tools for game developers that help them create such complex simulations that are realistic. Complex simulations like this generate large amount of data. A single user’s action should in effect have repercussions on the entire fabric of the simulated environment and so on. Improbable’s platform can actually be modified to study and simulate any such complex systems like a human body, a disease outbreak or even a localized weather system. In fact, Improbable’s platform is currently being used by economists at Oxford to study U.K’s housing system and the company is in talks with other clients that need to study large interconnected systems. This year Bossa studios announced the release of an ambitious game project called Worlds Adrift that is based on Improbable’s amazing complex system simulation platform.  What Improbable has now made possible is that developers can make games that feel real, scientists can study systems like the human immune system in all its glorious detail and economists can study the ups and down of a nation’s economy. Studies that were limited by scale now can be efficiently scaled up thanks to Narula’ s company. He is definitely a young guy to watch out for.


Screenshot from a popular MMORPG game. Improbable’s platform can help elevate such games to a whole new level

8. Mike Cassidy  
Besides being a trained musician and an aerospace engineer Mike Cassidy is in charge of one of the most ambitious projects that arguably one of the most ambitious company in the world has taken up in recent times: Google’s Project Loon.  Project Loon is Google’s plan to bring Internet to even the most remote location by using giant balloons and Cassidy is the project head at Google X, Google’s secretive innovation lab. Cassidy has been the founder of more than one successful startup and it was only a matter of time before his dormant talents as an aerospace engineer would be clubbed with his knack for emergent computer technology would be combined for use at Project Loon.  Designed as a large global scale scientific experiment these balloons would essentially float up high in the sky and act as towers of Internet providing LTE access to multiple locations. The balloons obviously are not your traditional hot air balloons but have a robust design and are equipped with a fair share of sensors etc for efficient navigation. High up in the stratosphere there are plenty of challenges and hence a viable industrial scale design is no mean feat. Google is still in testing phase but the Loon team is optimistic and this is a technology that unlike Google’s previous bets – Glass and Self driven Car will surely see the light of the day and that too soon. In 2015 Google tied up with officials in Sri Lanka and Indonesia in what is the company’s largest target set for the Loon project till date. Cassidy has done a great job in creating this brilliant technology that could someday achieve the target of 100% Internet cover on Earth and bolster improvements in sectors like healthcare and education. 


A Project Loon Balloon

9. Julia Greer  
Julia Greer is a researcher at the prestigious California Institute of Technology and her work is proof that fundamental research can result in applicable technology. Greer’s area of expertise is building nanoscale architecture  to create novel materials with novel applications. It has often been observed that the traditional rules that can be applied without worry at length scales that our eye can perceive, break down when we go to the nanoscale. It is precisely dabbling at those scales that led to Greer coming up with a super ceramic that is  very light, ultra strong and not brittle! The applications of such a material are amazing. Because these materials are so light they can used as composites for building applications as they would provide strength without adding much to the weight load. Materials like these could also be used for coating applications where they might act against wear and tear. Because these materials are so small they can be fitted in a multitude of devices and modified for a variety of control applications. So far this wonder born out of nanofabrication advances has not made it to the world outside. For one, scaling up the process of production of these magic materials is not really obvious and is something that must be looked into. Greer and her students are working in novel production procedures and it will be really interesting to see where her research finally leads. 

10. Ido Bachelet  
Nanotechnolgy is really living up to its promise as researchers are slowly but surely developing tools to harness its full potential. Ido Bachelet makes nanorobots for a specific application – to kill cancer cells. Bachelet, who completed his Ph. D at Israel did post doctoral stints at MIT and Harvard before coming back home and beginning his research. Recently Bachelet revealed that he had succeeded in creating nanorobots that could specifically target cancer cells and destroy them without causing collateral damage. Nanorobots are basically small structures made from designed strands of DNA. They are so small that they can easily be injected into the bloodstream and carry a payload of drugs at specific sites. Now the bots are designed to assume a specific shape and carry in it a payload which is only released when the bot finds a specific cell which has the requisite structure to ‘unlock’ this structure and release the payload of drugs. Thus these nanobots could actually target only specific cancer cells and effectively destroy it without killing healthy cells.  Tests on animals have proven to be successful and Ido claims that the method can be adapted to fix other body defects like spinal cord injuries. In 2015 pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that they are collaborating with Bachelet’s team to further his research. Also Bachelet revealed that the DNA nanorobots will be used to treat a terminally ill Leukemia patient. This test could mark a watershed moment not only in Science but in all of human history. Cancer has been mans greatest adversary for a long time and maybe Ido Bachelet’s DNA nanorobots could finally be the weapon we need to achieve the holy grail of medicine. 


Ido Bachelet : Using Nanotechnolgy to solve cancer

11. Charles Leiber   
For years, scientists have been probing the insides of the brain to study its various intricacies . But most developed probes cause tissue scarring and this leads to corruption of the obtained signal. Charles Leiber’s team at Harvard along with a list of collaborators have now come up with a revolutionary technique where they develop a nanoscale structure, a mesh of sorts that is electronic in nature and is composed of nanowires. This can then be injected via a normal syringe and then the structure electronics input/output can be connected to measurement and control devices to monitor,simulate or even regenerate neurons. The nanoscale scaffolding structure is very flexible, ultra flexible infact and once injected it unfolds with its sensors now able to attach to a specific site and monitor the activity of a localized neuron – a practical impossibility before this breakthrough. These flexible electronic structures hold immense potential in brain science and allow scientists to study specific sections of the brains without damaging native tissue. These devices can also be then used in the future for treatment of neurogenitive diseases and adopted to test for fracture and small scale failure in mechanical materials as well. Not only is this a huge breakthrough in medicine but a huge breakthrough in nanoelectronics as well.  With work that holds promise as Leiber’s his is a research lab that most definitely earns a spot on this list. This is cutting edge engineering and science at its very best and innovative. 

12. Satya Nadella  
We spoke about Satya Nadella in the context of his quote in our other post already. Nadella was announced as the CEO of USA’s tech giant Microsoft in 2014 and it marked a critical step in the company;s future. For years Microsoft pushed for promotion of Windows on all computing machines which till sometime ago basically meant computers. This meant that it was late to hop on to not only the Internet bandwagon but also the Mobile revolution which resulted in innovation coming from Google and Apple to take over. Nadella taking over the CEO has almost infused Microsoft with a new purpose, a breath of fresh air.  In 2015 Microsoft’s tech launch of Windows 10 was an amazing success. The Microsoft line of phones that are based on the Lumia line are slowly becoming relevant. Notably the phone can be tethered to be used as a conventional PC and this is something that Nadella noted would be useful in the developing world where people can afford phones but not computers. Microsoft line of tablets along with it’s first laptop, the Surface Book has been receiving some great reviews and sales have picked up. 2015 also marked the year Microsoft announced their ambitious virtual reality environment – HoloLens. It’s been a year under Nadella and already we are seeing glimpses of the innovation Microsoft was capable of but somehow detached from for the past few years. Under Nadella’s easy going, fresh and consumer centric approach Microsoft seems to be heading into an exciting and profitable period in its life. This will make things really interesting as now we can expect some great products and technologies coming from Microsoft, besides the usual dished out from the folks over at Facebook, Google and Apple. Primarily for waking up a sleeping giant and spearheading some truly great projects Nadella makes for an exciting personality. 


Satya Nadella : CEO of Microsoft

13. Yuri Milner  
Sometimes great scientific discoveries are hindered due to shortage of resources and many a times great science is under appreciated. This Russian billionaire has made it his aim to prevent the above from happening. Trained as a physicist Milner was however disappointed in himself as a physicist and decided to go ahead and get an MBA.  In 2012 Milner established the Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences,  Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. The prizes are funded by Milner, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Jack Ma among others and their combined funding makes these prizes the largest prize in academia. In 2015 Milner however funded another initiative that gained him widespread attention. He announced a funding of 10 million $ for the Breakthrough Listen initiative that will start the most sophisticated and sensitive search for extraterrestrial life! He also announced an additional million dollars a year for a competition to select messages to depict Earth and humanity for aliens to decode. On the outside this may sound like a crazy proposition but a concentrated effort like this can finally resolve the Fermi Paradox : Why haven’t we found alien life in a universe that is so massive? Kudos to Milner for his efforts and his using his money to further a cause that receives little serious attention otherwise. 


Yuri Milner with his wife Julia