Modern Minds That Changed the World

Whether you call them visionaries, iconoclasts, or just plain nerds, the 21st century has been ushered in by a new breed of geeks—individuals whose brilliance has stretched beyond science and technology and encoded itself into the very DNA of popular...
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Whether you call them visionaries, iconoclasts, or just plain nerds, the 21st century has been ushered in by a new breed of geeks—individuals whose brilliance has stretched beyond science and technology and encoded itself into the very DNA of popular...

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Whether you call them visionaries, iconoclasts, or just plain nerds, the 21st century has been ushered in by a new breed of geeks—individuals whose brilliance has stretched beyond science and technology and encoded itself into the very DNA of popular culture. Take a look at how it all began for four of these bigger-than-life brainiacs.

Mark Zuckerberg

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It’s hard to remember a time when social media wasn’t a part of our daily lives. And for the over 950 million Facebook users around the globe, that change is thanks in large part to the social networking company’s Founder, Chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg who, in eight years, transformed the way people socialize.

Launched out of his Harvard University dorm room in 2004, Facebook began as no more than an online college directory. Since then, Mark Zuckerberg can be credited with giving millions of people around the world a new way to stay connected with friends and family and to discover what’s going on in their communities.

But while Facebook’s membership continues to grow, 2012 has proved a rocky time for the company. By September 2012, the #1 social networking firm lost nearly half its stock value since going public in May and, for his share, Zuckerberg has lost more than $9 billion.

Steve Jobs

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When Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer on October 5, 2011, many accounts portrayed the founder of Apple as a modern-day Edison with a Midas touch. But the San Francisco-born Jobs had his share of setbacks before putting glossy high tech gadgets in the hands of the masses with such products as the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad.

Frustrated by school as a child, Jobs never graduated from college. In 1976, he started Apple computer in his parents’ garage with and Steve Wozniak. Together, they turned the outfit into a $2 billion company in just 10 years. Eventually, however, Jobs found himself “getting fired” (as he put it) at the age of 30. His subsequent act, a tech company called NeXT, Inc., failed to find commercial success.

In 1986, Jobs mounted his comeback when he purchased an animation company from George Lucas, which would later be called Pixar Animation Studios. (In 2006, Disney would purchase Pixar for $7.4 billion.) In 1997, Jobs returned as Apple’s CEO and is credited for the company’s renaissance.

“I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple,” Jobs said at a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. “It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love.”

Bill Gates

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Prior to the appearance of Windows, using a computer was largely a daunting, scary task. Starting a program meant typing in commands, and if there was a mouse on your desk, you needed to call an exterminator.

Before Bill Gates made home computing accessible—taking the graphical interface mainstream—computers remained a mystery to all but the most sophisticated PC users. Now, an estimated one billion PCs worldwide use Windows, making Microsoft’s logo the one that most people see when they log on in the mornings.

Stephen Hawking

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Author of the New York Times bestseller, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking is known for making hard concepts easy to grasp. It’s his highly accessible writing that has helped casual readers understand questions like: How did the universe begin? Does the universe have an end? What exactly is a black hole?

A graduate of Cambridge University, Hawking has spent his life exploring the basic laws of the universe. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease on his 21st birthday, he was given only a few years to live. But he has gone on to have an illustrious life: publishing extensively, earning twelve honorary degrees, holding the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for 30 years, and appearing in a Simpsons episode.

Married with three children and three grandchildren, Hawking has achieved worldwide recognition despite being wheelchair-bound and dependent on a voice synthesizer (which the Oxford-born physicist complains gives him an American accent).