10 unsung heroes of modern technology

So we all know about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Enough already! If we hear one more salient detail about the leading CEOs of tech companies and what car they drive, the T-shirts they wear or what they ate for lunch in fourth grade, we're going to blow a gasket. We just don't care anymore.

Instead, we wanted to get to the unheralded superstars of tech who are hunkered down in the trenches, inventing new products and paving the wave for a utopian society - or at least they're making our commute more bearable or our mobile phone behave like it should.

1. Andy Wilson
We first met Andy Wilson a few months ago. His lab looks like something from the set of a Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie. Right now, he is working on new touch interfaces that use physics for interaction; objects that bump into one another, have weight and physical properties virtualized on a table-top display. He's part of Microsoft Research, an 800-person invention lab working on 50 projects.

2. Lars Bak
You've heard of Sergey Brin and Larry Page. But Lars Bak is a Tech Lead Manager at Google who led the development of V8, a new JavaScript engine that powers large web applications. It's really the brains inside Google Chrome and what makes the modern browser run fast. Bak is based in the Aarhus, Denmark office, overseeing a team of 20 engineers. (The original dev office was located on his converted farm.) He holds 18 patents and has 20 years of experience building virtual machines.

3. Dan Morgan
Morgan is a systems and electrical engineer at Texas Instruments. His main claim to fame is that he was the systems engineer for the DLP Pico projection reference design. Pico is a proof-of-concept for small devices that allows you to project an image onto a wall or a portable screen. According to Morgan, while past years have seen the proliferation of built-in cameras on mobile phones, Pico may become just as common on mobiles in 2009 for projecting a video image. Pass the popcorn!

4. Anette 'Peko' Hosoi
An MIT Professor, Hosoi is known for creating robot creatures that can walk and imitate their real-world counterparts. Her robosnails project became a sensation back in 2003, but she is about to unveil a new roboclam project (shh, no one is supposed to know about it yet).

5. Stuart Parkin
You don't become an IBM Fellow just by attending a lot of meetings. Based at the IBM Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, Stuart Parkin earned the distinction by creating new hard disk technologies such as magnetic RAM (MRAM), the spin valve and Magnetic Tunnel Junctions (MTJs). He is now working on a non-volatile memory similar to flash that uses nanoscopic wires capable of storing about 100 times more data than current non-volatile memory technology.

6. Eric Demers
Another Fellow on our list, Eric Demers works at AMD and developed the R300 and R600 graphics technologies, which pushed the envelope as far as rendering. You know those Gears of War settings on a PC where you can add detail to make the scene realistic? You can thank Demers for that.

7. Manny Oliver
This Motorola wunderkind is developing new touch interfaces and wearable designs for Motorola phones. He is the manager of haptics and wearable research, and was instrumental in developing lithium ion polymer battery technology and microfluidic 'lab on chip' devices. If you have ever used the ROKR E8 or ZN5, then you're familiar with his inventive 'piezoelectric haptics' feedback sensation.

8. Justin Rattner
Justin Rattner is a Senior Fellow, CTO, and VP at Intel - but that's why we're including him on this list. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was one of the big thinkers who realized that single CPU technology would eventually evolve into parallel processing, clusters and distributed computing. Now, everyone realizes that's the future, with Intel planning as many as 80-core parallel systems in the next 10-15 years.

9. Stan Williams
Stan Williams was the lead researcher who discovered a concept called the memristor, which is a fourth element used in integrated circuits that can turn on and off like a light switch. He's an HP Fellow, and Director of Information and Quantum Systems Lab. Currently, he is working on the CeNSE project, which seeks to learn how nanoparticles can change how humans interact with the planet.

10. Jeff Bonwick
If you think the term 'slab allocator' has to do with construction work, you're wrong. It's a caching technique used in most operating systems, invented by Jeff Bonwick, who is currently the Storage CTO, a distinguished engineer, and a Fellow at Sun Microsystems. He holds 50 patents and is currently working on a new file system called ZFS that uses transactional semantics for reliable storage.

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John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.