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January 16, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 4:00pm

Top 10 tech revolutionaries of 2013

We pick ten of the most inspiring people in technology from the past year, who have changed the way we work, live and think about innovation.

By Kate Heslop

2013 was a turbulent year for technology, with huge new releases, exciting innovations and enough hacking scandals to fill tabloids for months. It was the year that saw the NSA fall from grace and the world began to embrace wearable technology and 3D printing. The year saw the loss of some technology greats, and the rise of some fantastic startups.

We pick ten of the best technology pioneers of 2013. Whether they have been very busy this past year, or just simply making their name and cause known, we hope you’ll agree that they are worthy of being on this list.


10. Evan Spiegel

Evan Spiegel

Spiegel is the 23 year old CEO and founder of Snapchat, the photo messaging app that became the ‘it’ app for 2013. In June 2013, Snapchat acquired $60m in funding led by Institutional Venture Partners and the app’s 5.0 version ‘Banquo’ was released for iOS and Android.

The company came under a lot of scrutiny over data security after a security breach exposing users’ details, but they have managed to come out on top after a (rather delayed) apology. Spiegel has been branded smug and naïve after he turned down a $3bn acquisition offer from Facebook in November, but his courage and confidence in his brand is impressive and has secured his place as one of the most important tech figures of 2013. I predict that he will be one to watch in 2014, as Snapchat continues to appeal to younger audiences that once favoured Facebook.

9. Dr Mark Post and Sergey Brin

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Dr Mark Post

Sergey Brin

I have included two people within one number of the countdown as one simply doesn’t work without the other in this case. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, had reportedly invested around £215,000 in a project to produce synthetic meat in a lab for animal welfare reasons.

The man behind the daunting project is Dr Mark Post, a physiologist at Maastricht University. The investment by Brin allowed Post and his team to grow 20,000 muscle fibres from cow stem cells over three months, extract the fibres from the culture wells and then press them together to create a hamburger. The project aimed to seek to discover if lab-grown meat could be the answer to two key problems: world hunger and the environmental impact of excessive meat consumption; two very contrasting problems that split our world between the dangers of both poverty and greed.

The project was expensive and time consuming, but at least the effort, imagination and the start of progression is there. Could 2014 be the year that lab-grown meat becomes easier to create, cheaper, more efficient and more accepted? If so, these are the two guys we should be thanking.

8. Gabe Newell

Gabe newell

Newell is the co-founder and managing director of Valve Corporation, a video game developing company. He is arguably one of the most prominent names in the video gaming industry, and the Valve brand looks to be unstoppable.

In February 2013, Steam for Linux became available and users were able to download the Steam client for free from Ubuntu. When other consoles focused on the hardware, Valve looked to the future of gaming. In September of last year, Steam announced a family sharing feature that allowed users to share their Steam games libraries with family and friends, a service that was created in direct response to users’ requests.

Steam has an estimated 65 million users and has announced the release of its much anticipated Steam Machine for early 2014. The already successful company looks set to take on the gaming industry full throttle this year with guidance and inspiration from its MD, who received the BAFTA Fellowship Award in March 2013 for his outstanding and exceptional creative contribution to the video games industry.

7. Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer

Ballmer has been serving as the CEO of Microsoft for almost 14 years now and knows a thing or two about good business ventures. Although he is leaving his post this year, he has led the company from strength to strength over the past decade and last year was no exception, so I think he deserves to be on this list. Microsoft released its hotly anticipated new console, the Xbox One, in 2013, with more than 3 million sold before the new year. Microsoft also acquired Nokia’s mobile phone business in September for $7.2bn, while its Windows Phone sales produced a year-over-year growth rate of 156% in 2013.

6. Tim Cook

Tim Cook

The CEO of Apple and the successor to Steve Jobs was never going to be an easy task. He has faced criticism over Apple’s lack of innovation, however that didn’t stop Apple devotees around the world queuing for days for the new Apple 5S and 5C smartphones, and the success of the iPad Air and new iPad mini releases in 2013. Apple also acquired PrimeSense for a reportedly $345m, a 3D sensing firm in Israel in November and released plans in the same month for a new Arizona plant that would create 2,000 jobs, with the aim of boosting component manufacturing in the US. Cook has revealed that Apple is working on "amazing" new products to be released this Autumn.

5. Larry Page

Larry Page

Page is the CEO and co-founder of Google, which continues to be one of the most important companies in not only the tech industry, but the world. Google+ is fast becoming the new online network to join, with many predicting it will be the next big thing in 2014. A report from the NPD group found that Google’s Chromebook outsold Apple’s Macbook in the US last year, with Chromebook sales seeing a 9.4% increase in market share compared to the year before, while Apple’s notebooks only accounted for 1.8% of the market, which was a drop from last year’s share. Google also spun the wearable tech market on its head with the development of Google Glass, glasses that act as wearable computers that allow users to take pictures, shoot videos, map your route and even perform language translations. And as far as 2014 is concerned, I definitely can’t see Google slowing down, with the release of Google Glass expected in April.

4. Barnaby Jack

Barnaby Jack

Barnaby Jack was a notorious hacker, programmer and computer security expert and enthusiast. He rose to fame in 2010 at a Black Hat conference when he gave a talk on "jackspotting", the act of hacking cash machines by withdrawing cash without actually taking money from a bank account. This presentation changed the way people thought of malware in real life situations rather than just on computers, as he demonstrated hacking attacks involving both physical access to the ATMs and automated remote access.

Jack was due to give another controversial presentation on hacking heart implants at the Black Hat 2013 conference but he passed away a week before. Jack had developed software that allowed him to send remote electric shocks to people wearing pacemakers within a 50-foot radius, which along with other developments, exposed the vulnerabilities of certain medical devices. These developments could potentially one day save lives and help to make medical devices more secure in the future.

3. Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

Swartz was an American computer programmer and internet activist who became the name and face of online hacking and internet freedom in 2012 and 2013. He passed away in January of last year, with claims that he committed suicide possibly due to the stress related to a potentially lengthy jail sentence. This led to Anonymous and other internet activists seeking to change the way online hacking cases were dealt with, by questioning internet freedom.

Swartz created the popular Internet community website Reddit and helped to develop the code behind RSS. He created his first web application at just 13 and was co-founder of Demand Progress, which promotes online campaigns and social justice issues. Swartz faced a trial over allegations that he targeted JSTOR, an online publishing company, by downloading millions of articles with the intent of distributing them online for free. Although Swartz did not publish any of the articles and returned all copies, he was still charged with multiple felonies and faced decades in jail and $1m in fines.

His death was both tragic and eye-opening, as it shone a light on the way internet freedom was being restricted and activists were being punished. Last year introduced Aaron’s Law, named after Swartz, which is a bill aimed at amending the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

2. Anonymous

Anonymous

Although Anonymous is not just one person, it is a collective that acts as one, aiming to change the way we look at online security, and its protests and hacks have been making headlines throughout 2013. Anonymous saw one of its hackers, Jeremy Hammond, jailed in November last year for a maximum of ten years following his hack of Stratfor in 2011.

Earlier in the year, the hacktivist collective also put a lot of focus on the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) law that is used to prosecute hackers, after the death of internet activist Aaron Swartz. In a tribute to him, Anonymous hacked the MIT website with a quote from Swartz: "There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture."

The group also targeted several key websites including the US Sentencing Commission website and other government sites. For Presidents’ Day in February, Anonymous hacked into a US State Department system and leaked work email addresses for more than 170 US State Department employees. In the same month it leaked credentials for 4,000 US banking executives, and in a separate attack, announced that it had discovered a hacker-profiling operation being run by the Bank of America.

In an act of revenge, it then released 14GB of data and software that is related to the Bank of America, Bloomberg, Thomas Reuters, TEK Systems and ClearForest. In June, after the Snowden whistleblowing case came to light, Anonymous demanded a full pardon of Snowden and started a White House petition asking for his pardon that received 60,000 signatures in two days.

1. Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Snowden was the definitive face of internet freedom, NSA snooping and private data concerns in 2013. The former NSA contractor revealed extensive internet and phone surveillance by the US government, starting a debate on mass surveillance techniques and data privacy issues. He leaked the documents to the Guardian, which then struck a partnership with the New York Times to access the documents and continue reporting on the stories together, in both the UK and the US. Snowden told the Guardian why he leaked the NSA documents: "I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things…I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded."

The first surveillance program to be revealed was PRISM, which allowed the government to access US Google and Yahoo accounts. The leaks also revealed that the NSA was searching email content, tracking the location of mobile devices and hacking telecom firms. People knew that the NSA and other government organisations would be keeping track of citizens somehow, but the public was shocked at the extent of it. Snowden highlighted the need for privacy in his Christmas Day alternative speech on Channel 4 and made it his goal for the world to know about the government’s mass surveillance policies.

These leaks and revelations have made the world a more paranoid place, but Snowden has given everyone an insight into their privacy and how they can start questioning those who intrude it. After winning the Guardian’s Person of the Year award, and making headlines across the world since June, there is no doubt that 2013 would have been a very different year if it wasn’t for Edward Snowden.

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