Behind every great innovation, breakthrough technology, or life-changing machine, there are people who worked to make it a reality. These people deserve a little damn credit.
Not just anybody made our list of tech heroes for 2012. If a company moves technology forward with innovation, that just means that its executives and engineers are doing their jobs. This isn't about keeping the ship afloat—it's about going far beyond expectations. Here's a look at the people who really deserve the title 2012 tech hero. Don't agree with us? Feel free to chime in with your own nominations.
Felix Baumgartner jumped to Earth from space
Does this even need explanation? On October 14th, 2012, this motherf*cker jumped out of a balloon from space, broke the sound barrier in a custom space suit, and landed on Earth without dying. WHAT?!?! You know how you had that dream one time of playing professional baseball, inventing something, or traveling somewhere far-flung? Yeah, you still haven't done it, huh? Well, Baumgartner said, "I want to skydive from space." He figured out how to do it, assembled a team that could build the technology he needed, and then accomplished his goal.
Andy Rubin and Matias Duarte finally made Android awesome
Until 2012, Android was second best. For all its flexibility, both the operating system and hardware just fell short of what you could get from iOS. That's just not true anymore. Jelly Bean is just as fast and excellent as the Apple counterpart, and Google's latest batch of Nexus devices—especially the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7—are spectacular. As the men at the helm of Android, Andy Rubin and Matias Duarte did the unthinkable by making Android a sensible alternative to Apple's walled ecosystem.
Image via Google+ & Wikipedia
Nate Silver predicted the election with math, not spin
How is it possible that even as the presidential campaign appeared to be a photo finish victory for President Barack Obama, New York Times statistician Nate Silver was basically sure Obama would win all along? Because Nate Silver used actual mathematics to determine what was going on. While most members of the media would use poll numbers to tell whatever story suited their agenda, Nate Silver crunched his numbers to predict more accurately than anyone else what would happen. Election night proved him right, and scored a victory for science. He is indeed a man of many talents.
Image via AP
Bob Iger rescued Star Wars from George Lucas
As the man behind Star Wars and technology powerhouses like Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas is an undeniable genius. But it's been a very long time since he did anything useful or productive with that genius. Someone desperately needed to take reigns of his movie franchises and production resources and use them for something actually good. The CEO of Disney is an unlikely candidate for a tech hero, yes, but as the man who swooped in and wrenched Star Wars away from Lucas, he's our man.
Image via AP
Newark Mayor Cory Booker was a guiding light online after Hurricane Sandy
There were a lot of heroes in leadership when Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey this fall. But for all the efficacy of politicians like Mike Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, and Chris Christie, nobody communicated inspiration to the people quite like Newark mayor Cory Booker. In addition helping victims in person, Booker tweeted near-constant updates throughout the storm and its aftermath to his constituents—where they could find supplies, when they could expect power, and what to do to get help.
Panos Panay challenged Apple's design hegemony with Surface
When the Surface was announced back in June, we were blown away by its design. Surface employed an entirely new manufacturing process and the tablet's keyboard case/cover and built-in stand were useful innovations we'd never seen before. We might not all agree on how well Microsoft executed the design, but the concept Panos Panay and the Surface team came up with was undeniably fresh and with a few tweaks, it might still be the Microsoft powerhouse tablet we've been waiting for.
Image via Twitter
Adam Stelzner landed a vehicle on Mars
Back in August, the team at the JPL in California landed a freaking rover on Mars. Even in an age when our government is defunding space exploration, the Curiosity project has powered forward and inspired new interest in what lies beyond our pale blue marble. Adam Stelzner is the man at the helm of the Curiosity project, and an eloquent advocate of why we need to spend billions of dollars on the space program.
Image via Twitter
Gwynne Shotwell sent a privately funded spacecraft to the ISS
Elon Musk's SpaceX is the most advanced private space travel enterprise in the world, and Gwynne Shotwell is the woman who makes the operation run. Under Shotwell's direction, SpaceX sent the first private resupply mission to the International Space Station back in October.
Kim Dotcom fought for free speech online
Nerds aren't always good at articulating themselves, so it's nice when the boisterous ones are outspoken pains in the ass to the powers that be. Since his file-sharing service Megaupload was raided by the feds and Dotcom's house ripped apart in New Zealand—all at the behest of the recording and motion picture industries—Kim Dotcom has challenged his extradition every step of the way, arguing that the feds had no right to raid him in the first place. You might expect that from him, but that the raid happened right before the SOPA protests came to a head isn't insignificant. Kim Dotcom for all his foibles and opportunism has become symbol of sticking it to huge organizations that would restrain our digital rights.
Dennis Kucinich demanded transparency on drone attacks
Right now, as we speak, our government is attacking its enemies from unmanned aerial vehicles. President Obama sanctions it, and for the most part, the military's use of drones overseas as implements of war and assassination is completely unregulated. Dennis Kucinich might never be president, but he's leading the charge within government for transparency and regulation of the military's drone program. Drones are an incredible technology, and they keep our service men and women out of danger. But that doesn't mean they should operate without rules.
Juha Alakarhu created a groundbreaking smartphone camera
This year, Nokia was the underdog we were rooting for. But for all the hype surrounding the release of the Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 handset, it was
a total flop too heavy for Sam's delicate hands. In the end, the absurd 41-megapixel camera in the PureView 808 was the company's greatest innovation. Gambling on imaging technology in smartphones is a smart move, and Nokia's the only handset maker putting a huge sensor in phones. Sure, nobody's using the PureView 808—everything besides the camera sucks—but put that camera on a decent phone, and it'll be a different story.
Image via Nokia Blog
Tim Cook kept Apple vital after Steve Jobs
A genius passed away, and Tim Cook inherited the most valuable company in the world. Cook not only held it steady—he managed introduce key new innovations. Plus, after Scott Forstall refused to take responsibility for the Apple Maps fiasco, Cook took the long overdue step to rid Apple of Forstall's tacky design influence.
Bonus: Marissa Mayer could do big things at Yahoo—next year
Marissa Mayer took a big risk when she dumped her cushy job at Google and took the helm at Yahoo. It's still too early to tell if she can right that sinking ship, but so far, at least, she's not making things any worse. The Yahoo Mail redesign earlier this week wasn't a revolution but it didn't look half bad either.