Who’s the best choice for Person of the Year in Tech?

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2015-12-15 11:50

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Edited by DavidHamber at 2015-12-28 08:17

There really aren’t very many people with the kind of industry-changing vision that, say, Steve Jobs had. When you get right down to it, Jobs was unique; he possessed both the vision to dream up successful new ways of doing things and the power to make them come true.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some leaders doing amazing work today. In only 18 months as Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella has briskly brought his vast corps of employees into an open, coherent new era of design and products. Mark Zuckerberg continues to guide Facebook with an impressively unwavering hand. Uber, led by CEO Travis Kalanick, is still shaking up the transportation world with a series of bold and often controversial moves.

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But Elon Musk, man. He doesn’t do a lot of press, so the public doesn’t track him as they might any other kind of rockstar.

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But in 2015, this 44-year-old South African native won over a lot of skeptics in a lot of areas:

  • Tesla Motors (CEO and Owner). Musk continued to defy history by making Tesla that most improbable of entities: a successful new American car company. Tesla has sold 90,000 of its gorgeous, pricey Model S cars. This year, Tesla launched the gull-wing Model X crossover; added self-driving features to the Model S via a software upgrade; and began offering battery packs for homes.

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  • SpaceX (CEO, CTO, Founder). Musk also managed to found a private rocket company, SpaceX, which continues to raise eyebrows (and to partner with NASA). In 2015, it raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity; launched its first vehicle beyond Earth’s orbit, the Deep Space Climate Observatory; and asked the government for permission to launch 400 satellites for the purpose of supplying wireless Internet to the entire world.
  • HyperLoop (idea). In 2013, Musk proposed a super-high-speed train-in-a-tube called the HyperLoop. Its cars would float on a thin cushion of air, thus eliminating friction and reaching peak speeds of 760 miles an hour. It would be immune to weather, its cars can’t crash, and it would require very little power. It could take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 35 minutes. (That’s normally a seven-hour drive.)

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This year, the Hyperloop project gained a lot of speed. A call for design submissions generated 700 entries; a corporation was formed (Hyperloop Technologies); and the development of one-mile and five-mile test tracks got under way.
The Hyperloop idea has been derided and dismissed by all kinds of engineers and experts who’ve found insurmountable flaws with the economics, construction politics, and scientific feasibility.
But it’s unwise to bet against Elon Musk. He’s shown more than once that he can bring implausible but breathtaking high-tech projects to life, and even make them profitable.
What’s exhilarating is that, underlying each of his initiatives, you can sense a desire to change the world for the better. Tesla’s all-electric cars move us away from the disastrous long-term effects of gas-powered cars; the Hyperloop could diminish the need for expensive, polluting air travel; and Musk has said that one of SpaceX’s long-term missions is to give humanity a Plan B by hurrying our outreach to Mars.
Musk has that rarest combination: the technical smarts, the business acumen, and above all, the moonshot-caliber imagination to make world-changing technologies a reality. It’s for that reason that we’re naming Elon Musk Yahoo Tech’s Person of the Year.