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5
Technologists Who Have Benefited Humankind

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented hypertext transfer protocol, or http, and ultimately helped invent the World Wide Web.

Catrina Genovese/WireImage/Getty Images

Once upon a time, in a land that I remember well, the Internet was a theory. People put a dime, then a quarter to talk -- gulp! -- into pay phones. There were no iPhones, iPods or iPads; no laptops or texting. Birds, not humans, "tweeted."

It's hard to imagine how any of us survived. But survive we did -- and even thrive. As the seasons passed and the 20th century morphed into the 21st, technology seemingly became the most dominant force in society. We have smart bombs and smart houses. Rovers on Mars look for life. Space telescopes peer all the way back to when time began. We can talk, send photos or watch videos on handheld communication devices, just like Captain Kirk in "Star Trek."

We humans have been using technology to alter our lives from the day we climbed out of the primordial ooze. We first learned to use stone tools, and then saw that bronze, and later iron, was much better. In the beginning, we used our muscles to reshape the planet. Then we found out animals were better suited for the job. Machines eventually took the place of the ox and horse.

Such lists are endless.

The march of technology has benefited humankind in countless ways. We live longer, healthier lives. We have more time to create and to explore. Technology allows us to communicate in ways that Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, could only dream. We can disseminate information and knowledge at the speed of light.

Still, some believe technology will be our downfall. "Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backward," author Aldous Huxley wrote.

Ray Bradbury, the great science-fiction writer who inspired people to create new technologies was equally as pessimistic. When Yahoo wanted to put one of his books online, Bradbury balked. "You know what I told them? 'To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet. It's distracting. It's meaningless; it's not real'" [source: Steinhauer].

Who knows. Perhaps in the end, technology will be our undoing. In the interim, we will do as we always have -- create new marvels that awe and inspire. On the following pages are five modern visionaries whose technological discoveries have "benefited" humankind. Some you have heard of, others not so much, but each has pushed the boundaries of science to new heights.

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