The biggest intellectual, cultural, and technological achievements of the year were powered by these brains—some we know well, some we don’t. The Daily Beast got together with 20-plus recent winners of MacArthur “Genius” grant to determine the year’s smartest:
- Jon Stewart. Going beyond the biting Daily Show, Stewart "turned his logic-rooted, hypocrisy-bashing comedy into action" by organizing the Rally to Restore Sanity and pushing hard—and successfully—for the passage of the 9/11 first responders health bill.
- Bill and Melinda Gates. These days, for Mr. and Mrs. Microsoft, it’s all about philanthropy. This year, their Giving Pledge called on billionaires like themselves to give away at least half their money. Some estimate they'll get commitments totaling $150 billion.
- Steve Jobs. The Apple frontman brought out the iPad and iPhone 4; Apple TV was hot; the Beatles hit iTunes.
- Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook hit 500 million users this year, greasing Zuck's path toward Time's Person of the Year.
- J. Craig Venter. The scientist's team developed the first organism whose genome was synthetic, a 15-year project whose results he revealed this year.
See the other 15 smartest people