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Top 10 Modern Geniuses

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp

These intellectual luminaries have changed how we see the world forever. For this list, we’re looking at prodigal minds whose lifespans bridged the twentieth and twenty first centuries, from Edward Witten, to Ray Kurzweil, and Temple Grandin. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Modern Geniuses.

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Script written by Nathan Sharp

Top 10 Modern Geniuses


These intellectual luminaries have changed how we see the world forever. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picsk for the top ten modern geniuses.

For this list, we’re looking at prodigal minds whose lifespans bridged the twentieth and twenty first centuries. While there’s no concrete definition of genius, we’ll be including people who are generally considered to be of exceptional intelligence, and to have significantly contributed to their respective fields.

#10: Edward Witten

Witten graduated Brandeis University with a B.A. in history and linguistics . . . but somewhere along the line realized he had another calling. Now a theoretical physicist and professor of mathematical physics at Princeton, the researcher has made significant contributions to the fields of quantum gravity and string theory, and is perhaps best known as the creator of M-theory, which attempts to unify consistent superstring theories. Aaand it’s from here on that his ideas get even more complicated. Suffice to say, he’s received numerous accolades for his work, and been called by many of his peers as the world’s “smartest living physicist”.

#9: Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil is a man of many talents. An author and inventor, Kurzweil focuses on numerous subjects, including nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. You know, easy to digest stuff like that. He’s also the inventor of numerous groundbreaking modern technologies, including a revolutionary image scanner, optical character recognition system, print-to-speech reading device, and keyboard synthesizer. In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded him the prestigious National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and he’s been hailed as a technological genius by many notable outlets, including The Wall Street Journal.

#8: Temple Grandin

A professor of animal science at Colorado University, Temple Grandin has helped revolutionize our understanding of animal psychology, leading to a more humane and scientific handling of livestock. She’s also well-known for inventing the hug box, a device used to calm those with autism and hypersensitivity. Her phenomenal brain has been studied by researchers seeking to better understand the minds of autistic savants. TIME called her one of the most influential people in the world, and she’s been the recipient of numerous medals and honorary degrees.

#7: Noam Chomsky

Born in 1928, Noam Chomsky has contributed extensively to the fields of linguistics and cognitive science throughout his long life. In his 20s, Chomsky created the transformational grammar theory while attending Harvard and at 28 published a landmark work in the field of linguistics, “Syntactic Structures”. He’s continued to develop his influential linguistic theories throughout his career and is often regarded as one of the most important scholars in history. Known as “the father of modern linguistics,” we can attribute much of what we know today about the human sciences to Noam Chomsky.

#6: Tim Berners-Lee

If you’re watching this right now, you can thank Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web in November 1989. For his achievement, Berners-Lee has been duly decorated, having received the 2013 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the 2016 Turing Award, and made the 14th member of the Order of Merit. He currently serves as the director of the World Wide Web Consortium and the Web Science Research Initiative while teaching computer science at Oxford and at MIT. Talk about a busy guy.

#5: Garry Kasparov

Born in the Soviet Union in 1963, Kasparov took an interest in chess from a young age. By the age of 10, he was training under famous coach Vladimir Makogonov and became a chess master at 15, winning the Sokolsky Memorial tournament. When Kasparov was 20, he was ranked the best chess player in the world and broke the record for the youngest person to hold that distinction. He has since won a record 11 Chess Oscars and was ranked the best chess player in the world from 1986 to 2005. In fact, it took IBM supercomputer Deep Blue to beat him, in a famous AI versus human match held in 1997.

#4: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Thanks to his role as a host on TV science programs, Neil deGrasse Tyson is arguably the world’s most well-known astrophysicist. But he’s much more than just a science communicator. When he was nine years old Tyson developed a feverish interest in astronomy after visiting the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. He went on to become director of the very Planetarium that inspired his interest in astronomy, and has since won numerous awards in his field, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and the Hubbard Medal. He’s also been the recipient of 19 honorary doctorates.

#3: Bill Gates

A discussion about modern geniuses wouldn’t be complete without mention of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Gates took an interest in computing in his early teens when he started writing programs on a General Electric computer. He graduated with a 1590 on his SATs and enrolled in Harvard, although he would eventually drop out to focus on his company. With co-founder Paul Allen, he unveiled Microsoft in April 1975, when Gates was just 19. Microsoft’s operating systems, including MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows, would go on to revolutionize personal computers. Gates is now worth about $90 billion, making him the second richest person in the world.

#2: Elon Musk

We mean, this is the guy who sent a freaking car into space! Musk showed signs of being extremely intelligent by a young age, teaching himself to program when he was just 10. At 28, Musk created an online payment program called X.com, which would later become PayPal. Never one to rest on his laurels, he created SpaceX, his biggest claim to fame, a few years later. Since that time, he’s also founded Tesla, OpenAI, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, in between proposing novel technologies like the Hyperloop and the Musk electric jet. In other words, he’s a James Bond villain. Or an entrepreneurial Q.

#1: Stephen Hawking

Standing on the shoulders of giants, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking shone a light on some of the most perplexing mysteries of the universe, before he passed away in March 2018. He was one of those rare geniuses who could also explain his ideas to laymen, as evidenced by his bestseller “A Brief History of Time”. An iconic figure, who continued to blaze new trails in science despite considerable physical limitations, Hawking made intellectual inroads into the composition of black holes, the origin of the universe, and the relationship between general relativity and quantum mechanics. He’s remembered today as one of the greatest minds of our time.

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