George Candea, 30
Aster Data Systems
Protecting software from crashes
As counterintuitive as it might seem, George Candea’s “crash-only software” concept may actually help keep software crash free. According to Candea, software crashes and subsequent reboots needn’t be catastrophic, systemwide events. He has described software that can be trained to monitor itself and, if it detects something amiss, to launch a surgical, or “micro,” reboot of just the problematic application element, while the system as a whole functions uninterrupted. “Microrebooting allows software to react to failure in machine time as opposed to human time,” says Candea, who recently got his doctorate in computer science at Stanford University.
Bryan Cantrill, 31
Tracing software in real time
Even with all the recent advances in information technology, systems administrators are still running blind: if a piece of software doesn’t quite do what it should, administrators may spend days hunting down the problem and figuring out how to fix it. Bryan Cantrill, senior staff engineer at Sun Microsystems, has created an application called DTrace that offers real-time software diagnostics – giving IT folks a way to see what’s going on and start improving performance in minutes. This kind of power elates many programmers. “With DTrace,” says Cantrill, “I can walk into a room of hardened technologists and get them giggling.”
Andy Carvin, 34
Digital Divide Network
Bringing Internet power to the have-nots
As founding editor in 1999 and current director of the Digital Divide Network, Andy Carvin has helped build an online community of more than 7,500 technology activists, educators, small-business owners, and policy makers. Their mission is to devise remedies for the fundamental information-age inequity: most people in the world lack the ability to access the Internet or the skills to use it. Carvin is also promoting a way for technology to give voice to the disenfranchised: mobcasting.
Carvin’s idea is to combine the ubiquity of cell phones with the ease of posting information to Web logs (blogs). Say protesting human-rights activists get roughed up by police, with no traditional media on hand to record their plight. Over their phones, the human-rights activists could send multiple reports on what’s happening – either audio or video – to the same website. Carvin is pushing programmers to create mobcasting software that works outside the U.S. phone system. With the use of mobcasting, suggests Carvin, “suddenly, the very people who are victims are empowered to bear witness to the world almost instantaneously.”
Bram Cohen, 29
Upending the file-sharing world, bit by bit
Bram Cohen’s creation, BitTorrent, answers a deceptively simple question: if someone requests a file over a network, and multiple people on the network possess the file, why should only one person send the file in its entirety to the requester? Cohen’s revolutionary solution: send tiny chunks of the file from multiple users, eliminating the bandwidth crunch that results when a single user sends a large file in its entirety. A 400-megabyte video file that could take hours for a single user to distribute can be broken up into thousands of pieces, each of which takes only a few seconds to send. The impact of the technology that Cohen developed goes far beyond the world of illicit file-swapping: game companies and Linux developers are now experimenting with BitTorrent distribution as well.
Cohen is humble about his creation and its potential impact. It is, he says, “just a way to move bits around.”
Dennis Crowley, 29
Moving online socializing into the streets
When Dennis Crowley goes out clubbing in New York, he’ll text a message with his location to Dodgeball, the company that he founded. Crowley’s message – “@ Luna Lounge,” for example – goes out to all the friends he has listed at the Dodgeball website. The company’s computer checks the club’s address against its list of geographical locations in 22 cities. If someone who is not on Crowley’s friend list but is on the list of one of his friends has checked in within the last three hours and a 10-block radius, the computer notifies both parties. If Crowley has listed a girl he doesn’t know as a “crush,” she’ll get a message with his picture saying he’s interested. She’ll have the option to find him or dodge him, without his ever knowing where she is. Google liked the idea so much it bought Dodgeball in May. Crowley says it’s “a very powerful thing to know where your friends are all the time.”