Five people I’d like to meet

This week BizTimes.com ran an article about the “10 People who are Changing Milwaukee” and it started me thinking about the various people I’d like to meet.

Before creating my list, I set a few basic ground rules:

  • Unlike the BizTimes list, the people I want to meet could be anywhere — not just in Milwaukee.
  • No one would be included on the list merely for their celebrity status.
  • To keep the list manageable, and not dilute its value in my mind, I’d limit my list to the top five people.
  • The list would not contain anyone I already know or have already met.1
  • Everyone on the list is still alive at this time.2  They also must be real people — fictional characters need not apply.

I did some thinking, ranked people and selected the top five. So in no particular order, here’s my list of The Five People I’d Like To Meet:

Larry Niven

Why I’d Like to Meet Him: There are many science fiction writers I would love to meet, but if I have to pick one, it’s Larry Niven. Niven is known for writing “hard science fiction“3 and for creating larger fictional universes that contain many short stories and novels (such as Known Space). He is best known for the novel Ringworld. Niven has won Hugo, Nebula  and various other major awards.
What I’d Ask Him: Niven has an ability to project future technology and science applications, and then predict how such future tech will impact and alter society. I’d talk with him about how he uses that ability to plot stories.
Current Whereabouts: Niven’s most recent work involves collaborations with such authors as Edward M. Lerner and Brenda Cooper.

Jane McGonigal

Why I’d Like to Meet Her: McGonigal is a game designer who is exploring how games and play can be used to literally change the world. Her most recent project, Evoke, taught players around the world social innovation skills by having them complete ten game challenges in ten weeks.
What I’d Ask Her: There are so many topics I’d like to discuss with McGonigal, I’m not sure I’d know where to start. I would love to be able to get an understanding of her somewhat unique creativity, such as how she can examine a challenge and design an unorthodox solution that not only works, but is actually fun in a way that compels people to devote time and energy to implementing that solution. Plus at some point I’d probably try to convince her to be my mentor.
Current Whereabouts: McGonigal is Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto.

Elon Musk

Why I’d Like to Meet Him: Musk dropped out of Stanford to found his first business (Zip2, which he sold to Compaq for $341 million in cash and stock), went on to found PayPal (which he sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in stock), and finally in 2002 founded SpaceX, a private space launch company whose goal is to increase reliability while reducing cost.
What I’d Ask Him: I’d talk with Musk about two things: his entrepreneurial success and his incredible passion (and related efforts) to see humans become a multiplanetary species.
Current Whereabouts: Musk is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX.

Michio Kaku

Why I’d Like to Meet Him: Kaku is a theoretical physicist and one of the leading experts in string theory. In the tradition of Carl Sagan, Kaku works to move science beyond its traditional boundaries and bring it to the population at large. His books and appearances on radio and television cover a broad range of topics, from the theoretical possibility of teleportation to the practical applications of quantum physics.
What I’d Ask Him: I’d talk with Kaku about some of the more unusual ideas being proposed in connection with string theory, as well as how humans can ever (if at all) conduct experiments to prove or disprove string theory. Oh, and I might ask for his advice on how to get rich off of quantum computing.
Current Whereabouts: Kaku is a professor of theoretical physics at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Burrell Smith

Why I’d Like to Meet Him: Smith was an Apple hardware engineer4  who played a critical behind‐the‐scenes role in the project to develop the Macintosh computer. Many of the stories on Macintosh Folklore Radio describe Smith’s contributions and incredibly creative solutions to early Mac design challenges.
What I’d Ask Him: I’d love to interview Smith about those early days at Apple, his role in creating the reality that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak imagined, and Smith’s perception of his fellow computer pioneers.
Current Whereabouts: Smith is retired and lives in Palo Alto.

That’s my list. If by chance you actually know one of these five people,5  let me know. I’ll pick up the tab for lunch with him or her!

  1. That would somewhat defeat the purpose of the list, wouldn’t it? []
  2. Sure I’d love to meet Einstein or Gandhi, but given the lack of affordable time machines, that is not going to happen. []
  3. “Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.” — Clute, John and Nicholls, Peter, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 1993. []
  4. He originally was hired as an Apple ][ Service Technician. []
  5. Or if — unbelievably — you are one of these five people. []

About the author

I am a writer, marketing practitioner and astronomer-in-training. My interests include science, technology and the future of just about everything. You can learn more from my Bio page.