This article is a list of people (roughly in chronological order) that have inspired me, particularly in the design of user interfaces and how humans interact with computers.
Was the head of R&D for the military during WWII and has had an immense contribution to the world that I cannot begin to summarize.
He wrote an article, As We May Think (1945) that describes a conceptual machine called the Memex (a memory index) that stores our collective knowledge.
Famous for his paper, Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960) which reimagines computers as more than just punch-card batch-processing machines but as a tight-coupling between humans and machines.
His largest impact on the world was largely non-technical — he was recruited by Vannevar Bush to worked at the Pentagon as the director of ARPA (now DARPA) and convinced the government that they should invest in computers. He distributed lots of money to like-minded researchers and is responsible for the ARPAnet which is now known as the internet.
There's a fantastic book chronicling his life call the The Dream Machine.
Wrote Augmenting Human Intellect (1962), a paper that reimagined how humans interact with computers. He thought of the computer as more than just a calculator and referred to this conceptual computer often as a clerk — a tool that helps you accomplish your tasks.
He received funding from J.C.R. Licklider to create his vision at Xerox PARC which culminated in The Mother of all Demos. He and his team invented so many things that are ubiquitous in the world of computing today: the computer mouse, the graphical user interface with a windowing system where you can resize windows, a non-modal document editor where you can click and drag to make selections (Larry Tesler is also known for working on this), networked computers (the internet did not exist yet), collaborative document editing, video chat, and much more. The demo was filmed by Stewart Brand, another interesting fellow. I digress...
Worked at Xerox PARC with Doug Englebart on the Mother of all Demos. He worked on the programming language there, Smalltalk, which is one-of-a-kind to this day. He invented object-oriented programming, however it was conceptually something much different than modern paradigms which he eloquently explains in this talk.
Smalltalk came with a graphical interface for writing programs and user interfaces. The entire system was designed to grow and evolve without ever having to stop or restart, even when changing the code! Programming in Smalltalk involved editing objects in the UI or searching for objects in the system and editing their messaging behavior. Even more, the entire system was bootstrapped (the IDE itself was written in SmallTalk).
Alan Kay later worked on the legendary Macintosh team at Apple and after that build the Dynabook, an iPad-like computer designed for kids.
Built Sketchpad in 1962 which is the first interactive graphical interface. He used a light-pen to draw shapes on a display. The software included a constraint solver to help you solve geometrical problems and is a predecessor to modern CAD programs. Check it out in action.
Worked on the legendary Macintosh team and wrote a fantastic book, The Humane Interface.
Recruited by Jeff Raskin to work on the Macintosh team. He designed and implemented one of the first "hypermedia" programs called HyperCard in which you create cards with images, text, buttons, and inputs that can link to other cards and interact using a simple scripting language called HyperTalk. This video is a good overview and demo of HyperCard back in 1987 and clearly resembles something like the modern internet.
Later on, he co-founded General Magic with Andy Hertzfeld designing what today resembles an iPhone. The company ended up a spectacular failure and is chronicled in a documentary called General Magic.
Built the Macintosh Operating System which stole ideas about the mouse and the windowing system from Englebart's lab at Xerox PARC. He later co-founded General Magic and designed Google+.
Started at General Magic straight out of college and later worked at Apple where he invented the iPad and later the iPhone.
He has a fantastic TED talk that really captures the essence of how to be a good designer.
Is a user interface designer. He designed the original iOS interface along with many other Apple products of the era. He has many amazing talks that I recommend sitting through. Media for Thinking the Unthinkable demonstrates his research into new and interesting user interfaces. He wrote a great article called Magic Ink that teaches the craft of information graphic design as a precursor to good user interface design. His talk The Future of Programming is another good one that mentions a lot of the stuff covered in this article.
He also popularized interactive essays called Explorable Explanations. Nicky Case has taken this work further and curated many amazing explorable essays at explorabl.es.