The Leaders, Thinkers and Doers Who Will Greatly Impact 2016

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Elon Musk: CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, chairman of SolarCity and co-chairman of OpenAI. JEFF KOWALSKY/ZUMA WIRE/ALAMY

"The future depends on what we do in the present."

If you believe Mahatma Ghandi, today is tomorrow's crystal ball. So what are we doing in the here and now that will have an impact on the coming year? What minor moments today are catalyzing the major events of tomorrow? Whether protests or product launches, politics, or plans for planetary travel, the year ahead will shape our culture in ways we can't fully comprehend—but we can brace ourselves for the inevitability of uncertainty. The following is an excerpt from Newsweek's Special Edition, 2016: The Year Ahead, about five key leaders, thinkers and doers who will greatly impact 2016.

ELON MUSK

Between his innovative new releases and unmatched exploratory ambitions, Elon Musk is in line for an electrifying year. In the latter part of 2016, the Tesla Motors founder and his electric automobile brand will release the ModelX, a sport utility vehicle already considered to be the safest and fastest of its kind ever created. Tesla's highly anticipated powerwall—a solar-powered home battery that generates electricity—will also be available in the next year, kicking electricity bills to the curb. As for SpaceX, Musk is steadfast in continuing to take the necessary steps toward human colonization of Mars within the next two decades. Regarding the engineer's plans generating public enthusiasm, NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan states, "I'm excited that he's so interested in Mars because to me, I hope it means that we'll really see this happen by the 2030s."

USAIN BOLT

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Regarded as the fastest person to have ever walked the Earth, it would seem there is not much left for Usain Bolt to accomplish. But with the 2016 Summer Games rapidly approaching, the decorated Jamaican sprinter has the chance to further cement his legacy. "If he is able to win the gold medal in the 100 meters at the Rio Olympics, he would be the first person to win the 100 meters three times," notes David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. The potential milestone could also be Bolt's last Olympic achievement as the athlete is likely sprinting toward the finish line for the final time in 2016. Wallechinsky says: "This is very likely his last Olympics. Traditionally, sprinters have a very short shelf life." Still, the 6'5" phenom's one-of-a-kind abilities have been shattering standards for years, as Wallechinsky adds, "Physically, he's amazing. You don't find people that big who can run sprints that fast." The fact that his last name is Bolt certainly doesn't hurt, either.

BERNIE SANDERS

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In the summer of 2015, Americans began to "feel the Bern" as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders exploded into the Democratic primaries with a message of unabashed progressivism. "Sanders has never shied away from his political roots, and that's part of the authenticity that people sense," says Jonathan Tasini, author of The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision For America. Regardless of the primary election's outcome, Sanders's time in the national spotlight will make him the mascot for a bold new form of left-leaning politics for the foreseeable future. "In the way he framed it to me in our past conversations, he places 'democratic socialism' in concrete terms of expanding Social Security, breaking up big banks, opposing bad trade deals, increasing minimum wages, single-payer health care and free college—which a majority of Americans, he says, seem to think are pretty good ideas," Tasini says. "After 2016, the term 'democratic socialism' will carry far fewer negative connotations."

MICHAEL FASSBENDER

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With a banner year already behind him, and an Oscar nod for Steve Jobs likely in his future, Michael Fassbender will continue to captivate on and off the silver screen. In addition to reprising his role as Magneto in the forthcoming summer blockbuster X-Men: Apocalypse, Fassbender will be the star of several 2016 releases, including Assassin's Creed, the highly anticipated adaptation of the bestselling gaming franchise, and The Light Between Oceans, a drama about a lighthouse keeper and his wife rescuing and raising a baby found in a rowboat. His arresting acting chops combined with the kaleidoscope of genres Fassbender seamlessly fits into are arguably the secrets to his success. "He has this incredible ability to cast a spell on the screen," says Derek Cianfrance, director of The Light Between Oceans. Regarding working with the widely revered actor for the first time, Cianfrance says, "It was like meeting one of my heroes and not being disappointed."

VLADIMIR PUTIN

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Despite forcibly making Crimea a part of Russia, invading Ukraine, Georgia and now Syria—where Putin wants to prop up Assad's regime under the pretense of offering a helping hand—the Russian president's shrewd tactics are often undercut by the near comical Bond-villain caricature he has become in the media. "The one thing I'm often struck by is that people often try to write Putin off as somebody not consequential or important," says Steven Lee Myers, New York Times correspondent and author of The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. "[Russia] has its way of asserting itself or re-imposing itself as the center of attention. I don't think we've seen the end of the intervention in either Syria or Ukraine. Ukraine sort of shifted a little bit to the backburner in terms of news, but the conflict there is not resolved, and the annexation of Crimea will continue to haunt Russia on a diplomatic level. I think the economic sanctions [on Russia] are probably going to be the biggest challenge for Putin next year, grappling with an economy that's slowed." The question for both President Obama and his would-be successor in 2016 is, how will they grapple with Putin?

This article was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition, 2016: The Year Ahead, by Issue Editors Tevor Courneen and Alica Kort. For more people to watch in 2016 and other events and trends on the horizon, pick up a copy today!

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