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DONALD MORRISON Editor, TIME AsiaThey are the sultans of silicon, the wizards of the Web--the 50 most important people in the most important place on the planet today: cyberspace. With conventional economies showing signs of age--especially in Asia--the wired world is clearly the place to be. Our list of the 50 top members of the new cyber-elite is a useful Who's Who of this realm, a guide to the people who will be shaping the future.Our arbiter of this new priesthood is senior editor Joshua Cooper Ramo. As a respected commentator on things digital--and the editor of TIME Digital, the bimonthly technology insert that appears in selected copies of the magazine--Ramo probably belongs on the list himself. He came up with the idea a year ago, and directed the effort this time as well (17 of last year's entries made it again). It's tough sometimes to keep track of all the revolutions that technology has wrought in the past few decades, he says. Just going through your pockets can reveal a good dozen--from cell phones to smart cards--so looking at the entire world reveals hundreds. Most of us usually don't even notice many of these changes. But we are starting to recognize the people who have made them happen. Our list is an attempt to gather together some of the most influential thinkers, businessmen and dreamers of this new world.How do you get on the list? Starting a cutting-edge company helps (29 listees), as does being a honcho at an established firm moving into the multimedia world (13). Given cyber-history, it's not surprising that most of the select are Americans (36), though Asians are gaining (9). Ramo and his TIME Digital colleagues began the search by compiling a list of more than 100 cyber-leaders around the world. Associate editor Jon Goldstein led the team that assembled the final collection, assisted by staff members Maryanne Murray Buechner and Rebecca Winters. Our criteria were demanding, says Ramo. We wanted original thinkers who had made fresh contributions to the world of technology. We also wanted leaders who were going to become more prominent over the next 12 months, not less.Building a list that would endure the test of time, at least until next year, forced Ramo and his team to think hard about the trends that are shaping the digital world. You'll find these themes--which include everything from 'hypermobile' computing to artificial intelligence--reflected in the people we've chosen, says Ramo. The world they're making is one we'll all inhabit. To see what that world promises, read this week's cover story. To make next year's list of the cyber-elite, go start a technology company.