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Posted at 01:12 PM ET, 08/26/2011

Steve Jobs vs. Thomas Edison

VIEW THE GALLERY: See past innovators of the week match-ups.

If it’s Friday, that means it’s time to vote for the innovator of the week. This week we had to dig way back to find a fair fight. And we had to stretch the rules a little, since one of our innovators hasn’t done any hands-on innovating for some time. But when it comes to innovation — to say nothing of non-scientific polls — rules are made to be broken.

This week’s competition is between two titans of innovation and design: Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and incandescent light bulb inventor (among other things) Thomas Alva Edison. While Edison didn’t move the needle this week, Jobs’s stepping down from the CEO spot at Apple brought back many a reference to the long-dead inventor. So, here goes.

Steve Jobs: What more can we say? He’s no longer CEO of Apple — a company he co-founded and led to success while revolutionizing the way we think about not only personal computing but digital information sharing. From the first Macintosh to the iPad, Jobs has brought many of science fiction fans’ most desired technological traits to life.

Think about it. We now have a phone that is thinner and more sophisticated than the original Star Trek tri-corder and we can use them to fight light saber battles. Touchscreen technology is now in the hands of millions and, with the flick of a finger, we can post a message to the world.

And Apple is not the only company where Jobs guided technophiles’ most deeply held dreams into reality. Pixar, the film company that brought us “Toy Story” (one, two and three), “Cars” (one and two), and “Up” has all but obliterated traditional animation as a story-telling medium. While 2-D animation has been happening without hand-drawn characters for some time, the expectation from viewers that animated characters be in 3-D is due in large part to the work done at Pixar.

Jobs may not have done or announced anything particularly innovative this week, but his announcement forced us to look back at the ways he has innovated and inspired during a 30-year career.

Thomas Edison: The iconic inventor is often mentioned whenever Jobs makes a major announcement about his career path. It is done so often that the headline of Eric Randall’s “Cliche Watch” piece for the Atlantic on Thursday reads, “Steve Jobs Is Thomas Edison.”

But Edison is not the only inventor Jobs has been compared with. Others include Alexander Graham Bell and, yes, even Jesus. (The idea of Apple fandom being tantamount to a religion is not new.)

In addition to the incandescent light bulb, Edison also invented the phonograph and the motion picture camera. He also improved the telegraph and telephone. Nearly all of these inventions and advancements are at the heart of Apple’s most notable creations, and the inventions for which Jobs specifically holds patents.

But is Edison the greater inventor for having created the root invention, or is it Jobs for having built substantially on them? We leave that to you.

By  |  01:12 PM ET, 08/26/2011

Categories:  Business, Innovator of the Week, Invention, Technology

 
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