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Is Elon Musk the new Steve Jobs?

Posting in Design

Innovations R Musk. Elon Musk has changed the way the world launches rockets, builds cars and makes Internet payments. Now he wants to overhaul rail travel. Is there a better innovator alive?

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Ever since Steve Jobs logged out on Oct. 5, 2011, the throne reserved for the "world's greatest living innovator" has gone empty.

Now, as we approach the second anniversary of the Apple wizard's sadly early demise, isn't it it time to install someone else on the vaunted chair?

Yes it is, but only if someone deserves it. And someone does. The Jobs legacy is really all about business and technology innovation, so I submit that our new Steve is none other than 42-year-old Elon Musk.

In case you've been bedding down with Rip Van Winkle for the last two decades, Musk these days is best known as the co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, the 10-year-old trend setting Palo Alto, Calif. maker of electric cars that shocked the world by winning the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. It virtually repeated that distinction in May when Consumer Reports rated it as its top scoring car ahead of all those wheels from traditional auto companies.

Tesla is just one hallmark in the illustrious Musk collection. The South African-born American entrepreneur founded Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, the manufacturer of rockets which last year became the first privately held company to launch commercial cargo into space, starting a new space race.

His innovative brilliance spans the worlds of physical and digital goods. Prior to SpaceX he essentially co-founded PayPal, the enormously successful Internet payments firm that he sold to eBay in 2002.

And now he has visions of another major breakthrough. As SmartPlanet's David Worthington reported, Musk earlier this week proposed his "Hyperloop" train that would suck passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes using vacuum technology. It seems a bit far fetched, but dreamers like Musk have a way of getting things done.

One of my SmartPlanet colleagues has suggested that Amazon's Jeff Bezos take the innovator's crown. I like Jeff as an honorable mention. Among the lesser known reasons that he deserves consideration: Bezos' personal investments have wandered into diverse innovative areas, such as nuclear power. Bezos backs a Vancouver area fusion company called General Fusion, one of several fusion startups competing for energy's elusive Holy Grail.

My vote goes to Musk.

Okay, so unlike Jobs, Musk never designed a gadget that delivers music to your earbuds that leak tininess and annoy people sitting near you on trains. We can forgive him that. Maybe he can offer copycat devices called MuskPlayers as part of a service package on his Vacuum Express.

But for his persistent and varied set of business, technology and science innovations, Elon Musk is the new Steve Jobs. He possibly even out-Steves Steve.

What do you think? Who do you like?

Photo from jdlasica via Flickr

Just a few of the Musk moments on SmartPlanet:

More on the giant sucking sound otherwise known as the vacuum express:

— By on August 15, 2013, 5:31 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure