The world has changed beyond recognition since 1900, and without these guys, you’d have no Xbox. Hey, you wouldn’t even have light bulbs.
With over 1000 patents to his name, master inventor and businessman Thomas Edison’s genius lies in the improvement upon and commercialisation of scientific principles discovered by others. His companies were responsible for advances in mass communication, power transmission and transport.
From his workshops emerged the first mass-produced light bulbs, carbon microphones and stock market tickers, and he designed an x-ray machine, the fundamentals of which are still in use today. He also famously electrocuted an elephant, as part of his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to discredit alternating current in favour of his own direct current electrical systems.
A Serbian immigrant to the US, Tesla was a maverick whose work paved the way for wireless telecommunications and provided the basis for the system of AC electricity transmission that delivers the bottled lightning we love so much direct to our homes. He also conceived of and developed the electrical induction motor.
Tesla had a photographic memory and the ability to visualise a machine’s design in its entirety. Always erratic, he became increasingly eccentric in his later years. Some of his inventions were never fully realised and the nature of these – direct energy transmission, electrical flying machines that resemble UFOs and high-energy weapons – have only increased his mystique.
Turing was the father of computer science and a key figure at Bletchley Park, where the Nazi’s Enigma Code was broken. In later years, he turned his attention to mathematical biology.
Turing was treated shabbily by the British Government. Convicted of gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was a crime, he was forced to undergo a form of chemical castration. This was cited as a key factor in his supposed suicide for a long time, but has recently been challenged. Apparently, Turing bore his punishment with good humour and had many plans in motion at the time of his death. He may instead have accidentally poisoned himself with the chemicals he used in his experiments at home.
The digital devices you use day to day function on principals discovered by Turing, while his name lives on in the Turing Test.
Although an inventor of no mean skill, Steve Jobs’s true brilliance resided in aesthetics and human/machine interfaces. Co-founder of Apple, Jobs left the firm only to rejoin it as it faced bankruptcy and transform it into the world’s most valuable company. The internet, personal computers and the like are all amazing machines, but it was Jobs who helped make them so easy to use, and so pretty to look at.