The man who invented the mobile phone 50 years ago had only one concern about the device’s long-range antenna: would it work?
Today, Martin Cooper is concerned, like everyone else, about the impact of his discovery on society: from the loss of privacy to the risk of Internet addiction, to the rapid spread of harmful content, especially among children.
“My most negative opinion is that we don’t have privacy, because everything about us is now recorded somewhere and is accessible to someone who is strong enough to get it,” says Cooper, who spoke in Barcelona with The Associated Press. framework of the Mobile World Congress 2023 (Mobile World Telephony Conference or MWC23), the biggest event in the telecommunications industry. Cooper was to receive an award at MWC23 in recognition of his professional career.
However, the 94-year-old self-proclaimed dreamer also wonders how far the phone’s design and capabilities have come. He says he is confident that the best days of technology will be used in things like education and health.
“Between cell phone and medical technology and the internet, we’re going to do something to defeat the disease,” he said Monday at MWC.
Cooper, whose invention was inspired by Dick Tracy’s character on the radio, said he also envisions a future in which mobile phones are powered by the human body.
It’s all a long way from where he started.
Cooper made the first public call from a handheld cellular telephone on the street in New York on April 3, 1973, a prototype his team at Motorola had begun designing five months earlier.
To take on the competition, Cooper used the Dyna-TAC prototype, which weighed 2.5 pounds and measured 11 inches—to call its rival from AT&T-owned Bell Laboratories.
“The only thing I was worried about was, ‘Will this work?’ And he did,” he said.
That call helped launch what would become a movie, but looking back on that day, Cooper admits, “We had no idea this was going to be a historic moment.”
He has spent the better part of the last decade working to bring a commercial version of the device to market, helping launch the wireless communications industry and with it a global revolution in the way we communicate, shop, and learn.
Still, Cooper says he’s “not crazy” about the shape of modern phones, blocks of plastic, metal and glass. He believes phones will evolve to be “distributed throughout your body,” perhaps with sensors that “measure your health all the time.”
In the future, the pregnant force can be replaced by the generated body.
“You eat food and create energy. Why don’t you have this ear fixed under the skin that is attached to your body?” he thinks
And while he dreams of what the future might look like, Cooper is associated with the challenges of today’s industry, especially around privacy.
In Europe, where there are strict rules on the use of private data, regulations around apps and digital ads that track user activity allow companies to create comprehensive user profiles.
“It will work, but it won’t be easy,” says Cooper. “Now there are those who can provide evidence of where you are, where you call, who you call, what you search for on the Internet.”
But limits are necessary, says Cooper, especially around children’s phone use. One possible solution is “multiple websites, catering to different audiences”.
Five-year-olds can use the internet to help them learn, but “we don’t want them accessing pornography and things they don’t understand,” she warns.
As for how he uses the phone, Cooper says he checks his email address and looks up information to discuss specific topics that come up over dinner.
But he admits that there are many things that I have not yet learned. “I still don’t know what TikTok is.”