The father of the cellphone saw the dark side but also hoped for new technology

BARCELONA, Spain — The man credited with inventing the cellphone 50 years ago had only one concern about the brick-sized device with the long antenna: Will it work?

These days Martin Cooper is as worried as anyone about the effects of his invention 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 any privacy anymore because everything about us is now recorded in one place and accessible to someone with enough desire to get it,” said Cooper, who spoke to The Associated Press on the largest telecom industry. trade show in Barcelona, ​​where he received a lifetime award.

Yet the 94-year-old self-described dreamer also marvels at how far cellphone design and capabilities have come, and he believes the technology’s best days may yet precede it in areas such as education and health care.

“Between cellphone and medical technology and the Internet, we can beat the disease,” he said Monday at MWC, or Mobile World Congress.

Cooper, whose invention was inspired by Dick Tracy’s radio wristwatch, said he also envisions a future where cellphones are charged by human bodies.

It’s a long way from where he started.

Cooper made the first public call from a handheld portable telephone on a New York City street on April 3, 1973, using a prototype that his team at Motorola had begun designing just five months earlier.

In the competition needle, Cooper used the Dyna-TAC prototype – which weighed 2.5 pounds and was 11 inches long – to call his rival at Bell Labs, owned by AT&T.

“The only thing I’m worried about: ‘Is this thing going to work?’ And it did,” he said.

The call helped start the cellphone revolution, but looking back on that day Cooper admits, “we had no way of knowing it was that historic moment.”

He spent the better part of the next 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 how we communicate, shopping and learning about the world.

Still, Cooper says he’s “not crazy” about the shape of modern smartphones, blocks of plastic, metal and glass. He thinks phones will evolve so they can be “distributed throughout your body,” perhaps as sensors that “measure your health at all times.”

Batteries can be replaced by human energy.

“You eat food, you create energy. Why not put this receiver for your ear under your skin, powered by your body?” he thought.

While he dreams of what the future might look like, Cooper is attuned to the industry’s current challenges, especially privacy.

In Europe, where there are strict data privacy rules, regulators are concerned about apps and digital ads that track user activity, allowing tech and other companies to create large profiles of users. .

“It can be solved, but not quickly,” Cooper said. “There are people today who can justify measuring where you are, where you’re calling on your phone, who you’re calling, what you’re accessing on the Internet.”

Children’s smartphone use is an area that needs limits, Cooper said. One idea is to have “different internets curated for different audiences.”

Five-year-olds should be able to use the internet to help them learn, but “we don’t want them to have access to pornography and things they don’t understand,” he said.

As for his own phone use, Cooper says he checks email and does online searches for information to resolve arguments at the dinner table.

However, “there are a lot of things I don’t know yet,” he said. “I still don’t know what TikTok is.”

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