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

BARCELONA, Spain — Holding the big brick cellphone he credits with inventing 50 years ago, Martin Cooper thinks about the future.

Little did he know when he made the first call on a New York City street from a thick gray prototype that our world – and our information – would be housed in a beautiful sheath of glass where we search, connect, want and buy.

He is optimistic that future advances in mobile technology will change people’s lives but is also concerned about the dangers smartphones pose to privacy and youth.

“My most negative opinion is that we no longer have any privacy because everything about us is now recorded in one place and accessible to someone who has enough desire to get it,” the 94-year-old told The Associated Press at MWC, or Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest wireless trade show where he earned a lifetime award this week in Barcelona.

Apart from worrying about the destruction of privacy, Cooper also recognizes the negative effects that come with smartphones and social media, such as internet addiction and facilitating children’s access to harmful content.

But Cooper, who describes himself as a dreamer and an optimist, said he hopes advances in cellphone technology have the potential to transform areas like education and health care.

“Between cellphone and medical technology and the Internet, we can beat the disease,” he said.

It’s a long way from where he started.

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

Cooper used the Dyna-TAC telephone to famously call his rival at Bell Labs, which was owned by AT&T. It is, literally, the world’s first brick phone, weighing 2.5 pounds and measuring 11 inches. Cooper spent the better part of the next decade working to bring a commercial version of the device to market.

The call would help start the cellphone revolution, but looking back on that moment 50 years ago, “we had no way of knowing it was that historic moment,” Cooper said.

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

While the test is burning for the wireless communication industry, he hopes that cellphone technology is just getting started.

Cooper said he was “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 all the time.”

Batteries can be replaced by human energy.

“The human body is the charging station, right? You consume food, you generate energy. Why not put this receiver for your ear under your skin, powered by your body? ” he thought.

Cooper also acknowledges that there is a dark side to the development – the risk to privacy and children.

Regulators in Europe, where there are strict data privacy rules, and elsewhere are concerned about apps and digital ads that track user activity, allowing tech and digital ad companies to build multiple user profiles.

“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 another 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.

The inspiration for Cooper’s cellphone idea was not Star Trek’s personal communicators, but comic strip detective Dick Tracy’s radio wristwatch. 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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