'Father of mobile phones,' 94, doesn't know about TikTok but is hopeful for future of mobile tech

Marty Cooper, the inventor of first commercial mobile phone, poses for the press with a Motorola DynaTAC 8000x
Marty Cooper, the inventor of first commercial mobile phone, poses for the press with a Motorola DynaTAC 8000x Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews & AP
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Man who made first ever call from a mobile telephone says advances in technology still have the potential to revolutionise our lives.


Holding the bulky brick mobile phone he’s credited 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 street from a thick grey prototype that our world - and our information - would come to be encapsulated on a sleek glass sheath where we search, connect, like and buy.

He's optimistic that future advances in mobile phone technology can transform human lives but is also worried about the risk smartphones pose to privacy and young people.

"My most negative opinion is we don’t have any privacy anymore because everything about us is now recorded someplace and accessible to somebody who has enough intense desire to get it," the 94-year-old told The Associated Press at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

Besides worrying about privacy, Cooper also acknowledged the negative side effects that come with smartphones and social media, such as internet addiction and making it easy for children to access harmful content.

But Cooper, describing himself as a dreamer and an optimist, said he's hopeful that advances in mobile phone technology have the potential to revolutionise areas like education and health care.

"Between the cellphone and medical technology and the Internet, we are going to conquer disease," he said.

A long way from where it all began

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 started designing only five months earlier.

Cooper used the Dyna-TAC phone to famously call his rival at Bell Labs, owned by AT&T. 

It was, literally, the world's first brick phone, weighing over a kilogram and measuring 27cm. 

Cooper spent the best part of the next decade working to bring a commercial version of the device to market.

The call help kick-start the mobile phone revolution, but looking back on that moment 50 years later, “we had no way of knowing this was the historic moment,” Cooper said.

AP Photo
Marty Cooper at Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona, SpainAP Photo

"The only thing that I was worried about: ‘Is this thing going to work?' And it did," he told AP.

While blazing a trial for the wireless communications industry, he hoped that phone technology was just getting started.

Cooper said he's "not crazy" about the shape of modern smartphones, blocks of plastic, metal and glass. He thinks phones will evolve so that they will be "distributed on your body," perhaps as sensors “measuring your health at all times.”

He believes batteries could even be replaced by human energy.

"The human body is the charging station, right? You ingest food, you create energy. Why not have this receiver for your ear embedded under your skin, powered by your body?" he imagined.

'I still don't know what TikTok is'

Cooper also acknowledged there's a dark side to advances - the risk to privacy and to 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 up rich profiles of users.

"It’s going to get resolved, but not easily," Cooper said. 

"There are people now that can justify measuring where you are, where you’re making your phone calls, who you’re calling, what you access on the Internet".

Smartphone use by children is another area that needs limits, Cooper said. One idea is to have “various internets curated for different audiences.”

The inspiration for Cooper's mobile phone idea was not the personal communicators on Star Trek, 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 settle dinner table arguments.


However, "there are many things that I have not yet learned," he said. "I still don’t know what TikTok is".

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