The Father of Cellphone Thinks We’ll Have Hardware Embedded in Our Skin Next: NPR

Martin Cooper with the fruits of his labor.

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images


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Martin Cooper with the fruits of his labor.

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Shockingly, Drake wasn’t the first to make this hot streak shine.

Back in the 1970s, telecommunications was the new frontier for technology companies. This is how one CEO made the advocacy that cell phones will change human life forever.

Who is he? Martin Cooper – also known as the father of the mobile phone, former head of Motorola’s communications systems division – and the first person to ever make a call from a mobile phone.

What is the big deal? In an abstract way, we can probably relate that fateful call from last year to our broken phone addiction today.

  • Cooper had a vision to connect, and pushed for mobile while competitors placed their bets elsewhere.
  • In fact, the push for mobile was a rush push. At the time, Motorola’s competitor Bell Labs was concentrating its efforts on the car phone. That concept didn’t fly with Cooper.
  • He felt that “a mobile phone should be an extension of a person, it should be with a person all the time”.
  • So in 1972, he set out to create a mobile phone that could fit in your pocket. While everything in the pocket was subjective (they called them brick phones for a reason!) by the next year they had a functioning mobile phone system.
  • On April 3, 1973, Cooper made the first call of many, calling his counterpart at Motorola’s competitor, Bell Labs. (chaotic!)
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Want to dive deeper into technology? listening to Consider this episode on calls to stop the development of artificial intelligence.

A contemporary version of the original mobile phone used by engineer Martin Cooper to make the first phone call on April 3, 1973.

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images


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A contemporary version of the original mobile phone used by engineer Martin Cooper to make the first phone call on April 3, 1973.

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

What do people say?

Cooper spoke with NPR (via Zoom!) about that opening call and how quickly the world has changed since then.

About what he said in their first ever phone conversation:

I said, “I’m calling you from a cell phone. A real cell phone. A personal handheld cell phone.” I noticed that I was not opposed to scratching his nose at our achievement.

About overseeing the rapid development in technology:

We knew in 1973 that one day, everyone would have a cell phone, and we’re almost there. Two-thirds of people on Earth have one. So we had a joke that one day when you were born, you would be assigned a phone number. If you don’t answer the phone, you will die. We never imagined that there would be such a thing as the Internet. That didn’t exist in 1973. Digital cameras didn’t exist in 1973. The large-scale integrated circuit didn’t exist in 1973. So there were breakthroughs that we couldn’t imagine.

So what now?

  • Cooper predicts that artificial intelligence will continue to revolutionize the way we communicate:
  • “The mobile phone will become a part of you. Parts of the mobile phone will be embedded under your skin. You will not have to charge the mobile phone, because your body is a perfect charger. You take food and convert it into energy. So there are a lot of improvements that have not yet been made in the mobile phone.” And I really think we’re at the beginning of the mobile revolution.”
  • Does anyone have any tips for getting my daily screen time that don’t involve self-restraint or deleting TikTok?
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Kai McNamee contributed to this story.

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