Future Of Technology: Inventor Of The Cellphone Looks Ahead
April 15, 2013 1:24 p.m.
Martin Cooper, Inventor
Related Story: Future Of Technology: Inventor Of The Cellphone Looks Ahead
My guest today, Mark Cooper, has won the Marconi award this year. That is considered the pinnacle award in the field of education and information science. But it is just one of many honors bestowed on man who is known as the father of the cell phone. It was 40 years ago this month that Martin Cooper made the first handheld cell phone call ever he now lives in San Diego and runs the tech firm Dyna LLC with his wife another technology pioneer Arlene Harris. Mark Cooper it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the show.
MARTIN COOPER: Always a pleasure to be here, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You won a lot of awards as the father of the cell phone is it still special to be named like an honor like the Marconi.
MARTIN COOPER: Of course I'm delighted to be recognized in that way but I really look to the future, Maureen, not the past and I'm really excited to have the opportunity to influence the future in some ways and that is the only thing that is really important to me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you win an award like this to get a telephone call is that how you find out about it?
MARTIN COOPER: Or an e-mail. You know it's always a pleasure to happen and it's always a very nice surprise.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, before you made the first handheld mobile phone call in New York in San Diego, there were already mobile phones in cars and did some companies and innovators think it was enough that there was no need, why would anyone need a handheld mobile phone?
MARTIN COOPER: That's right, actually helped produce the first nationwide dial phones in 1962. But, the service was awful. It really was terrible. Even in 1970 there were only a few hundred thousand car telephones in the entire world and get there were people who thought, I had a fellow from London tell me that he thought the total market in London for portable handheld phones was 12,000 people where there are more like 10 million people now
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Like everyone
MARTIN COOPER: A lot of naysayers, but of course we prove them all wrong.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The first famous cell phone call was made to a competitor, wasn't it.
MARTIN COOPER: Yes, AT&T actually, this is the old AT&T, Bell laboratories actually invented the whole concept of cellular, and they were proposing to commercialize it in their version of cellular was going to be more car telephones and L a thought that was wrong and there ought to be competition and not a monopoly.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about all your innovations in cell phone use are you most proud of?
MARTIN COOPER: Believe it or not, historically most people still talk on their cell phones and it is the talking that was a revolution. That, ability to talk on a cell phone change the nature of what a phone call was pretty used to be when you made a phone call you called the place, now you call a person and that has changed the behavior of lots and lots of people so I'm very proud of that but as I told you I live for the future, not the past.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now I'm wondering though one of the problems with technologies when they are introduced is that people have a hard time envisioning, going to use this how am I going to fit this into my life teach you condition that mobile communications that hand-held cell phones would make changes the way you just talked about the fact that it would bring people together in a way that people had never been able to communicate before?
MARTIN COOPER: We absolutely knew that, why because we have started and my predecessors had created the walkie-talkie in World War II, and we made soldiers much more effective on the battlefield and then we built a device called the handy talkie which was a two-way radio that you could carry with you on your person and we watched how businesses rearrange themselves so they could work better, more efficiently, so we knew that when consumers could have disability, the freedom to be connected wherever you are, we knew that was going to change their lives in a good way.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What's going to change our lives now, how is cellular technology, the ability to communicate how is that going to morph and change even more because you say you look to the future not to the past so I'm asking you to do that just now.
MARTIN COOPER: We are still what I call the pong stage, the very early stages of cellular technology. Talking and listening is still very useful. We play a lot of games, we read our e-mail. Of course all you do is get your e-mail 15 min. before you could see it on a computer and you can watch a movie if you want to, if you've got really good eyesight, but we are about to have several revolutions from the ability to be, the fact that you can measure things on your body as an example and move those pieces of information to a computer, saying a powerful computer likely IBM Watson that is now the Jeopardy champion of the world well, 10 years from now the computer is going to be able to diagnose you far better than a doctor. Doctors are still going to be important but the diagnosis is going to be much more valuable so you will be able to do a physical examination, not every year or five years, but every minute and that ability is going to revolutionize medicine, is going to change our health care system from a sick care system, to a present disease system. There is the potential if you can sense diseases before they happen to stop them in the bud before they even become a disease, so we are going to be much healthier in the future and the cell phone is going to be a major contributor.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have so much more I want to talk to about there's breaking news right now Mr. Cooper and would like to do is invite you back in the future and talk to us more about what you see coming in the advancement of mobile technology.
MARTIN COOPER: Any time. I am always available.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Martin Cooper thank you so much for joining us and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.