Who Did It First?
IN 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper was the first to demonstrate a handheld cellular telephone. It had a battery, a radio, and a microprocessor (a minicomputer). New Yorkers gaped in amazement when they saw Cooper making a phone call on the street. But the invention was possible only because back in 1800, Alessandro Volta had invented a reliable battery. In addition, the telephone had been developed by 1876, the radio by 1895, and the computer by 1946. Finally, the invention of the microprocessor in 1971 made cell phones possible. Nevertheless, we might ask, Was communication with sophisticated devices really new?
A communication device often taken for granted is the human voice. Over half the billions of neurons in the motor cortex of your brain are involved in controlling your speech organs, and about 100 muscles operate the complex mechanisms of your tongue, lips, jaw, throat, and chest.
Your ear too is part of the same communication system. It converts sound into electrical impulses that your brain can process. Your brain analyzes sounds, so you can recognize people by the timbre of their voice. Your brain also measures how many millionths of a second one ear hears before the other and thus calculates precisely where a sound comes from. These are just two of the features that enable you to listen to one person at a time, even though several others may be speaking.
So, sophisticated wireless communication (with caller recognition) is not new. We find it first in the world of living things—nature.
[Diagram/Pictures on page 3]
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Dr. Martin Cooper develops the mobile telephone
Dr. Cooper and mobile phone: © Mark Berry
[Pictures on page 2]
Right side of page 2, front to back, reenacted photos: Guglielmo Marconi with his radio equipment; Thomas Edison and the lightbulb; Granville T. Woods, a communications inventor; the Wright Brothers and the 1903 Wright Flyer