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How the Wireless Revolution Will Make a Better World

By Paula Reinman
Co-authored by Marty Cooper

44 years ago this month, cell phone pioneer and 2013 Marconi Fellow, Marty Cooper, made the world’s first call from a mobile phone and fundamentally changed the way we communicate by recognizing that people call people, rather than places.

Like many good things, this call and the device from which it was placed originated from conflict. While some viewed the end of the copper wire, or the place, as the destination for people’s calls, Marty realized that people are inherently mobile and that they want to talk to each other without the constraints of wires or location.

Even though there are nearly 5B mobile phones in use today, the industry is still quite young. The first commercial mobile service was launched in 1983, but cellular did not become widely used until 2000. While wireless conjures up images of incessantly texting millennials or tuned out pedestrians walking in front of buses, talking and texting are conveniences, not life-changers.

According to Cooper, “The technology – the networks, devices and intelligence – is here now to stimulate several revolutions based upon applications that fundamentally improve lives and change societal economics. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Changing Healthcare from Reactive to Proactive

Today, we have a highly reactive health care system. We experience symptoms; they are diagnosed and treated, typically after the problem has set in.

“We’re heading for a world in which wearables, powered by wireless technology, can monitor what’s happening in our bodies on a minute by minute basis, rather than only during an annual exam or an emergency room visit,” says Cooper. “With constant and unobtrusive monitoring, we can sense the outset of a disease, rather than the occurrence, and actually stop the disease from happening.”

We see this in action today with sensors worn by people who are subject to congestive heart failure. These sensors can tell if the heart is accumulating fluid ten hours before a heart attack will happen, allowing time to get treatment and preventing the attack from happening.

Leveraging the Teachable Moment

As we understand more about the human brain and how people learn, we know that much of our education happens outside the classroom and beyond traditional subject silos. In fact, learning is a 24/7 experience, requiring reliable and affordable wireless technology.

Cooper points out, “Research concludes that people who exercise their learning skills never lose those skills. Conversely, people who stop learning lose the ability to learn, irrecoverably. Einstein, for example, had the learning ability of an eight year-old into his eighties. We need to make learning fun and accessible for everyone.”

One example of a new learning experience, powered by wireless and driving huge improvements in math and English outcomes, is the flipped classroom, where learning happens outside the classroom and class time is dedicated to group projects, labs, discussion and projects.

Increasing Overall Wealth Through Collaboration

“New forms of collaboration have the potential to multiply the productivity of every working human by 3, 5 or 10 times,” Cooper believes. “Only the wealth created by that explosion of productivity can solve the biggest problem in the world today, that of poverty. Redistribution of wealth cannot eliminate poverty.”

Collaboration is the most important application of wireless technology because it allows people to work together 24/7 from wherever they are – and to improve productivity by orders of magnitude.

While today’s collaboration relies on fragmented tools and serendipity, collaboration done right will leverage AI and machine learning to get each person’s ideas to the right people and places for input and insights that take the idea to the next level. Our chat rooms, social media interactions and corporate collaboration tools are all early experiments in social intercourse that will evolve into very efficient tools to facilitate the exchange of ideas and thoughtful, challenging interactions.

Building with Social Good in Mind

The technology, vision and capital are there to make these wireless revolutions happen but we only see value as a society if everyone benefits. While falling costs are a key component of technology-driven applications, the systems and philosophies to make this technology widely available need to be baked into these revolutions.

Cooper suggests a few efforts to watch and engage with to ensure universal accessibility and an approach that focuses on helping people attain their goals, rather than on pure technology.  He welcomes ideas about other groups that share common goals:

  • Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution — set up by the World Economic Forum and supported by inaugural partners including Salesforce, Kaiser Permanente, IDEO and Huawei, the Center will convene start-ups, venture capitalists, the world’s leading companies, experts, academics, NGOs and governments to discuss how science and technology policies can benefit all in society.
  • People Centered Internet — led by Marconi Society Chair and Fellow, Vint Cerf, this organization is working with the IEEE, World Bank, Internet Society, World Economic Forum and others to ensure a people and community first approach to connecting the half of the world’s population that does not today have access to the Internet.
  • Tendrel — a global network for social entrepreneurs, led by executives from Camfed, Teach for All, Center for Digital Inclusion and others, designed to build the underlying advocacy infrastructure necessary for social change.

“It is unacceptable that some parts of our society live longer and more healthful lives while others experience no benefits from new technology. Wireless is poised to make a difference in the lives of people across the planet and I can’t wait to see how it helps others,” says the father of the cell phone.