Quirks & Quarks

If a time traveller left a 2017 cell phone in 1967, how much could 1967 technology retrieve from it?

Dr. Abdulmotaleb El Saddik speculates on how much 1967 technology could actually retrieve from today's smartphones.
Today's smartphones can hold as many photos as 8,000 fridge-sized computers from 1967. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Listen5:32

For our next question we travel back to 1967.

Kerry Foster Delta, B.C., asks: "If a time traveller left a 2017 cell phone in 1967, how much could 1967 technology actually retrieve from the phone?"

Dr. Abdulmotaleb El Saddik is a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and University Research Chair at the University of Ottawa.

El Saddik says the first research paper on touch screens was published around 1964 so we'd be able to interact with such a phone to some degree.

Texts could likely be retrieved, but in 1967, formats like .jpegs were still decades away.

Passwords would present a problem, but he thinks it could take a couple of years before they would be able to figure out things like that in the 2017 cell phone.  

At the time, El Saddik says the best computer was able to store around 125 gigabytes. "The machine was as big as my fridge at home," he says. Compression technology has come a long way. Just to store the photos on a smartphone from today would probably take 8,000 fridge-sized machines.

But apps to access the internet wouldn't be able to function in 1967.