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Camera Phone Pioneer Ponders the Impact

On another scale, parents use cell-phone slideshows _ not wallet photos _ to show off pictures of their children, while adolescents document their rites of passage with cell phone cameras and instantly share the images.

One of the recipients of Kahn's seminal photo e-mail was veteran technology consultant Andy Seybold, who recalled being "blown away" by the picture.

"The fact that it got sent wirelessly on the networks those days _ that was an amazing feat," Seybold said.

Kahn's makeshift photo-communications system formed the basis for a new company, LightSurf Technologies, which he later sold to VeriSign Inc. LightSurf built "PictureMail" software and worked with cell phone makers to integrate the wireless photo technology.

Sharp Corp. was the first to sell a commercial cell phone with a camera in Japan in 2000. Camera phones didn't debut in the U.S. until 2002, Kahn said.

Though Kahn's work revolved around transmitting only digital still photographs _ video-related developments were created by others in the imaging and chip industries _ his groundbreaking implementation of the instant-sharing via a cell phone planted a seed.

"He facilitated people putting cameras in a phone, and he proved that you can take a photo and send it to someone with a cell phone," Seybold said.

Kahn, 55, is well aware of how the camera phone has since been put to negative uses: sneaky shots up women's skirts, or the violent trend of "happy slapping" in Europe where youths provoke a fight or assault, capture the incident on camera and then spread the images on the Web or between mobile phones.

But he likes to focus on the technology's benefits. It's been a handy tool that has led to vindication for victims or validation for vigilantes.

As Kahn heard the smattering of stories in recent years about assailants scared off by a camera phone or criminals who were nabbed later because their faces or their license plates were captured on the gadget, he said, "I started feeling it was better than carrying a gun."

And though he found the camera-phone video of the former Iraqi dictator's execution disturbing, Kahn said the gadget helped "get the truth out." The unofficial footage surreptitiously taken by a guard was vastly different from the government-issued version and revealed a chaotic scene with angry exchanges depicting the ongoing problems between the nation's factions.

Kahn also thinks the evolution of the camera phone has only just begun.

He wouldn't discuss details of his newest startup, Fullpower Technologies Inc., which is in stealth mode working on the "convergence of life sciences and wireless," according to its Web site.

But, Kahn said, it will, among other things, "help make camera phones better."

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© 2007 The Associated Press