Posts tagged Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company's Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Schmidt’s Washington speech on North Korea, Internet and dictatorships

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Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company's Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company’s Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Google has posted video of Eric Schmidt’s remarks at the recent “Big Tent” event in Washington, D.C.

The Google-organized events act as idea summits and have been running for about three years and the D.C. event took place on April 26.

During his speech, the chairman of Google talked about North Korea and the impact that the connected world, and the Internet in particular, would have on authoritarian countries.

“In North Korea we visited with the government, of course that’s all there is in North Korea, and we went to the Korea Computer Center and they asked us all about future versions of Android,” he said in the speech. “Obviously they have access, at least in the government, to what we are doing, as if I was going to tell the future roadmap of Android to the North Koreans. I obviously didn’t.”

A screenshot from the Chosun Ilbo website on April 29, 2103.

A screenshot from the Chosun Ilbo website on April 29, 2103.

I’ve been waiting for the video to verify exactly what he said after a report in the Chosun Ilbo made it seem like the North Koreans were asking Schmidt for top-secret software code. (see image, right)

In fact, rather than trying “to get classified software technology” as the Chosun Ilbo painted, it appears the computer scientists just wanted to know what features would be available in future versions of Android. Pretty much everyone in the mobile industry has the same question — something Google could reveal that later this week at its I/O conference in San Francisco.

Getting Android doesn’t even need Google’s permission. The basic version of Android is open-source software that can be freely downloaded from the Internet. An export license may officially be required, but that doesn’t appear to have been a hurdle so far.

That basic version doesn’t include the Google services, like Gmail, Maps or YouTube. For those apps a licensing agreement is required with Google.

Beyond the North Korea-specific comments, the whole thing is worth watching if you’re interested in what’s driving Schmidt these days. Listen and it will become clear that his January trip to Pyongyang wasn’t at all about opening up North Korea to Google, but about opening up a dialogue with the country about it’s coming transition to a more connected place. That’s something he sees as inevitable.

“We’re going to see this one-way valve from the connected world to the non-connected world, and this is going to happen whether we like it or not,” he said.

More connectivity will not only transform the lives of North Koreans, but has the chance to fundamentally change the way the rest of the world looks at North Korea. Right now, too much of the world views North Korea by its government’s actions and sees the people as nothing more than a brain-washed populous. Schmidt argues that will change.

“All of a sudden we’re going to hear the distinct voices of citizens in those countries in a way we’ve never heard before, and by the way, they’re just like us. They’re human beings, they’re curious, they want the right things for their children, they want good health, they don’t want war, all those kinds of things,” he said.

But he acknowledges that authoritarian governments are going to push against further expansion of communications technology.

“Governments are going to work really, really hard to stop this because they way to really get a dictator going is to threaten their authority, which is the way revolutions occur,” he said.

There was a final shout-out to North Korea, when Schmidt said he viewed the country as the second worst for connectivity and flow of information in the world.

“What’s interesting is that I had always thought the worst place was North Korea, and I’ve since discovered there is an even worse place, which is Eritrea, which I have not yet been able to go to but is my objective,” Schmidt said.

Eritrea usually sits with North Korea at the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House press freedom rankings.

Reporters Without Borders recently characterized Eritrea as, “a vast open prison for its people.”

Eric Schmidt and the North Korean Internet dilemma

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130422-schmidt-bookGoogle Chairman Eric Schmidt has said a little bit more about his January trip to Pyongyang. [Updated: see below]

The “private, humanitarian” mission, as Schmidt termed it, surprised many and saw him turn up in Pyongyang with his daughter Sophie Schmidt, Jared Cohen, head of the Google Ideas think tank, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Kun “Tony” Namkung, a U.S.-based businessman that acts as a go-between in some deals between the U.S. and North Korea.

Schmidt and Cohen, who haven’t said much about the trip since leaving Pyongyang, penned a dual-bylined article in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday about the trip. The article, “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” covered the role of technology in the DPRK and other tightly-run countries and served as a preview of a new book by Schmidt and Cohen that will be published on April 23.

The Wall Street Journal article, which was accompanied by a video interview, didn’t reveal much not already know about the visit or what went on behind the scenes, but Schmidt does seem to have realized the students at Kim Il Sung University were surfing the Internet for his benefit.

When foreigners visit, the government stages Internet browsing sessions by having “students” look at pre-downloaded and preapproved content, spending hours (as they did when we were there) scrolling up and down their screens in totalitarian unison. — “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2013.

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

The Internet’s role, both present and future, in the DPRK is a difficult one. Schmidt understands that the values of the Internet he most identifies with — free expression, freedom of assembly, critical thinking, meritocracy — aren’t comfortable with the country’s leadership.

On a technical level, getting the country better connected wouldn’t be particularly difficult.

As Schmidt noted on his blog in January, it would be very easy for North Korea to connect both its cellular and intranet networks to the global Internet.

But things get mixed when it comes to reasons why North Korea’s government should do this.

Perhaps the best argument made by the Google chairman to-date for greater Internet use was on his blog back in January.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically. — Eric Schmidt, Google +, January 19, 2013. 

Speaking to reporters after leaving Pyongyang, Schmidt said he made it “very clear” to the people he met that failure to get connected would hurt the country.

So why not rush to make the connection?

Ironically, Schmidt also makes the best argument for not connecting to the Internet — at least from the point of view of the ruling elite.

None of this will transform the country overnight, but one thing is certain: Though it is possible to curb and monitor technology, once it is available, even the most repressive regimes are unable to put it back in the box. — “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2013.

KCTV news, January 8, 2013

KCTV news, January 8, 2013

And herein lies the North Korean problem. While greater Internet access will bring benefits to the country, Schmidt notes correctly that greater freedom to communicate and increased access to information never leads to good things for authoritarian regimes.

North Korea is currently trying to have it both ways.

Internet-based technologies like websites and video conferencing have been brought to a nationwide intranet and citizens can call and send text messages on cell phones, but neither connects to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, companies are being allowed controlled Internet access, either through the web or email, to do necessary business and gain some of the efficiencies of the modern world.

Where North Korea goes next will be crucial for the future wealth of the county and its people, but it seems almost inevitable that a step towards more Internet access will lead to a future for the leadership and military that is uncertain at best.

Update: Nick Sutton, editor of BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, wrote to tell me they interviewed Eric Schmidt on their programme on Monday. Schmidt talks about his visit and again makes his case for greater Internet access in the country.

Find his comments about North Korea at the 8:40 mark.

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

Schmidt’s Internet message “well received,” says Richardson

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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s message on the importance of embracing the Internet was “well received” in Pyongyang, according to Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico.

Richardson, writing in The Washington Post on Friday, invited Schmidt to accompany him on a private trip to North Korea in January. During the trip, the delegation met with senior North Korean officials.

During our visit, Eric Schmidt, the co-leader of our delegation and the executive chairman of Google, spoke about the advantages of adopting the Internet and increased mobile technology. His message was well-received by officials, scientists and students. — “Time for a Reboot with North Korea,” Washington Post, February 1, 2013.

Richardson’s message came with a kicker:

But economic development, access to technology and progress don’t go together with nuclear threats. These threats lead to increased isolation, decreased international aid and freezes in technological progress. — “Time for a Reboot with North Korea,” Washington Post, February 1, 2013.

The editorial spends most of its time dealing with North Korea’s recent threats to test a nuclear weapon and the positive diplomatic steps it could be taking to better relations with its neighbors. Schmidt’s Internet message isn’t mentioned again, but I though it was worth highlighting as it’s one of the few things written about the trip.

The only other information came in a blog post from Schmidt himself and one from his daughter, who also accompanied him on the trip.

Of those two accounts, perhaps the most interesting was Sophie Schmidt’s interpretation that the arrival of wider Internet access in North Korea is inevitable:

They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take. — Sophie In Korea, Google Sites, January 2013.

Of course, Internet access doesn’t mean it will necessarily be free and unfiltered. North Korea spends so much time and effort trying to keep foreign information sources from penetrating the country, it’s almost unthinkable that unfettered Internet access would appear anytime soon.

Much more likely is an expansion of the controlled access to areas where the government sees economic benefit: business, academia and transmission of propaganda from the country to the rest of the world.

As for Google, a likely first step would be the hosting of North Korean computer scientists as its campus in California for some sort of training or academic program.

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

Eric Schmidt on his North Korean visit

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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has posted some thoughts on his recent trip to Pyongyang. The comments appeared on his Google Plus page on Saturday, the same day his daughter also posted her impressions of the trip.

The executive’s comments won’t provide any big revelations, at least they shouldn’t to readers of this blog. He generally reiterates that it was a private visit aimed at exploring some of the technology in North Korea and exchanging views with local officials.

On his arrival in Beijing after leaving Pyongyang, Schmidt told reporters he had advised the North Koreans to open up to the Internet. If they didn’t, he said, the country risks being left even further behind.

On Saturday, his daughter posted that North Korean officials appeared to acknowledge the country would have to embrace digital connectivity.

Here’s the full text of Eric Schmidt’s comments:

Here is an edited version of my comments when Governor Richardson’s delegation returned from Pyongyang:

I wanted to thank Governor Richardson for inviting my crew along on this trip. This was a private visit to North Korea to talk about the free and open Internet. The North Koreans showed up, listened to us and asked us a lot of questions.

Overall, the technology in North Korea is very limited right now.

There is a 3G network that is a joint venture with an Egyptian company called Orascom. It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network, that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smart phones. It would be very easy for them to turn the Internet on for this 3G network. Estimates are that are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future.

There is a supervised Internet and a Korean Intranet. (It appeared supervised in that people were not able to use the internet without someone else watching them). There’s a private intranet that is linked with their universities. Again, it would be easy to connect these networks to the global Internet.

They also demonstrated their software and technology based on open source (mostly Linux) and it was obvious to us that access to the Internet and all of this was possible for the government, the military, and universities, but not for the general public.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically.

We made that alternative very, very clear. Once the internet starts in any country, citizens in that country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do one thing: open up the Internet first. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government of North Korea has not yet done. It is their choice now, and in my view, it’s time for them to start, or they will remain behind. — Eric Schmidt, Google Plus, January 19, 2013.

DPRK officials indicated Internet is inevitable, says Sophie Schmidt

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Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang, in an image from her blog

Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang, in an image from her blog

Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, has written a comprehensive blog post about her recent trip to Pyongyang and included in her revelations: North Korean officials seemed to acknowledge they can’t keep the Internet out.

The posting is perhaps the most complete account yet of the visit by any member of the group, which went around Pyongyang largely unobserved except by local Associated Press reporters.

In the post, entitled “Sophie in North Korea,” Sophie Schmidt writes about the impressions she got of the city, country and sights she saw on the visit.

They’re similar to the feelings that most first-time visitors to North Korea feel: namely, a sense of amazement and astonishment at the sights and that nagging feeling that you’re never really sure if the things you’re seeing are completely authentic.

It turns out that the team didn’t bother to pack any cell phones or laptop computers for the trip. Schimdt writes they left them behind in Beijing, “since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

I wonder when any of the technologists on the trip last spent four days without a cell phone or computer? There aren’t many trips or places in the world that demand such measures these days.

Speaking as a tech person, just getting to speak to officials in the most closed country on earth about the virtues of the Internet–and having them (appear to) listen–seemed extraordinary. — Sophie In Korea, Google Sites, January 2013.

Among the other security advice the team received: assume you’re being watched and monitored all the time.

We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders?

They stayed at a guesthouse a few miles outside of Pyongyang and had three TV channels in their rooms: CNN International, a channel of dubbed Russian movies, and Korean Central Television. Schmidt writes that her father reacted to the potential for bugs by simply leaving his door open.

The most interesting part for me, and likely readers of this blog, is the section on technology.

Schmidt writes about her visit to the e-library at Kim Il Sung University with a couple of interesting observations:

One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the post from a technology point-of-view is right at the end, when Schmidt talks about the Internet and the North Korean tablet computer she was shown. We’ve written about the tablet computer and other North Korean gadgets before, and the likelihood that they are OEM products from China that are localized in North Korea.

Some of the techies asked Eric Schmidt some “savvy” questions, Sophie Schmidt wrote:

Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.

Getting North Korean apps on Android Market? That’s an interesting ambition, but not completely unprecedented. There are a handful of North Korean-developed cell phone games already available, although not directly from the DPRK. Nosotek, a joint-venture software outsourcing company developed the games like Bobbies Blocks, which are available through a German software house.

When the group arrived in Beijing, Eric Schmidt told reporters that he’d told the North Koreans they needed to

“Once the internet starts, citizens in a country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do something,” Schmidt told reporters at Beijing airport. “They have to make it possible for people to use the internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It’s their choice now, and in my view it’s time now for them to start or they will remain behind.” — The Guardian, January 10, 2013.

He didn’t say how they’d taken that advice, but Sophie Schmidt offers her interpretation of the response:

They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.

Take a look at the page and read the whole thing. There’s also a rather nice Picasa web album full of photos from the trip.

130108-kctv-google-thumb

Ranking Eric Schmidt’s Pyongyang trip

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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is back from Pyongyang. His visit made headlines around the world, but what about inside North Korea?

I took a look at the main 8pm evening news on North Korean TV to see where the visit ranked. Details of Eric Schmidt’s movements were reported on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Domestic news dominated the news both days, as it usually does. There were many items about workers across the country reacting to and supporting Kim Jong Un’s New Year address. The “Google delegation” news accounted for 30 seconds of the 10-minute bulletin on Wednesday, and 35 seconds of a 14-minute newscast on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the top news item was a 20 second item a booklet published in Russia about Kim Jong Un.

Here’s the rundown, according to BBC Monitoring:

  1. A booklet written by Kim Jong Un regarding Kim Jong Il’s work is published in Russia 
  2. Media in China, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Congo publish reports on the 21st anniversary of Kim Jong Il being elected the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army and the first anniversary of the same happening to Kim Jong Un
  3. The youth vangard hold a meeting to support the New Year address
  4. A propaganda slide is shown calling: “2013 Let Us Thoroughly Implement the Programmatic Task as Proposed in the New Year’s Address of Respected and Beloved Marshal Kim Jong Un!”
  5. Another propaganda slide: “”Let Us Open a Epoch-Making Phase of the Construction of an Economically Powerful State With the Spirit and the Vigor That Conquered Space!”
  6. A propaganda poster exhibition opens at Pyongyang International Cultural Hall
  7. The North Pyongan shock brigade is working on land reclamation
  8. Nampo Port workers are attempting to follow the New Year address
  9. Taedonggang Fruit General Processing Plant workers are attempting to follow the New Year address
  10. Workers from around the country are helping to support farming villages
  11. The Google delegation visits Kim Il Sung University e-library
  12. A statement is issued in Nepal congratulating the DPRK on its satellite launch
  13. A statement is issued in Germany congratulating the DPRK on its satellite launch

Here’s the report:

On January 9th, the top news was a report on gifts sent to Kim Jong Un from the President of Algeria via the DPRK’s embassy in that country. The “Google delegation” visit was ranked eleventh, after an item about a Chinese government economic delegation in the country. Both were several items behind a piece on manure delivery in Pyongyang.

Here’s the bulletin rundown, according to BBC Monitoring:

  1. Gifts sent to Kim Jong Un from the president of Algeria.
  2. Brazilian and Peruvian groups issue statements supporting Kim Jong Un’s New Year address
  3. The General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea holds a meeting in front of statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae Art Studio to support the New Year address
  4. The Union of Agricultural Working People of Korea holds a meeting at the Three-Revolution Exhibition Hall to support the New Year address
  5. Songyo Knitwear Plant workers are trying to implement and support the New Year address
  6. A Korean People’s Army unit is supporting farming in socialist rural areas
  7. The Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League in Pyongyang sends manure to farms in the city
  8. The Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League is supporting farming projects in rural areas
  9. The Taesongsan Sports Team is training harder in the new year
  10. A Chinese government trade and economic delegation is in North Korea
  11. Eric Schmidt’s delegation visits the Grand People’s Study House
  12. The Nigerian Committee for Study of the Juche Idea congratulates the DPRK on its satellite launch
  13. China opens the world’s longest high-speed rail line
  14. A measles epidemic in Pakistan has killed 154 people
  15. Landslides in Colombia kill five people

And here’s the clip of the visit:

The visit wasn’t reported on North Korean radio’s main morning news bulletins, according to BBC Monitoring reports.

Here’s a gallery of images from January 8:

And here’s January 9th. The visit included a trip to the book delivery counter, where an assistant was able to speedily retrieve books from a back storeroom via a conveyer belt. If it was anything like my trip there in 2002, Schmidt was probably shown a hopelessly out of date book about computer programming.

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