Google's Eric Schmidt And Daughter Recount 'Very, Very Strange' North Korea Trip
Google's Exective Chairman Eric Schmidt and his teenage daughter have provided a rare glimpse into a "very, very strange" North Korea, after their recent visit to the secretive Communist state.
Sophie accompanied her father earlier this month as part of a nine-person delegation led by the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, whose mission was to encourage the closed society to open up.
Over the weekend, the 19-year-old published a detailed blog post about the trip, describing the visit as "a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments."
"We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (two, so one can mind the other)," she wrote. "The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant."
With photos taken during her trip, the young Schmidt describes an incredibly cold country, somewhere between 10-15 degree Fahrenheit, where its people live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.
During their visit, the delegation saw the Palace of the Sun, Kim Il Sung's former office and now the national mausoleum where Kim Il Sung's and Kim Jong Il's bodies lie in state, as well as the Kim II Sung University e-Library, which she describes eerily as a room of 90 desks, all occupied with people staring at computer screens, with just one problem: "No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared."
Sophie's account was followed by a Google+ post from her father, which looked to the future of North Korea and helping it engage with the outside world.
"Overall, the technology in North Korea is very limited right now," said Schmidt. "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 there are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future."
Schmidt also says that the country has a limited Intranet and supervised Internet (supervised in that somebody has to be watching you when you use it), which would also make it easy to connect North Korea to the global online community.
The country, a relic of the Cold War, is one of the most isolated and repressive in the world. The majority of its citizens live in poverty and the delegation that visited the country strongly believes opening up the Internet is key to its economic prosperity.
But whether the political leaders of North Korea will ever trust their citizens with the Internet, is another matter. Just two weeks ago, human rights activists and bloggers used Google's own Google Earth program to pin-point the country's labor camps which house as many as 250,000 political prisoners - camps which the leaders say don't even exist.