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Eric Schmidt’s daughter spills the beans
Google President Eric Schmidt paid an unexpected visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea last week and some bizarre details of the visit have now come to light, thanks to Schmidt’s daughter Sophie.
Writing in her Google blog, Sophie recalled some weird aspects of the trip, such as visits to Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum, western-style fast food restaurant and an e-Library. All events were carefully choreographed and government “minders” were on hand to spread the Juche gospel, or to keep Google delegation from seeing something they shouldn’t – which is pretty much the rest of the country.
In her rather witty blog, Sophie also pointed out that Kim Jong-Il’s favorite computer was a 15-inch Macbook Pro. Given the totalitarian and secretive nature of the regime, we can’t say we are too surprised by his choice of an equally closed computing platform. The Macbook was displayed in the mausoleum, along with other goodies used by self-proclaimed internet expert Kim Jong-Il and Great Leader Kim Il Sung, including cars, train compartments and even a yacht. It all sounds a bit surreal and too opulent in a country struggling to feed its own people.
Sophie also had a chance to tour the Kim Il Sung University e-Library, which she describes as an e-Potemkin Village. The facility looks pretty nice, with about 90 desks manned by well dressed youths.
“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,” wrote Sophie.
In a recent address, the current leader Kim Jong Un spoke of the need to improve North Korea’s competitiveness and open up to new technology. The country currently has a national intranet, as well as a mobile network with one to two million subscribers. North Korea is now even allowing foreigners who visit the country to use their cell phones to make international calls, provided they cough up $ 67 for a SIM card. However, after reading Sophie’s blog, we doubt many tourists will visit the country anyway.
The Google delegation was also given a tour of the Korea Computer Center, which Sophie described as a “deranged version” of the Consumer Electronics Show. The North Koreans were also quite keen to show off their latest invention, an Android tablet with internet access.
“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology. They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist,” wrote Sophie. “Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: 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.”