Eric Schmidt heading on mystery mission to North Korea

Economic kaboom possible when über-capitalist meets anti-capitalist


Google chairman Eric Schmidt is heading to the least internet-friendly country on the planet, according to AP, with a forthcoming trip to North Korea on his schedule.

Schmidt will be accompanying former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who's a repeat visitor to the self-styled "Best Korea". The meeting is a private affair by the two and isn't related to any official government contact. It could, however, be related to the recent arrest of a US citizen of Korean descent who has been convicted of "hostile" acts in Pyongyang – Richardson has brokered prisoner releases before.

But what makes the inclusion of Schmidt on the guest list interesting was Tuesday's surprise New Year address from North Korean premier Kim Jong-un. The youthful leader told the citizens of his state paradise that the country would have to focus on building up its technological chops to ensure its future prosperity.

"We should bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant on the strength of science and technology by fanning the flames of the industrial revolution in the new century," he told his captive audience.

"The industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution, and breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant," Kim said. "Like the satellite scientists who conquered outer space we should wage a dynamic campaign to push back the frontiers of science and technology so as to develop the country's overall science and technology to the world standards as soon as possible."

Kim Jong-un

Why does that cat look so grumpy?

He's got a mountain to climb. North Korea is possibly the most unconnected country on the planet, and what few internet access points it has are heavily controlled, with the penalty for unauthorized access usually being a spell in a reeducation camp. The country is also under a technological embargo from the UN.

The contrast with South Korea couldn't be sharper. There the government invested in a fiber network for the nation, and internet use and speeds are some of the highest in the world. In his New Year address, Kim spoke of reconnecting with the South; doing this online could require very big pipes.

It's certainly unlikely that Google would be asked to play a role in any wiring up of North Korean society. The Chocolate Factory has a fractious relationship with China, North Korea's biggest ally, and a sudden influx of facts could cause massive social upheaval (but might help the country build a working satellite next time.)

But Kim's ascension could be the sign of glasnost in the so-called "hermit kingdom". He's the youngest head of state in the world and may have big ideas for his little country, but he could find that opening his firewall unleashes an unwelcome torrent.

Ever since Schmidt stood down from day-to-day operations at Google, he's becoming something of a roving ambassador for global internet issues. It could be that the price of some poor soul's freedom is a session with the man himself, and Schmidt is one of the world's experts on information flows.

"The spread of mobile phones and new forms of connectivity offer us the prospect of connecting everybody," Schmidt said in commencement speech at Boston University in May. "When that happens, connectivity can revolutionize every aspect of society: politically, socially, economically."

Kim might be looking for a way to manage that revolution – as China seems to be – and to reap the benefits of being online while keeping social control. It'll be a tricky route, but one about which Schmidt should be able to provide expert advice. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Meg Whitman – former HP and eBay CEO – nominated as US ambassador to Kenya

    Donated $110K to Democrats in recent years

    United States president Joe Biden has announced his intention to nominate former HPE and eBay CEO Meg Whitman as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Kenya.

    The Biden administration's announcement of the planned nomination reminds us that Whitman has served as CEO of eBay, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Quibi. Whitman also serves on the boards of Procter & Gamble, and General Motors.

    The announcement doesn't remind readers that Whitman has form as a Republican politician – she ran for governor of California in 2010, then backed the GOP's Mitt Romney in his 2008 and 2012 bids for the presidency. She later switched political allegiance and backed the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

    Continue reading
  • Ex-Qualcomm Snapdragon chief turns CEO at AI chip startup MemryX

    Meet the new boss

    A former executive leading Qualcomm's Snapdragon computing platforms has departed the company to become CEO at an AI chip startup.

    Keith Kressin will lead product commercialization for MemryX, which was founded in 2019 and makes memory-intensive AI chiplets.

    The company is now out of stealth mode and will soon commercially ship its AI chips to non-tech customers. The company was testing early generations of its chips with industries including auto and robotics.

    Continue reading
  • Aircraft can't land safely due to interference with upcoming 5G C-band broadband service

    Expect flight delays and diversions, US Federal Aviation Administation warns

    The new 5G C-band wireless broadband service expected to rollout on 5 January 2022 in the US will disrupt local radio signals and make it difficult for airplanes to land safely in harsh weather conditions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

    Pilots rely on radio altimeter readings to figure out when and where an aircraft should carry out a series of operations to prepare for touchdown. But the upcoming 5G C-band service beaming from cell towers threatens to interfere with these signals, the FAA warned in two reports.

    Flights may have to be delayed or restricted at certain airports as the new broadband service comes into effect next year. The change could affect some 6,834 airplanes and 1,828 helicopters. The cost to operators is expected to be $580,890.

    Continue reading
  • Canadian charged with running ransomware attack on US state of Alaska

    Cross-border op nabbed our man, boast cops and prosecutors

    A Canadian man is accused of masterminding ransomware attacks that caused "damage" to systems belonging to the US state of Alaska.

    A federal indictment against Matthew Philbert, 31, of Ottawa, was unsealed yesterday, and he was also concurrently charged by the Canadian authorities with a number of other criminal offences at the same time. US prosecutors [PDF] claimed he carried out "cyber related offences" – including a specific 2018 attack on a computer in Alaska.

    The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Philbert was charged after a 23 month investigation "that also involved the [Royal Canadian Mounted Police, federal enforcers], the FBI and Europol."

    Continue reading
  • German court rules cookie preference service that shared IP addresses with US firm should be halted

    Schrems II starts to be felt in Europe

    A German court has ruled that sharing IP addresses with US-based servers for the purpose of cookie consent is unlawful under EU data protection law and the EU Court of Justice Schrems II ruling.

    The university Hochschule RheinMain in Germany was this week prevented by Wiesbaden Administrative Court from using a cookie preference service that shares the complete IP address of the end user to the servers of a company whose headquarters are in the US.

    A complainant had alleged that the CookieBot consent manager from Danish provider Cybot transmitted data such that IP addresses were shared with US-based cloud company Akamai Technologies.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021