Andrea Michell Reports
updated 5/2/2013 7:50:23 PM ET 2013-05-02T23:50:23

Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, authors of the book "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Businesses," talked about their visit to North Korea (which the U.S. State department did not approve).

Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, authors of the book “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Businesses,” opened up about visiting one of the most repressive societies on the planet, Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.

“I came to a view of North Korea that currently it runs pretty much like the whole country is a military,” Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Thursday. “From that perspective, there’s always a threat.”

Schmidt and Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, visited the impoverished communist nation over four days in January with a nine-person delegation including former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

“We tried to make the argument that they cannot survive economically if they don’t open up a little bit,” Schmidt told Mitchell. “We just don’t know what they’ll do with that message.”

About one million North Koreans have cell phones, and most are 3G-capable. Yet data service is not available.

“There’s an unfiltered Internet connection,” Schmidt said of their visit to the Korea Computer Center. “They have tablets. They have smartphones. They just hog all the best connectivity for a small number of people that are running the country, which from our perspective is the new corruption when societies should be online.”

Schmidt and Cohen talked about trying to meet with Kenneth Bae, the 44-year-old American citizen who was arrested under murky charges last November and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor this week.

“I think the situation is horrific,” Schmidt told Mitchell.

“When we tried to make the case to at least get a chance to speak with him in Pyongyang and have them bring him down to the capital, the North Korean response to us, well, the State Department came out against your visit, so you don’t have consular authority,” Cohen told Mitchell. “And, of course, we were there with phones that didn’t work, no Internet connectivity. So our response to them was, since you actually seem to have access to the Internet and the media, maybe you could tell us what the State Department said, which kind of reveals exactly the information blackout that this place is experiencing.”

The State Department criticized Schmidt, Cohen and Richardson’s January trip, just weeks after Pyongyang restarted antagonistic military action by launching a long-range rocket on December 12.

“We don’t think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Schmidt told Mitchell Thursday that he would “caution people about speculating” over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s endgame. “Even though this leader was Western-educated, the tools of oppression are very strong.”

“They were very careful not to tip their hand to us as to what they were going to do and open up the Internet,” Schmidt said. His and Cohen’s book argues that in the next decade, 5 billion new people are going to connect to the Internet, mostly from developing nations. “All they have to do is turn on the Internet and that country is going to get a lot better,” Schmidt said.

Video: Why technology has proven itself to be indispensable

  1. Closed captioning of: Why technology has proven itself to be indispensable

    when we made our commitment to the gulf, bp had two big goals: for families to find their loved ones. it was just remarkable.

    >>> we saw the first tremendous collaboration between the police who did a fantastic job and the internet . the police released the videos. and then literally a million people started matching pictures, trying to figure out all the details of where these young men had been. furthermore, when they ultimately carjacked this fellow, made him drive around and he ultimately fled, he left his cell phone in the car and that's how they were tracked to the shootout which ultimately caused the guy to end up in the boat.

    >> the carjack victim was key to this.

    >> and the presence of mind.

    >> he was either brilliant or terrified. but leaving his cell phone in the car allowed them to be found.

    >> weigh talk about the privacy issues here, jared , but the fact is, that law enforcement has now persuaded a lot of people that giving up your privacy, not only these cameras, but all of the tracking devices, is actually a good risk-benefit. that's what mike bloomberg has argued, that's what others, ray kelly in new york.

    >> most terrorists are young, in the future that's not going to change. one thing that's been a long tradition is young people making mistakes. that's also not going to change. the one thing that is going to change is every young person in the future is going to be connected. by the way that's not just in boston, that's in places like afghanistan and pakistan and iraq and elsewhere. and if young people in the future are opting into technology, that means that tiny, loud and problematic mib ort that falls in the category of terrorists and criminals is also going to be online and the margin for error goes down. they make mistakes and when they make mistakes they're easier to catch and you get their sim card and all of their friends are easier to catch.

    >> on your show you're reporting that the authorities have this guy's computer. we'll be able to find out the nature of his network and were there others involved. we wanted his computer, we wanted his cell phone for all of those reasons.

    >> what is the biggest new frontier for technological advances? statistic african continent ? where do you see, eric , the biggest new wave of innovation? it's sort of everywhere. in our book we talk about the developed world , the world we all live in where huge innovations in terms of memory boxes and artificial intelligence and things that make your life better. computers are very, very good at remembering things and ferreting out unique things out of a million pieces of data. you're very good at being human and not very good at remembering everything. that combination allows computers to make your life more effective. the big change is not for us, it's for people who have gone from no information at all, literally starving of information, no information about health care , information, to having in their hands a device that has all the world's information. that change is more profound than anything we will ever see here in america.

    >> it's really africa, when i first out to talk to people at the gates foundation in the early years about how do we get hiv information and protection in all of these places. delivery systems are now facilitated by cell phones .

    >> information is extraordinarily powerful. and it's not just africa. latin america has large groups of people who are poor and disadvantaged. isolated tribes will be brought in by this. translate their languages and find out what they're up to. listen to their cultures, build businesses for them. the same is true in poor parts of asia. it's a global phenomena and one that i'm most proud of.

    >> i want to ask you about north korea . you both are among the most recent americans to have gone to north korea . we know that kenneth bay was sentenced today, i thirk, eric , you tried to pass a letter on his behalf. a korean-american who has been imprisoned and now sentenced to 15 years.

    >> i think the situation is horrific. we did try to get him a letter. we did try to talk to him. we were unable to do so. jared ?

    >> when we tried to make the case to get a chance to speak with him in pyongyang and bring him down to the capitol, the north korean response to us, the state department came out against your visit and so you don't have consular authorities. no internet connectivity. and our response to them was since you seem to have access to the media and the internet , maybe you could tell us what they said.

    >> when i first went to pyongyang, we had to leave our phones at the border, they were collected. and or at the airport, when we landed. and then they tried to show us a classroom where the intranet, their internal communication . but my foreign ministry minder said that every six months he got to go to beijing and he got to go on the internet and it was very exciting to him. eric , i mean --

    >> we travel with my daughter and we get, once you're there you start to play some games with them. as we left, my daughter said oh, i left my scarf and the minder said not possible to go back, because they were deconstructing the set they had created for us.

    >> they took us to the korea computer center . we saw you have a million cell phones in the country. they are 3g capable but the data is not turned on. there's an unfiltered internet connection . they have tablets, smartphones, they just hog, they hog the best connectivity for a small number of people that are running the country. which from our perspective is the new corruption when societies should be online. we tried to make the argument that they cannot survive economically if they don't open up a little bit. we don't know what they'll do without that message.

    >> from people whom i spoke to, even though north korea has gone quiet in terms of a threat level , we are experts expect something is going to happen. that this new leader could not have gone this far forward without doing some sort of test, missile test, nuclear test and there have been purges of the military of his father's military.

    >> i came to a view of north korea that currently it runs pretty much like the whole country is military. and from that perspective, there's always a threat. there's a single leader. people within the military of course are sent off to jail or prison in this case to gulags and they're always in a state of sort of alarm as a country, it's how they mobilize their people. i would caution people about speculating what's going to happen. even though this leader was western-educated. the tools of oppression are very strong. they were very careful not to tip their hand to us as to what they were going to do and open up the internet . all they have to do is turn on the internet and that country is going to get a lot better.

    >> a quick question about china and its new leadership, you have made a big corporate decision to back away from china, despite the huge marketplace because of censorship and because of all the restrictions. what goes into that decision and what do you see with the new leadership, with xi?

    >> there's the new leadership is untested, there's optimism with our friends in china based on the new leadership. google was one willing to be subject to the level of active krinsorship that china with a was and is forcing on the online world .

    >> and jared you came back in the day when i first met you, you were at the state department , an early proponent, advocate and participant in social media . how has that, how transformative is social media potentially? we've seen what happened with the arab spring and other fourses counterveiled, the messaging that gets through.

    >> we argue that five billion new people will connect to the internet in the next decade. think about where those people are coming online. all the parts of the world where there's instability, conflict, these are the parts of the world with the greatest number of challenges. so geopolitics has never been more relevant and has never been more intertwined with technology than we're going to see in the next decade. we have to be proactive. we have to get not just geopolitical experts, but engineers involved in understanding where the challenges are going and what to do about them.

    >> the great to see you and the book is "the new digital age." you are beyond the cutting edge. eric schmidt and jared cohen. thank


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