Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen on The Impact of Internet and Technology (Full Transcript)

Jared Cohen: Well I think it depends on which type of government. So, of the 5 billion people who are coming online, most of them live in countries that are autocratic. And so there’s a race between countries like the United States and those in Western Europe who want to see a global connected citizen re-based on principles of the free flow of information, and countries like China and Iran and North-Korea and others that want to see the world’s technological infrastructure built with trap doors. They want to see dissidents heavily surveilled and censored. And there really is an open question of, who is going to win. Right? So, technology — it’s inevitable that all these people will be connected, but there is a very important need for a human intervention to ensure that the connectivity that they’re getting lends itself towards more democratic principles.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Let me throw out a few country names and tell me how you think technology will impact those countries and the problems that they present for foreign policy. And I’m going to take foreign policy in this sense, not just American foreign policy, but let’s just say countries that are more interested in an open, more liberal, more democratic world. So, not just the United States but countries that would be in that category.

You went to one of the, maybe the hardest case that I can think of, North Korea. What in the world were you doing in North Korea? Did you see Dennis Rodman?

Jared Cohen: He, he, he came afterwards.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yeah. What was it like?

Eric Schmidt: Yeah, but let’s just establish causality here.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, yeah. All right.

Eric Schmidt: This was Jared’s idea. And I discovered, you know? I have spent a lot of time with Jared. I’ve discovered he’s never been to South Korea. Can you imagine going to North Korea and then never having been to South Korea? So once again Jared and I, my daughter Sophie, we decide in our little merry band to go to North Korea. And my impression was, there’s got to be something that we can do. They have a million cell phones, 22 million people. That’s a very poor country with horrific, horrific governance obviously and, maybe if we could just get them to turn on a little bit about that internet, we could begin to open up the country.

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The interesting thing is, and we met and they treated us well especially given it’s a repressive state but, most importantly they let us out and, it’s a country where there’s only one decision maker. And the only way that country will open up without a revolution, which is difficult, is the leader decides that the country needs the information, more than it needs the conflict, that new ideas will bring. I think what we concluded was that all you have to do is to insert doubt. North Korea is a true autocratic state, true essentially. It’s the last one. They really do believe from birth that their leader is god, king, religion, and so forth. All we have to do is get a little bit of doubt in, and that country will fall over. Actually you need to tell them about the weird stuff we saw like the trophies. Typical of Jared, so we go in right? Hang on, hang on all right I have to set it up then you can describe it.

So we go into this mausoleum, right? Where they’ve got this guy embalmed, right? It’s like a really big deal and they take us to this trophy case and he’s got all these awards.

Jared Cohen: Right but from your laundry list of really problematic countries like Equatorial Guinea and Central Africa Republic.

Eric Schmidt: I didn’t know that they were really bad countries.

Jared Cohen: So you go there and they have this big trophy case that they want to draw your attention to, and they have a honorary doctorate from an American university called Kensington University. They didn’t let us have any connectivity when we were there so we didn’t want to be intellectual snobby and say we’ve never heard of it. So we sort of take their word for it.

Eric Schmidt: What were the other countries?

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Jared Cohen: It was Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran. Like some real winners.

Eric Schmidt: And medals, plaques, gold —

Jared Cohen: But this American, this Kensington University, we sort of took their word for it. And then we left North Korea and went to China, which we all know is a bastion of democracy relative to North Korea. And what’s the first thing that we do? We do a little Google search of Kensington University, which was founded by a law partner at a boutique law firm in Texas, who figured out that he could launder money by selling honorary doctorates to third world dictators. Now somehow this guy graduated from law school, passed the bar, but wasn’t the brightest person in the world because when the FBI found out about this, he fled Texas thinking he was leaving the country only to be arrested by the FBI in Hawaii.

But back to your serious question about —

Eric Schmidt: No, no, no, just finish the story. So we then said, what do we do with this information? And we realized that if we had told them, they would of ignored it. That was the most bizarre thing about North Korea.

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