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S.F.-Moscow Teleport--Electronic Detente

December 09, 1987|CONNIE ZWEIG

The computer seems made to order for these communication purposes, Schatz said.

"Computers represent a break with history. They are by definition a planetary-scale technology. Their decentralized quality of communication is changing the architecture of international boundaries."

Of course, computers are scarce in the Soviet Union, and official approval is needed to use them, he said. In addition, the United States places restrictions on the transfer of technology to that country. Schatz, who now has 12 modems in the Soviet Union, also has detailed disclosures and export licenses with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Exports Administration.

The Teleport's Soviet counterpart in Moscow is based at the Institute of Automated Systems of the Academy of Sciences.

Advocated Closeness

Lab chief Vladimir Serdiuk, interviewed for the first time via electronic mail, advocated the use of computers to bring the citizens of the United States and the Soviet Union closer together. "It's difficult to overestimate the prospects of (this technology) for acknowledging mutual understanding between our peoples."

Sergei Alexandrov, telecommunications coordinator for Novosti Press, came on line to extol the virtues of the Teleport's electronic mail system.

"It's quick, cheap, flexible, and accessible," Alexandrov said. "You can send messages, receive responses, hold group discussions, prepare summaries together, vote on questions, or 'chat' electronically."

Schatz now has 10 accounts with major Soviet agencies, including the Space Research Institute, the Ministry of Health, Mir Publishing, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Novosti Press, the Society of Soviet Designers, the National Center of Data Communications, Sovinfilm, Gosteleradio, and the Soviet Cultural Foundation, which was created with the support of Raisa Gorbachev to develop projects of international cultural import that fall outside of normal bureaucratic channels.

Schatz acts like a matchmaker for joint collaborations. The Planetary Society in Pasadena is now working with the U.S.S.R. Space Research Institute on several projects involving the planetary sciences. Lou Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, said in a telephone interview that his group is using the Teleport's electronic mail services to expedite communications. "The link could make a cooperative Mars mission easier to bring about."

Internews, a nonprofit television programming company, worked with Gosteleradio to link members of Congress with members of the Supreme Soviet on a recent ABC-TV special series. Physicians at the Harvard School of Public Health have joined members of the Soviet Ministry of Health and the Space Research Institute in using satellite communications to improve Third World health.

Last September, Owen-Breslin & Associates of Dallas, hooked up with the Society of Soviet Designers to produce Fashion Design Week in Moscow. A Dallas show scheduled for March will offer Soviet fashions.

"It was extremely difficult to keep this large a production on schedule, given the geographical distance and the cultural differences," Michael Owen said from his offices in Dallas. "With electronic mail, we were able to spell out the details of contracts and communicate with each other immediately."

Physician Andrew Weil of the College of Medicine, Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, meets on-line with Soviet neuroscientist Aaron Belkin, head of the Institute for Psychoneuro Endrochronology, to discuss the use of medicinal plants and fungi as anti-viral and anti-cancer agents. "The mail had been so difficult and slow," Weil said. "With the Teleport, it's easy to send messages back and forth."

Emotional Impact

Face-to-face linkages of citizens in both nations via video phone hold more potential emotional impact, according to Diane Schatz. The videophone permits users to talk on the phone and, at the same time, view visual material. The images displayed on a screen can be stored on discs or printed out with Polaroid-like quality.

In October, the Schatzes took this technology to AT&T in Pittsburgh, through which all telephone calls from the United States to the Soviet Union are routed. "We wanted the AT&T and Moscow telephone operators, who work together day and night, to be able to meet informally and to see each other," he said.

One Soviet woman brought her daughter to play guitar. Others showed family photos. "Thanks to the video phone, the operators went away with real-time pictures of the event," Joel Schatz said. "And AT&T officials reported that after the event, telephone service improved."

On New Year's Eve two years ago, Schatz linked up the parents of newborns at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco with the parents of newborns at Hospital 15 in Moscow. While doctors exchanged X-rays and discussed delivery procedures, the new parents cooed over each others' babies.

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