North Korea has taken many science and technology events online as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The country typically hosts numerous technology conferences each year to showcase developments and give researchers a chance to exchange ideas and information.
One of the biggest annual expos, the National Exhibition of IT Successes (전국정보화성과전람회) took place online from October 2 to 29. It showcased around 1,200 inventions and products by more than 260 enterprises, according to state media.
The exhibition included 2D and 3D components, the latter featuring a virtual exhibition hall and guide robot to show visitors around. State television shows a couple of clips of the virtual exhibit experience in reports on November 14 and December 29.
The video shows the robot moving around a 3D space. One of the first booths visible after the entrance of the hall (the blue booth seen in the image above) is Kim Chaek University of Technology (김책공업종합대학). The university is one of the leading IT development organizations in North Korea.
State media carried several reports that mentioned developments related to artificial intelligence on show at the event.
On November 13, state TV reported that Kim Il Sung University’s Information Science Faculty was named among the top 10 IT enterprises for 2021 for work its done in the field. The report said it had developed vehicle license plate recognition software and voice recognition software that works in several foreign languages, although the TV station did not show any of the developments.
A month later on December 12, state TV again reported on the university’s work in artificial intelligence and mentioned a facial recognition system it had developed. This time it showed a facial recognition terminal and a shot of researchers looking at a computer screen that appears to show the system in use. Closer examination of the video reveals the workers are looking at a demonstration video for the system rather than a live, working version.
The terminal appears very similar to one showcased in 2019 as an access control system based on facial recognition.
The National Exhibition of IT Successes usually takes place each October in Pyongyang. It’s unknown when it started although state media has reported on it since 2016. But last year there were no reports, so it’s likely the event was canceled due to the pandemic.
It includes the naming of an annual top 10 IT successes. So far this time, state media has mentioned Kim Il Sung University and Achim Computer Joint Venture as two of the winners.
National Nano Sci-tech Exhibition
Later the same month, the National Nano Sci-tech Exhibition-2021 (전국나노기술부문 과학기술전시회-2021) took place online. It was hosted by the General Federation of Science and Technology of Korea (조선과학기술총련맹), which has hosted over 40 online exhibitions, according to state media.
State television showed that exhibition in coverage on November 14.
The online expos are often accompanied by a video conference where researchers can present their work.
North Korea has a national video conferencing system called Rakwon that I’ve written about before.
Underlying Rakwon and the online exhibitions is the country’s national intranet, which appears to reach into most state organizations, educational institutions, enterprises and factories.
The network got its start as a way for researchers to share and exchange scientific information and that use remains important today. Video conferencing and distance education are also major uses for the network.
Most North Koreans don’t have home computers so access would have been through workplace computers and those in libraries.