KOREA-North Korea often flaunts its military hardware but of late, it appears to be making progress in developing civilian technologies - or at least is claiming to be.

As with most things in the country, it is difficult to verify these claims, but it is significant to note the importance being given to technology.

In recent months, state media have publicly celebrated various achievements in advanced technologies, including an “intelligent home system”.

Beyond the purpose of propaganda, emphasis on the sector reflects North Korea’s desire to harness technology to improve its economy - a key goal for Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Growing tech prowess?

One of the latest tech ventures is a new wi-fi service called Mirae, which enables mobile devices to access a state-sanctioned intranet network in the capital, Pyongyang.

State-run Korean Central Television on 8 November showed an Arirang 171 smartphone being used to access Mirae during an “Exhibition of IT Successes”. A SIM card is required to access the Mirae wi-fi service

The US-based monitoring website 38North noted that this was the first time an outdoor wi-fi service had been mentioned in North Korean media, and that it runs alongside two cellular networks operating in the country that provide wireless data service.

Another device shown at the exhibition was an “intelligence home system” which recognises human voice to automatically operate electronic instruments such as fans, air conditioners, televisions and lights.

This system was developed by the Kim Il-sung University, which seems to be at the forefront of the country’s high-tech endeavours.

DPRK Today, a propaganda website, reported on 21 November that researchers from the university had developed a number of advanced artificial intelligence systems, including a Korean-language voice recognition programme. State media say 800 ‘technology achievements’ were on display at the exhibition

An article in ruling Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun on 2 November said that The Intelligent Technology Institute at the university is “burning with ambition to hold supremacy in the artificial intelligence field…and to contribute to the establishment of the artificial intelligence technology industry in the country”.

Martyn Williams, who runs the respected North Korea Tech blog, told BBC Monitoring that the services cited in the country’s media “are real and do appear to be in use by people in Pyongyang at least”.

“North Korea does have talented software and system engineers so a lot of the software highlighted in reports is real and written inside the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name].”

The driving force behind the technology investments seems to be restructuring of the economy and boosting “national power”.

Kim has called for a ‘revolutionary turn’ in science and education

During a ruling party meeting in April, Kim Jong-un said science and education should “serve as groundwork for state building and an important index of national strength” and put forth a policy that “a revolutionary turn should be made in the work of science and education”, according to the official KCNA news agency.

As part of efforts to nurture a scientific community, North Korea has offered incentives to scientists and engineers in the form of “lavish” apartments and other privileges.

The broader focus on science and technology has begun to appear in North Korean state media and propaganda outlets extensively. In an unusual move, Rodong Sinmun carried an article on 29 October by Ri Ki-song, a professor at the Institute of Economy at the Academy of Social Sciences.