CNC Music Factory

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After his visit to Pyongyang this week, Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, told North Koreans to embrace the connectivity of the Internet or forever remain in the past. Despite being one of the least-wired countries on the planet, North Korea has a bizarre obsession with technology -- one that to Western eyes appears, well, quaint. Steel mills and factories compete with glorifications of the country's leaders as the most popular subject of paintings. Statues of rockets decorate the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in Pyongyang, a stop on the foreign tourist circuit where privileged North Korean youngsters play after school. And throughout the country's propaganda one finds computers, many of which look like they stepped out of a 1980s video game. Like so many things in North Korea, former President Kim Jong Il put it most authoritatively. On the wall in the Korea Computer Center, which Schmidt toured, hangs a quote from Kim: "Now is the era for science and technology. It is the era of computers."

Above, a 2009 photograph of a propaganda poster from a school shows students learning about the cosmos. 

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In this photo of the entrance to Kim Il Sung University's IT department, a book sits in front of a computer displaying the atomic symbol. Schmidt and his delegation -- which also included ex-Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson and Jared Cohen, founder and director of Google Ideas, the company's think tank -- visited the university and chatted with students using Hewlett-Packard computers.

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Kim Jong Un observes a soldier on an Acer computer, most likely manufactured in China, in this January 2011 photo. It's unknown how many North Koreans have access to the Internet. The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report notes that Internet access is "limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including select university students." A "slightly larger group" of users can access a government-run intranet that includes only officially sanctioned information. The U.S. research group East-West Center reports that only a "very few" senior North Korean officials have access to an entirely uncensored Internet. 

 

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The Mass Games, held throughout the summer in Pyongyang, feature tens of thousands of North Korean schooldchildren holding up placards that create a massive pixelated drawing. This one shows happy children playing the accordion, blowing bubbles, and playing a computer game that looks sort of like Brickles

 

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Computer Numerical Control (CNC), in which a computer directs a machine to perform a task, entered U.S. manufacturing in the 1960s, but the technology's emergence in North Korea is credited to Kim Jong Un. Behind each of the pixels seen in the photo above, taken at a Mass Games in September 2011, is a North Korean -- a glorification of technology by tens of thousands of people performing as machines. 

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CNC technology, like the war against the Japanese, and the prevention of bird flu, merits its own stamp.  

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This is a photo of a CNC display in the Three Revolutions Exhibition in Pyongyang; a similar machine, the CNC Instrument Automatic Streamline, won the 2011 Kim Il Sung prize. Past recipients of the prize include Kim Jong Il, four times. 

 

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