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North Korea, Fearing K-Pop and Porn, Warns Against Smartphones’ Influence

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SEOUL, South Korea — K-pop. Cheating on exams. Even pornography.

North Korea on Tuesday warned against the disruptive influence it said smartphones could have on its isolated population, as the devices have begun to expose young people in particular to information and trends from the outside world.

In the hermetically sealed North, South Korean officials estimate that the number of mobile phones has risen to six million since 2008, when cellular phone service began as a joint venture between the Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom and the North’s communication ministry. The country has a population of 25 million.

On Tuesday, the North’s main state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published an article listing what it called “negative repercussions” from the introduction of smartphones in schools around the world, including the use of phones during classes, cheating during exams and the circulation of pornographic material.

“This proves that mobile phones have become an avenue to instill students with unhealthy ideology,” it said. “Most educators and parents around the world believe that various corrupt and reactionary cultures spreading through mobile phones are confusing students as they shape their lives’ values.”

“More serious is the fact that erotic messages, novels and video files, as well as electronic games with violent content, are spreading unlimited through mobile phones,” the article said.

The article did not say what actions, if any, North Korea planned to take.

With smartphones proliferating, the North Korean authorities have struggled to maintain their tight control over what information the population receives, even as the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has helped to encourage the use of the devices, according to North Korean defectors and South Korean officials.

North Korea still walls off its computers and smartphones from global communications networks, including the internet, and rigs all radio and TV sets so they can only receive propaganda-filled government broadcasts. Such information control is seen as key to maintaining Mr. Kim’s totalitarian grip on power and the personality cult surrounding his family, which has ruled the North since its founding at the end of World War II.

Nevertheless, North Koreans have begun using their phones to watch outside entertainment smuggled in from China, including South Korean TV dramas. The files are shared between smartphones and other mobile devices through tiny memory chips, or the wireless data-exchange technology Bluetooth.

Speaking to Parliament last month, South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said young North Koreans were circulating video clips of BTS, a famous boy band from South Korea.

In North Korea, where there is no freedom of movement for ordinary people and few have cars or access to landline telephones, mobile phones have been a way for people to connect with each other. They have become both status symbols for the elite and essential tools for a nascent class of traders, who use them to exchange information on prices and coordinate shipments between the markets that have sprung up under Mr. Kim, according to defectors.

Mobile phones have also become an important revenue source for Mr. Kim’s government. State-owned companies sell various rebranded Chinese cellphones, or devices assembled in the North using foreign components, for $100 to $300 apiece. Mr. Kim himself has been shown with a smartphone and inspecting a phone-assembly factory in state media, as he champions the development of science and technology as a means of reviving the North’s moribund economy.

But Mr. Kim’s government has also recently begun blocking North Korean smartphones’ Bluetooth capabilities to prevent file sharing. It is also installing software in smartphones that makes it difficult to open outside files and enables the authorities to track what users have been watching, according to defectors and South Korean officials.

North Korea is also cracking down on the use of cellphones smuggled from China to gain access to the internet and global telephone networks.

When used near the Chinese border, such phones can connect to Chinese mobile networks. North Koreans use them to coordinate smuggling operations across the border and exchange text messages and even video files, as well as voice calls, with relatives who have fled to South Korea.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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