South Korea was utterly destroyed by war 60 years ago, but its rise from the ashes mirrors that of Japan after World War II. It now lays claim to the title of most wired nation on Earth, with high Internet penetration rates and bold plans for high-tech tools like household robots.
Seoul's transport network is home to Digital Stations, free Internet terminals, and information displays like this one in Cheongnyangni railway station. Needless to say, Seoul's subway is fully wired so commuters can use their cell phones to talk or browse the Internet even when trains are between stations.
FutureRobot's Furo humanoid robot advises a Korean girl in the Coex shopping mall in Seoul. While its main function is to hold a touch-panel info display, the bot can distinguish people from objects, can respond to questions, and make phone calls to get information.
Seoul's high-tech subway also boasts the Chungmuro Media Center, an underground archive of more than 2,000 DVDs, books, and periodicals, as well as film-editing suites, PCs, and a theater. It's designed to promote filmmaking and appreciation, and also offers affordable film production classes.
South Korea has been tops in broadband penetration, with more than 94 percent of households having Internet access. Here, a worker rigs a high-speed Internet cable at Ssanggyesa temple, a Buddhist sanctuary in Jirisan National Park.
South Korea has even coaxed reclusive North Korea into the cell phone business. These phones on display in an observatory by the Korean Demilitarized Zone were manufactured in the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea. Smuggled 3G phones from China circulate in the North, which restricts access to the Internet.
The Seoul subway has more than 900 Digital View terminals, touch-panel screens that provide information in several languages. The screens display tourist info, weather updates, 3D maps, and restaurant listings. There's also a phone that can be used with T-money electronic cash cards.
With more than 90 percent of Koreans owning cell phones, you'd be surprised to learn there are still public phones on the streets. This phone in Seoul may be old-fashioned, but it even has a small LCD playing ads while you fish coins out of your pocket.
There are tens of thousands of PC "bangs," or Internet cafes, in South Korea, like this one in Busan, the second-largest city. It's packed with teenage and adult males playing games like Diablo 3 on LAN lines. More than 90 percent of Korean children use the Internet, and 10 percent to 15 percent of those are said to be at risk of becoming addicted to games and other online activities.