South Korea: The Black Horse of the Ai Race in East Asia
Technology around the world is moving towards Artificial Intelligence, or Ai, and Asia is not an exception.
Many Asian corporations have been investing alarming amounts in Ai, and the consensus certainly deems the market bullish.
According to Oxford Insights, experts expect the Ai industry to add 15 trillion USD to the global economy by 2030. Another article on VentureBeat summarizes that in 2018, Ai was the most popular field of research for computer science PhD students and that in 2019, global private investments was 70 billion USD, including 37 billion in startups.
In 2017, China announced its three-step plan to become the world leader in Ai by 2030. The first stage of their plan is to support research in order to keep pace with the latest Ai research and technology. This is supposed to happen by 2020.
The second stage is about supporting the application of Ai technology to medicine, infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, and its military by 2025. The third stage focuses on social governance, finally establishing China as the world leader. Since the announcement of the plan in 2017, numerous government investments have funded Ai R&D. Nearly 48 percent of the global venture funding went to Chinese Ai startups.
Japan, known for its technological innovation and for being one of the global leaders in robotics, had also set its sights on the global Ai race. In March of 2017, the government announced its plans to advance Ai research with the “Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy.” The promotion of Ai research and social framework for Ai industrialization certainly has shown effect, especially with Mirai, an Ai programmed to serve as a chatbot, which was announced as the world’s first bot to be granted residency.
South Korea’s Ai efforts seem to be overlooked on social media and news reports. Its neighboring countries, China and Japan, were praised for spearheading the Ai movement in Asia. Oxford Insights’ “Government Ai Readiness Index” from 2019 positions the U.S. 4th in the global Ai ranking, Japan 10th, China 20th, and South Korea 26th.
This index is based on various factors clustered by governance, infrastructure and data, education, and government and public services. It is unclear how much progress has S. Korea made in the global Ai race and what are its plans for the coming decade. This is definitely a subject for a debate.
While both China and Japan publicized their plans in 2017, the South Korean government announced its plans in December of 2019 to expand the nation’s Ai research by injecting 1 trillion won (currently around 809 billion USD) between 2020-2029 with the hopes of becoming a world leader in Ai.
The plans include establishing large Ai industries in areas throughout S. Korea, including Gwangju City, as well as leveraging their dominance in the semiconductor market, with Samsung currently standing in first place, to pioneer the Ai chip market. Furthermore, the S. Korean ministry has announced that a 2030 target includes climbing the ranks of the digital industry and improving the standard of living. In other words, the nation’s plan is to close the gap in Ai R&D in the coming years.
According to a summary on the 2019 S. Korean Ai policy announcement, the Korean Ministry of Science’s report on “Managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution” includes three key initiatives in propelling an Ai-driven society.
First, the government will strengthen public-private partnerships by working with the community of researchers to provide support. This helps accelerate research by raising awareness in the general public as well as in businesses.
Second, the government will ensure the development of a “Human-Centered Intelligent Information Society” through policies encompassing the industry and its technologies that are catered to the people.
Lastly, the government will prevent any market obstacles that impede research and development, including restricted access, by fostering a competitive market. These initiatives provide a guideline for progress through education, the incentivizing of the industry, and provision of a broad legislative framework.
In fact, we can and have already seen movement towards Ai, with many large companies already having implemented Ai for the hiring process and the establishment of 237 Ai startup companies, some as early as 2012, in the automobile, healthcare, education, and other industries. Furthermore, institutions across Korea, including Seoul National University, offer courses in Ai and deep learning as well as seminars with leading researchers, and Korea’s plans also include six new Ai-focused schools by 2020 with the intention of opening investing options in Ai nationally.
With momentum having steadily increased in the community, it seems that the government’s Ai-focused framework is the catalyst to potentially propel the country to the top of the Ai industry. However, it is still too early to make any conclusions, and only time will reveal the leaders of the global Ai race.
Written by Gihyen Eom & Edited by Michael Ding & Alexander Fleiss