How Strong is AI in Korea – The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Korea

The future is AI Technology. Top entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have been talking about the potential value as well as the harm of true AI. AI represents a major leap forward in how computers can learn on their own. In Korea, a vast majority of jobs are jobs that require little creativity and a lot of manual repetition. These jobs include retail, customer support, and factory jobs. Currently, there are many computers that can perform a particular task over and over again. Therefore they are able to learn as they go. However, is this really AI? Or rather is it just machine learning?

AI vs Machine Learning

Many startups in Korea are branding themselves as an AI technology startup. However, in most cases, they are working their way towards AI by using Machine Learning. Therefore, Many have not achieved true AI. True AI means some kind of software that can solve problems by itself without any help from humans. Think of AI as the ultimate goal and machine learning is a subset within AI. Machine learning is one of many tools that include deep learning and reinforcement learning. Machine learning uses large amounts of data to find the best solution. Therefore they build algorithms that can learn from data. These are designed to perform specific tasks only.

We saw with Google’s Deep Mind that a computer can get smarter by performing many simulated games (data) over and over again. This is how the world’s top GO player Lee Sedol lost to a computer (AlphaGo). A self-driving car learns through its owner as well as the environment. Therefore these self-learning machines can become better drivers over time. As AI technology continues to advance, how far is Korea when it comes to this breakthrough technology? How much effect will AI have on the Korean economy and more importantly, employment in Korea?


AI in Korea

So far the best Korean AI system is called Exobrain. It was developed by the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI). Exobrain a few years back beat two quiz champions as well as two collegians. One of them got a perfect score on Korea’s national college entrance exam. Not only did Exobrain beat the human counterparts but crushed them by getting a score of 510. To take that into context, the next highest score was 360. Exobrain won the top prize of 25 million won.

“Exobrain’s victory today is a milestone that marked a new era in Korea’s AI research,” said Seo Suk-jin, director general of the Software Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. “We will concentrate on supporting development of the Exobrain AI system, which will be the key in the fourth industrial revolution, and help it compete with other AI systems such as IBM’s Watson in the industry.”

Exobrain was not perfect as it still got a few questions wrong. Those questions tended to be more subjective rather than objective. This will be a relatively easy fix in the future as more data is put into the system. This will help in its ability to analyze and learn.

So what can Exobrain actually do? Exobrain can analyze the Korean language and learn from it and constantly improve its analysis. Therefore Exobrain has the ability to store large amounts of data which it will use to answer even the most complex questions. Therefore this is more of a machine learning system that true AI, but the potential is intriguing.

Self Driving Cars in Korea

President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in wants to have self-driving cars in Korea by 2027. His goal is to become the first country in the world to have self-driving cars on major streets. This is why the Korean government and Hyundai Motor Group plan to invest over $50 billion in the self-driving car industry by 2025.

“Our goal is to become the world’s number one powerhouse in the future vehicle industry by 2030,” said Moon Jae In.

The Korean government has already started to revise regulations and set up traffic infrastructure for fully autonomous vehicles in Korea. In addition, they will draw up rules and regulations for insurance in regards to self-driving cars. Hyundai said they will start coming out with semi-autonomous cars by 2021. The goal for Hyundai is to have fully autonomous cars on the streets of Korea by 2024.

Korean Startup Using Self-Driving Technology

AI in Korea

Korean startup RideFlux is looking to build a ride-sharing company. They already partnered with another mobility startup SOCAR to create Korea’s first self-driving car. The self-driving car has cameras and proximity sensors and has been running on Korea’s roads for a while now. They have already transported customers from Jeju airport to local tourist destinations. Under South Korean law a safety drive has to sit behind the wheel poised to intervene if necessary.

“Our aim is to put self-driving cars without safety drivers operating in all parts of Jeju in the next five years,” said the CEO of RideFlux Park Jung-hee.

The Korean Government’s Support for AI Technology

The Korean government is heavily investing in AI technology. They released an AI strategy that would put them as a top 5 contender in AI by 2022. In order to make this a reality, the Korean government realized that they need more AI engineers. They have already made plans to build 6 new AI schools in 2020. This will lead to more than 5,000 AI engineers by 2024. In addition, the Korean government will focus on AI-based industrial intelligence across all manufacturing sectors. They have created an AI strategy that will lead to the development of over 2,000 AI-based factories by 2030. These will be more advanced versions of smart factories.

The data collected from these factories will be stored in a data center to support AI-base services in software, sensors, robots, and equipment. The Korean government plans to invest over $7 billion in R&D in three main sectors: non-memory chip, bio-tech, and mobility. A little under $4 billion will be spent in 2020 in these sectors. The rest will be used for data, 5G network services, and AI. Their hope is that these planned investments in core infrastructure and new industries will help innovative growth that will spill over into other industry sectors. One of the first tasks will be to launch an AI research and development complex in Gwangju.

Korea to become the most competitive AI industry

South Korea dominates the semiconductor industry and has 25 times the processing speed of existing integrated circuits. Korea will continue to invest billions into the next-generation of smart chips. Therefore Korea will be at the cutting edge of semiconductor technologies moving forward. An example of the latest cutting edge semiconductor technology is the processing-in-memory (PIM) chips which have the ability to act like a human brain. Over 1 trillion won will be used for processing-in-memory chips that can mimic a person’s brain and facilitate “deep learning” by machines that are critical for the expansion of AI not only in Korea but around the globe.

The aim to become an AI industry leader is strong as the Korean government feels this AI technology will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in the long term. In addition, AI technology has the potential to improve the standard of living in Korea. Currently, South Korea’s AI technology is behind the US, China, and the European Union. However, Korea hopes to narrow this gap greatly by 2030. The first step towards this is to support Korean AI startups. Furthermore, the Korean government has promised to invest over $20 billion of its budget to nurture the science and technology and AI sectors.

Korea is already one of the world’s leaders in manufacturing and 5G communication network infrastructure. It is only a matter of time before they have a top 5 global AI infrastructure.

KT Leading AI in Korea

KT AI in Korea

KT has been very aggressive in embracing AI technology in Korea by investing and researching in AI/Machine Learning fields. Their focus now is on not only AI but also big data and cloud computing. Just like what AWS is doing for Amazon, KT will look to Cloud services to expand their business beyond voice communication and high-speed internet services. Therefore, AI will be critical in developing cloud services that will easily sync with Korea’s 5G network. As 5G increases in Korea, the need for cloud services in Korea will also increase.

All-in-One Services

KT will focus on bringing an all-in-one service that includes network, storage, and wireless hardware. Therefore they will look to continue their research into their AI speaker GiGA Genie. Currently, it is being utilized for hotels, cars, and homes. However, they want to expand their service for customer service, robots, and automation for the food and beverage industry. Therefore, KT has been aggressively looking to partner with AI startups in Korea as well as conglomerates in the AI field to expand their AI network. Recently they partnered with Dongwon Group to create an AI Smart Factory that will package Dongwon’s fishery products. In addition, KT partnered with Hyundai Heavy Industries Holding, KAIST, Hanyang University, and Korea Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, to establish an AI One Team. They will focus on creating an Open AI ecosystem to further the growth of AI technology in Korea.