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(News Focus) Korea aims high in '4th industrial revolution' based on ICT success

2016/10/27 09:00

By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Yonhap) -- Over the past three decades, South Korea has firmly established itself as a global powerhouse in information and communications technology thanks to outstanding achievements in mobile devices, chips and appliances.

Today, corporate Korea is bracing for a new daunting challenge, as major countries worldwide are intensifying competition in future-oriented fields such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented reality, virtual reality and drones.

The world is on the verge of a new revolution in technological developments that will fundamentally change how we live and work, and South Korea needs to take swift actions to challenge the world in the so-called fourth industrial revolution, according to experts on Thursday.

The latest industrial revolution "is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance," the World Economic Forum said in a report released earlier this year.

The first industrial revolution started with steam engines and the second revolution used electricity to build mass production lines. The third revolution came with automated production and information technology.

The South Korean economy has undergone a brilliant transformation over the past three decades. (Yonhap file photos) The South Korean economy has undergone a brilliant transformation over the past three decades. (Yonhap file photos)

Now, the world is navigating through the fourth revolution with technological breakthroughs in the fields of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing and biotechnology, according to the report.

South Korean firms lag behind in a global race to create such transformations, so the country's government should find a new set of strategies to help the private sector catch up with global front-runners, experts said.

In case of the emerging autonomous vehicle technology, global automakers, such as Toyota Motor, BMW and Ford Motor, are teaming up with Google or Uber in testing self-driving cars.

Tesla Motors has announced a plan to test-drive a self-driving vehicle from Los Angeles to New York next year.

South Korea's Hyundai Motor has also moved to jumpstart developing a self-driving car, but there are few notable success.

Seo Seung-woo, professor of electrical engineering at Seoul National University, said South Korea's auto industry still has a long way to go to launch a self-driving vehicle, partly due to its weakness in developing software and auto parts.

"Due to a lack of relevant laws, self-driving cars are not allowed on the roads," Seo said.

The technology sector already stands on artificial intelligence.

Lawmakers speak at a parliamentary forum on the fourth industrial revolution in Seoul on Oct. 11, 2016. (Yonhap) Lawmakers speak at a parliamentary forum on the fourth industrial revolution in Seoul on Oct. 11, 2016. (Yonhap)

Earlier this month, Samsung Electronics announced the acquisition of U.S. artificial intelligence software developer Viv Labs.

The Silicon Valley company was set up by the entrepreneurs who sold the Siri digital assistant to Apple.

In a statement, Samsung said the deal showcases its "commitment to virtual personal assistants and is part of the company's broader vision to deliver an AI-based open ecosystem across all of its devices and services."

   Kim Jin-hyung, head of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, said artificial intelligence is one of the major technological transformations in the latest industrial revolution.

"We must develop a Korean-style artificial intelligence technology," Kim said.

Choi Deung-jin, professor of computer science and engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology, also said that AI will be indispensable in future industries and, notably, machine learning and deep learning will be an "ultimate solution" for the sector.

"Machine learning is shifting from an academic discipline to an industrial tool," Choi said, quoting John Langford, a leading machine learning research scientist.

Seoul's Myeongdong street in 1987 (left photo) and in May 2016. (Yonhap file photos) Seoul's Myeongdong street in 1987 (left photo) and in May 2016. (Yonhap file photos)

Machine learning is a type of AI that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Deep learning, meanwhile, is a new area of machine learning research where a computer emulates the way the human brain creates and processes patterns from data.

Choi said machine learning is meaningful as it can not only improve customer service but can make "doctors better doctors" and "cars drive themselves."

   "Machine learning is perhaps the hottest thing in Silicon Valley right now. Especially deep learning. The reason why it is so hot is because it can take over many repetitive, mindless tasks," Choi said, quoting Sebastian Thrun, founder and president of Udacity.

"A company without machine learning cannot keep up with one that uses it," Choi said, urging more companies to further push forward with research and development in the sector.

Earlier, the government said it will push to nurture AI and other areas with new growth engines. The government said the sector will raise the country's competitiveness amid growing calls that South Korea should revamp its R&D strategy to catch up with other global powerhouses in the field.

This week, Samsung unveiled its latest ARTIK IoT platform that aims to link all objectives to the Internet.

Smart home systems unveiled by a South Korean electronics company. (Yonhap file photo) Smart home systems unveiled by a South Korean electronics company. (Yonhap file photo)

"IoT is one of Samsung's major strategic areas of focus and growth," said So Byung-se, executive vice president of Samsung.

"By enabling the product development cycle to flourish, we can help usher in the next generation of IoT innovation. We're paving the way for companies to re-imagine how these new devices, apps and services can impact everyday life to address global challenges," So said.

Among other areas that the Korean government wants to develop into next-generation drivers of growth are augmented reality and virtual reality.

On Oct. 7, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said it will invest more than 400 billion won (US$352 million) over the next five years in developing new virtual reality (VR) products.

"VR is an area where we may have potential to become a global leader by combining the country's advanced information-communication technology and our hallyu content that is creating much fervor in overseas countries," Science Minister Choi Yang-hee said. Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, refers to the widespread popularity of South Korean pop culture.

To this end, the government plans to invest 279 billion won over the 2016-2020 period, while the private sector is expected to follow suit with 126 billion won of investment in the sector, the ministry said.

(END)

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