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South Korea to invest 2.2 trillion won in bid to seize the lead in AI technology by 2022

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has recently announced a 2.2 trillion won budget for research and development in artificial intelligence (AI) and expansion of AI-related infrastructure as part of the nation’s bid to transform the country into an AI heavyweight by 2022. The announcement comes as South Korea seeks to provide assistance to local technological development to gain parity with regional counterparts and gradually reduce foreign dependence.

According to a memorandum released by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT on 15th May 2018, artificial intelligence forms part of the Data-Network-AI (DNA) framework for South Korea’s approach to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Cognisant of the significant socio-economic impact developments in artificial intelligence will bring about, the allocation of 2.2 trillion won to artificial intelligence research and development and infrastructure seeks to build up skill and talent in the field so as to give South Korea a strong head-start vis-a-vis the global competition.

The 2.2 trillion won budget will be allocated to a number of  large-scale projects in national defence, medicine and public safety, establishing six AI graduate schools with the aim of cultivating 5000 AI specialists, as well as strengthen public-private partnerships in artificial intelligence research and development.  The proposed 5000 AI specialists comprise 1400 AI researchers and 3600 data management specialists, all providing the backbone which South Korea’s drive towards AI development will depend upon.

By fostering the growth of AI, South Korea hopes to catch up with the likes of China and Japan and eventually emerge as a global AI powerhouse by 2022.

The Ministry of Science and ICT’s allocation of 2.2 trillion won to establish the country as a leading player in global AI R&D comes as a response to the disproportionate amount of investment regional and international competitors are receiving.  

This month, the Chinese city of Tianjin recently announced that it will set up funds worth 100 billion yuan in total to bolster the growth of the local artificial intelligence industry; by comparison, the 2.2 trillion budget announced by Seoul is only slightly more than an eighth of the budget announced by Tianjin. 

In addition, the Ministry for Science and ICT also acknowledges that the country’s progress in artificial intelligence trails significantly behind that of China and the US, but possesses “good conditions” for artificial intelligence development due to the “accumulation of significant data”.

According to Minister for Science and ICT You Young-min, “the fourth industrial revolution is both a crisis and opportunity for the country which relies on people as its main resource”, and that “the era of the fourth industrial revolution is a smart world” in which there is a strong degree of human and digital connectedness. By allocating funds to AI research and development, South Korea seeks to build a better foundation to leverage on technological developments for socio-economic progress.

In addition to funding AI research and development and expansion of AI-related infrastructure, part of the budget will also fund the creation of South Korea’s Supercomputer No.5. Startups and small-and-medium enterprises in the country will be able to utilise the supercomputer upon full operation. 

Not all of South Korea’s efforts to further develop AI have been met with positive responses, however. In April, a number of internationally prominent AI researchers called for a boycott of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) due to the university’s partnership with South Korean arms manufacturer Hanwha Systems to develop weaponised AI technology for military use. National defence has been cited as one of many fields in which large-scale AI projects will be executed in, and it remains to be seen if South Korea’s investment in AI development and infrastructure will result in more controversy.

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