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[김소영] Innovation With a Human Face (U.S.News, Feb. 23, 2018)
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    2018.02.26 15:34
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Innovation with a Human Face

 

South Korea, one of the world's most advanced economies, changes its strategy for building technology.

 

 

By Sintia Radu, Staff Writer            Feb. 23, 2018, at 1:59 p.m.

 

 

South Korea is ranked one of the most innovative countries in the world, constantly topping the list of countries hosting groundbreaking concepts and technologies. The East Asian country ranks second in the 2018 Best Countries ranking of most forward-thinking countries, and at this year's Winter Olympics, it paraded numerous new futuristic technological approaches, from guide robots to 5G network technology, drones, and self-driving buses. Behind the scene, the technology revolution in Korea operates on a much deeper level than just products.

 

Since the election of the Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017, South Korea has laid out plans toward a different approach to science and technology, the pillars of its economy. While the public may focus on the next Samsung smartphone or the new LG television, experts say Korea's big tech move won't necessarily be a product, but the process of creating technology.


Under the Moon administration, the government will continue to encourage innovation, but also wishes to focus on producing more technology rooted in social needs, not just on economic potential, such as the need for cleaner air or healthier citizens, say experts.

 

"What you see is the government trying to foster an environment where new products don't take into account only profitability, but also social value," says Kyle Ferrier, director of academic affairs and research at the Korea Economic Institute of America, a Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to U.S.-Korean economic, political, and security relations.

 

Now called a "people-centered economy," South Korea's government says its strategy consists of three elements: increasing the number of jobs and income, growing innovation, and creating a "fair economy." While the country's investments in technology will continue to focus on major directions led by concepts such as networks of devices connecting to each other and exchanging data – the internet of things – big data and 5G, the president stressed the importance of catering to actual citizen needs.

 

Moon, speaking at a government function last October promoting the "fourth industrial revolution," said technology in the country "must be centered on the people, too."

 

Across Silicon Valley, startup entrepreneurs face increasing criticism of a work culture with too few women in tech, inappropriate office behavior and for not tackling important social issues. Even the relevance of its startup products are sometimes criticized for not solving important issues.

 

By contrast, experts say impactful research in South Korea will be driven by large-scale public need. For example, technologies in the country may contribute to less polluted cities running on smart water grids instead of electrical grids. Other technological innovations will include biomedical research, increased connectivity, and military innovation already initiated with robots patrolling the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and the North.

 

"It's not only doing something that is technologically innovative but also focusing on making people's lives better," Ferrier says.

 

Only Israel surpasses South Korea in government spending on research among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of nations dedicated to democracy and market economics. But as part of its innovation strategy, Seoul is trying to shift from quantity to quality, say experts.

 

"The government is trying to make sure that the return of this research and development spending can come in the form of more impactful research and more economically profitable products," says So Young Kim, head of the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, a public research university in Korea.

 

The government also promised to bring about change not just for consumers, but also for workers. The Moon administration says it will reduce the amount of work hours to 1,800 a year, from an average of more than 2,000 hours reported in 2016 by the OECD.

 

"In Korea we work so hard, and the new administration is trying to introduce a more humane environment of research," Kim says. "This is a workaholic society, so the new focus is making the research environment more aligned with how people actually live so that people could go home at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., which is still impossible in research areas."

 

While the country's major companies such as Samsung have already looked at expanding into more ambitious fields of research like biotechnology and health, Experts say there is still much more to be done outside the realm of information and communications technology (ICT) that brought the country its top innovator status.

 

"From the outsider's perspective, South Korea ranks very high on innovation, especially in ICT innovation, but domestically people are very much worrying about what will come after ICT," Kim says. "South Korea has been leading in a narrow range of technologies centered on ICT, but if you look around other more science-based industries we feel we are so weak in these new fields. And ICT is going to reach a saturation point."

 

One path to boosting creativity and growth in other non-traditionally Korean industries might be to encourage important innovation happening outside of the big conglomerates, experts say.

 

"People argue that there is not much creativity because of the way the system is set up," Ferrier says. "It's so rigid that there isn't much opportunity for more creativity and that's why the government is trying to encourage more people working toward innovation growth not just in major companies but in smaller companies popping up of South Korea, as well."

 

Luckily, smaller and medium-size companies have more room for growth than in the past, as they are now more protected from the uncontrolled expansion of big conglomerates that invested in infrastructure and products ranging from hospitals to toilet seats.

 

"Here, automobile companies do laundry service, Samsung or LG are also running small bakeries," Kim says. "The government created some years ago a committee so that specific products and services could be only done by small and medium companies. It regulates certain kinds of businesses that the larger corporations have to step out of."

 

At the same time, for longer more scientific research, the government itself – an important investor – will need to change its approach and offer longer-term support to research projects.

 

"The government used to give research money on a very short term basis, one year, three years," Kim says. "In that time span, only small application development or software development can be done so quickly. For biotech or in the pharmaceutical industry, it takes more than 10 or 20 years of investment both by the government and also by private companies, because it takes a long time in this industry to develop a single product."

 
Yet the future is anybody's game and true change in South Korea can come only from understanding both new industries, but also new way of doing things, experts say.
 

"Maybe we are now very good at things that can be done quickly more than on things that require long-term reflection and more fundamental basic research, and this is one big challenge ahead," Kim says.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-02-23/south-korea-alters-its-strategy-to-drive-and-create-innovation

 

 

 

 

 

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