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Korea considers control tower for AI push

With all the attention on the ongoing human-versus-computer Go matches in Seoul, the government is considering to set up a control tower to nurture the nation’s nascent artificial intelligence industry.

The control tower will aim to combine ongoing AI projects and funding plans, as well as achieve synergy among them. Detailed plans to respond to possible economic and social changes are also expected to be made.

A task force team has been operated since two weeks ago under the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. A tentative roadmap will be made in April to be reported to President Park Geun-hye.

“We plan to pour considerable resources into AI,” a ministry official said. “Considering the impact of the current Go match between Lee Se-dol and AlphaGo, the government is also working on the issue in diverse ways.”

Industry watchers say the government’s renewed push is also expected to spur big companies such as Samsung and LG to speed up their AI projects that are still in their infancy.

Samsung Electronics operates an AI research team under its Software R&D center in Seoul. The team is currently working on its own version of digital personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Facebook’s M and Microsoft’s Cortana.

The company has also expanded investments into Silicon Valley start-ups such as Vicarious, an AI tech company, and Jibo, an AI robot maker.

Its local rival LG Electronics also operates its own AI research center under the leadership of the company’s chief technology officer. About 200 people work at the center.

The center used to work on face-recognition technology and cleaning robots. But recently it is focusing more on incorporating AI technology into the company’s home appliances and smartphones.

Last year, Hyundai Motor adopted self-driving features into its EQ900 luxury sedan. The carmaker also succeeded in test-driving its first autonomous car, based on Genesis, on a road in Seoul.

Despite different ongoing projects across industries, Korea is still far behind other advanced countries, such as the U.S. and Japan, when it comes to AI. Experts highlight long-term investments as crucial to a breakthrough.

“If the gap with other countries further widens, we will have no opportunity to catch up with advanced countries,” said Jang Woo-seok, a researcher at Hyundai Research Institute.

“There was a time when the government invested heavily until five to 10 years ago. But with no tangible results, investments have been suspended,” he said. “The government needs to spend money over a longer term.”

According to market research firm IDC, the AI market is expected to increase from $127 billion in 2015 to $165 billion this year. Its related economic impact is estimated to exceed $6.7 trillion by 2025.

By Lee Ji-yoon (
catch table
Korea Herald daum