Saturday, December 13, 2014

ICT-led development and how "Lessons for Korea are lessons for the world"

This blog began in 2007 as a sort of electronic scrapbook for saving materials and thoughts relating to South Korea's remarkable ICT-led development.  Over the past seven years, I've made few changes in the format of the blog, but this year it was time for a change, starting with the new banner featuring a background photograph of the Central Park neighborhood in Songdo.  Several things inspired this change.
First, in June of 2014 I moved from my position at KAIST in Daejon to join the faculty of the Department of Technology and Society at SUNY Korea and Stony Brook University.   Among other things, the move allows me to focus on my longstanding research and teaching interest in the role of communication in socioeconomic development.
Second, I was struck by the remarkable address delivered at a symposium in Seoul on November 4 by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.   Addressing the topic of "Human Capital in the 21st Century," President Kim said that "Taking on new challenges, solving problems creatively, and working across different backgrounds and cultures, will be important tasks for the vast majority of human beings in the 21st century. The increasingly global, technological and services-based nature of the economic interactions of high- and middle-income countries makes these attributes essential to the success of creative and innovative economies. Based on what I have seen and experienced over my career, people can do this best when equipped with both cognitive and non-cognitive skills." He went on to suggest that "Cognitive ability, as measured by IQ, is one of the principal determinants of a student’s academic success. How a student scores on a test that measures verbal and mathematical abilities tends to correlate strongly to the student’s ultimate level of academic achievement and a country’s economic growth. Because of these expectations, educational systems place great emphasis on developing IQ-related skills in students. For the same reasons, when we compare the quality of national educational systems, we do so based on their ability to produce students who generate the best outcomes on standardized tests of these skills. And countries invest billions of dollars into educational systems with the aim of improving these scores. But research also shows that personality traits have a positive impact on academic performance and work place outcomes, because they affect the efficiency of people’s development and use of their intelligence. For example, the personality trait of “conscientiousness,” which academic literature associates with being organized and dependable, and exercising self-control, has been shown consistently to predict achievement in school and professional life." A bit later President Kim noted that " Conscientiousness is closely related to a non-cognitive skill some scholars have called “grit,” which is defined as “the tendency to pursue long-term goals with sustained zeal and hard work.” " All in all, it was a remarkable speech in which the World Bank President wove in his personal experiences and acculturation in both Korea and the United States. I recommend reading the entire transcript here.  A core message of his speech, as indicated in the headline of one of the World Bank's subsequent news releases, was that "Lessons for Korea are lessons for the world." I would only emphasize that these lessons include this nation's successes as well as failures.
Finally, whenever I see photographs of Songdo, such as the one used in the new banner above, I am reminded that Professor B.J. Fogg of Stanford University some years ago referred to Songdo as a "giant petri dish" and noted that Koreans would know what works and what doesn't in advance of people in other parts of the world.  In 2015 and beyond this blog will continue to explore such matters from a most interesting and engaging vantage point, in a growing global campus within a smart new city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.  Stay tuned.

Friday, December 12, 2014

SK Telecom launches portable air quality sensor

The announcement that SK Telecom has launched a portable air quality monitoring device with an associated smart phone app caught my eye this morning.  According to Koreabizwire, "Designed to enhance people’s health and well-being, Air Cube monitors the air quality of the surrounding environment to determine if the conditions are just right for users. Air Cube comes in two different models: Air Cube C measures the level of fine dust particles and carbon dioxide, while Air Cube T offers fine dust level and discomfort index (by measuring temperature and humidity). The air quality is measured every 15 seconds and the results are shown in five levels. When the air contamination/pollution reaches or exceeds level four, the device makes an alarm sound to warn users."
Similar devices have been launched in the U.S. and in China, with the latest ones being small wearable devices.  Wired reported recently on a wearable device developed in China and shown in the accompanying graphic (click for full size version).
As noted in the Wired article, "Earlier this year, Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles—those fine enough to penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream—reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter, and the World Health Organization recommends a safe level of 25. Forty percent of global air pollution-related deaths—1.2 million in total—have been linked to PM-2.5 pollution in China, according a 2013 WHO report. This means it’s vitally important that the Chinese keep a close eye on the quality of the air around them. But reliable data can be difficult to come by. Just last week, when several major heads of state met for an important regional summit in Beijing, the government reportedly blocked air pollution data provided by the U.S. Embassy from being displayed on local smartphone apps and websites. clarity-inline2 Screenshot: courtesy Clarity It’s no small problem, and David Lu aims to solve it. Together with seven other students at the University of California, Berkeley, Lu recently created a new kind of air pollution sensor dubbed Clarity. This keychain-sized gadget lets you constantly track your personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app. But it’s also a way of crowdsourcing much broader studies on air quality—not only across China but throughout other parts of the world as well."

Semiconductors still top Korea's exports

As reported by The Joongang Daily this morning and shown in the accompanying graphic (click for a full size version), semiconductors continued to be South Korea's top export item in 2014.   About a quarter of a century ago, in 1980, this would have been unthinkable.  At that time, despite efforts by the government of President Park Chung Hee in the late 1970s to boost the industry, this nation could not compete in the global market with the dominant U.S. and Japanese firms.   However, in 1980 and early 1981 a small group of U.S. trained technocrats from government, industry and academia wrote a remarkable document called the "Long term plan to invigorate the electronics sector."  It targeted the semiconductor industry, electronic switching for telecommunications, and computers and outlined a plan that envisioned what today is called the ICT sector.
As noted in The Joongang Daily,"The semiconductor business is now Korea’s top export earner. Through November, the nation’s major semiconductor makers including Samsung and SK pulled in about $56.8 billion in revenues, the largest ever and about 10.9 percent of the nation’s total exports for the period."   Furthermore, it noted that "The semiconductor business, which began in the early 1980s, earned Korea foreign exchanges that were used as seed money to develop advanced electronics industries, including smartphones and wireless communication devices. It was the No. 1 export business for 16 years, from 1992 to 2007, but started fluctuating in 2008 due to the global finance crisis.The reason that the business has thrived through the decades is because Samsung and SK won a series of games of chicken early on with global semiconductor makers, including NEC. Samsung Electronics has led the industry since the 1990s and SK became the world’s No. 2 after it made an average of 3 trillion won in annual investments since 2012. SK posted a record operating profit of 1.3 trillion won in the third quarter of this year. Today, the two Korean semiconductor giants control more than 60 percent of the global market share for all kinds of chips. But Korea can’t rest easy because the Chinese are coming. The Chinese government announced a plan of making more than 350 billion yuan ($56.6 billion) in revenues next year and to raise about 120 billion yuan in investments order to accomplish the goal."

Friday, November 28, 2014

The game industry and Korea's future role in it

Earlier this month The Joongang Daily published an interesting and informative article summarizing some main results from a new study of the game industry in Korea.  As noted in the article, "As of the end of 2013, the global game market was estimated at $117 billion, of which Korea accounted for 6.3 percent or $7.3 billion. It’s the fifth biggest market in the world trailing the United States (19.1 percent), Japan (15.8 percent), China (14.8 percent) and the United Kingdom (7.9 percent). Considering the size of its population, Korea’s game industry is particularly active and robust. Korean game companies have shown exceptional strength and competitiveness in online games compared to video games or PC games. In fact, Korea is the second largest online game market in the world after China with a 21.3 percent market share. Its contribution to the nation’s economy also commands respect. Among the $1.4 billion in content that was exported overseas in the second quarter, games contributed 62.5 percent - more than music and movies combined."
As shown by the accompanying graphic, (click to see a larger version) the strong trend in Korea's game industry, as globally, is toward mobile games.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Open innovation a turning point for R&D collaboration?

In retrospect, as detailed in a report by Business Korea, many plans by large global IT firms to establish R&D centers in Korea turned out to be empty promises.  The article noted that "According to industry sources on Nov. 13, most foreign firms have failed to fulfill their promises to set up R&D centers and make investments in the country. Even if R&D centers were created, they did not play a significant role, ultimately leading to shutdowns after only a few years. Or, they have been merely used as a place to test products." The article went on to note that Huawei's recent announcement of its plan to set up an R&D center in the nation has raised suspicions once again. "Industry analysts are saying that Huawei's announcement can be interpreted as a conciliatory gesture to the Korean government to target the local market, following its recent entry. In the end, the announcement turned out to be merely a possibility that the Chinese Android device maker will consider building an R&D center with the Korean government's support."
On the other hand, as reported by The Joongang Daily "The governments of Korea and France decided to conduct jointly funded R&D projects to develop software and parts for driverless cars, wearable devices and digital medical devices. The projects will start next year with 3 billion won ($2.7 million) from the two countries and 10.3 billion won from the European Commission’s Eureka program fund." The article quoted Hwang Gyu-yeon, assistant minister of industrial creativity and innovation at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy as saying that “Open innovation through international technology cooperation is a must to survive in a time when global technology competition is heated than ever before. So far, the Korea-France relationship was mainly based on Korea’s unilateral importing of advanced technologies,” he added. “But through today’s cooperation, I hope the two countries can benefit from each other’s technological strengths.”
The digital network revolution along with the rise of big data, citizen science and more mobile, ubiquitous networks seems to be pushing government, corporate and public institutions toward more open sharing of data and research aimed at innovation!  It will be difficult, if not impossible to turn back this tide.