Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The slow-moving disaster: fine particle pollution

For whatever reason, the past week or so has not been that pleasant in New Songdo, here in Incheon.  The reason:  hazardous levels of fine particle pollution, as shown in the accompanying photograph published by The Chosun Ilbo English edition.  It reminds me of Chong-ro in the early 1970s, only perhaps more harmful to people's health.  A picture speaks a thousand words.  This was not only Seoul, but Songdo in recent days.  As the local press are reporting, I believe much of this fine-particle pollution is coming from neighboring China.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

President Park's impeachment and the future ICT policy in Korea

Yesterday Korea's constitutional court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.  Consequently, she was immediately removed from office and a snap presidential election will be held on or before May 9.
As readers of this blog will know very well, I've frequently commented on former President Park's background and her signature creative economy initiative. (For example, see these posts, and these)
The events leading to the impeachment and removal from office of President Park Geun-hye came as a surprise to me, despite the years I've lived in Korea. The situation is more complex than it may appear from mainstream news media reporting.  Former President Park did indeed major in electrical engineering at Sogang University, which helps to understand her creative economy emphasis.
As close observers of Korea well know, every presidential election is followed by a reorganization of the nation's leading ministries.  Sometimes these reorganizations are minor and sometimes sweeping, as when President Lee Myung Bak assumed office in 2008.  Further complicating matters for international observers is the re-naming of ministries along with the challenge of translating the ministry name into English.  I did a series of posts on this matter following Park Geun-hye's election as president.
The danger that the incoming administration faces, following the snap elections which will take place within 60 days, is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater," to use an old English expression.  In fact, Korea's "Future Ministry," named the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning in English, has done a number of worthwhile things, including the establishment of 18 Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation (CCEIs) throughout Korea.  More importantly, it brought the former Ministry of Science and Technology under one roof with the Ministry of Information and Communications.  After all, the main technology driving changes in the world today is digital technology, allowing dramatic increases in the human ability to store, compute and communicate information on a global or even inter planetary scale.
Given the rapid pace of digital development, globally and in Korea it would seem that the incoming administration might be well advised to keep those elements of the Park Geun-hye administration policies that are realistic and forward looking, and avoid the temptation to throw everything out and start again.  This is especially crucial given the widespread recognition that Korea needs to make the transition from heavy reliance on hardware manufacturing and export to software and services.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Korea's banking system stuck back in 1996?

Although it was  published three months ago, an article in Forbes sheds light on topics dealt with frequently in this blog, including Korea's "Microsoft monoculture" (see posts here) and the persistent use of Microsoft's Active-X controls (view posts here), years after the company itself warned the whole world that it was a security risk.  The article is entitled "South Korea's Online Banking System is Stuck in 1996."   The article explains in some detail why Korean banks and financial institutions continue to use Active-X controls and also why Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser continues to hold sway in this nation, long after the rest of the world abandoned it in favor of Chrome or Firefox.
dadaviz.com has a great animated data visualization showing how, in the space of just a few years, people around the world abandoned Internet Explorer in favor of faster and more useful browsers.   The graphic in this post is a screen capture from that data visualization for the year 2015. It clearly shows that only a few countries, including Greenland, Japan, and Korea continue to prefer Microsoft's browser.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Problems at Korea Inc?

Although the article was published about a month ago, The New York Times report entitled "Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Crisis Signals Problems at Korea Inc." bears reading and re-reading.   In January Samsung publicly offered details and schematics showing how its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone became a combustible failure.  However, according to critics, Samsung did not answer the question of how such a technologically advanced firm could have allowed the problems to happen in the first place.  The article is an interesting critique that touches on Samsung's relationship with the government, its top-down corporate culture, and the pressure it felt from Chinese competitors Huawei and Xiaomi.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The rapid advance of AI in Smartphones

The news that Bixby, the tentative name for Samsung's forthcoming artificial intelligence (AI) powered assistant, will support seven to eight different languages, is getting considerable attention in the trade press around the world.  Some of that attention focuses naturally on Samsung's rivalry with Apple in the smart phone market and also competition from Amazon.  As noted by CNet, "Launching its own smart AI assistant is an important move for Samsung and its future Galaxy and Note phones. The company, which strives to dominate the smartphone world against Apple's iPhone, stands to win fans if its Bixby assistant can outperform Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, which will land on its first phone later this month."  Google's AI powered assistant on its Pixel phone is also a competitor.
As a large, more broadly based electronics firm, Samsung may have some advantages.  According to the Korea IT News,  Samsung Electronics wants to use the capabilities of Bixby not only to promote its smartphones, but also to promote its household appliances and Samsung Pay as well. Samsung Electronics’ plan is to have an upper hand in the AI ecosystem in wide range of areas by linking Bixby to its electronics and household appliances including televisiions, refrigerators, and washing machines.   Considering the present capabilities of smart devices, the AI era is advancing very rapidly indeed.  This underscores my message in a January 9 post that smart apps are more important than the phones themselves.