Thursday, October 22, 2015

STI Policies for the Global and Digital Age -- the Daejon Declaration

I think that the OECD ministerial meeting that just concluded in Daejon got it right, although their declaration has the somewhat lengthy title "The Daejon Declaration on Science, Technology and Innovation Policies for the Global and Digital Age."   The short account of this development is contained in the embedded television news clip from Arirang TV.   For the text of the full declaration, use this hyperlink.  Some highlights from the declaration follow.

It states "... our commitment to support science, technology and innovation to foster sustainable economic growth, job creation and enhanced well being, NOTING that achieving these goals will require adequate investment, and policy and regulatory environments that support strong and well-connected global science and innovation systems, and which also enable creativity and innovation throughout the economy and society, and RECOGNISE that changes in science and innovation systems, influenced by digitisation and globalisation, require that our national and international policy agendas and instruments be updated."

Furthermore, the ministers "AGREE that science, technology and innovation are being revolutionised by the rapid evolution of digital technologies, which are changing the way scientists work, collaborate and publish; increasing the reliance on access to scientific data and publications ("open science"); opening new avenues for public engagement and participation in science and innovation ("citizen science"); facilitating the development of research co-operation between businesses and the public sector; contributing to the transformation of how innovation occurs ("open innovation")."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"referral" spam and this blog

When I was growing up in South Dakota, "Spam" was the brand name of a pork product sold in supermarkets.  Years later, on arrival in Korea I became aware that canned Spam had become popular in Korea during the Korean War, as it was introduced to countless hungry and displaced citizens during the devastating war.  Its popularity in grocery stores continues to this day, and it is often an ingredient in 부대찌개 or "armed forces stew," which I still enjoy whenever possible, at home or eating out!
My current concern is a far cry from my earliest knowledge of Spam.  It is called "referral spam" and while it does not affect this blog, it has a huge impact on the traffic statistics it records, and which I occasionally examine.  In recent weeks, I noticed a sharp, huge increase in referrals from web sites located in Russia and the Ukraine. Strange, I thought, because both of those countries are in the news these days and have their own share of serious problems to deal with.
So called "referral spam" seeks to capitalize on blogs, like mine, that include hyperlinks to the original sources of information.  I'm considering whether to completely discontinue inclusion of the hyperlinks in my posts.  Comments from readers are welcome. Do you prefer to have the hyperlinks included in the posts or not?  Feel free to comment or contact me directly via my personal web site, jamesflarson.com. Like most other spam, the referral spam out of Russia is annoying and I'd prefer to eliminate it completely!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Korea exports educational robots to Costa Rica

I have long felt that the robotics industry, and more specifically service robots, represent a major future growth engine for Korea, as indicated by a number of prior posts (viewable at this link) The recent victory of KAIST's Hubo in the 2015 Darpa Challenge provided dramatic video evidence of how far the robotics industry has progressed.
In another sign of the times, as reported by The Korea Joongang Daily, SK Telecom will export smart bots to Costa Rica for the training of teachers and use in schools there. According to the article, "According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the two parties reached an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on Thursday to send some 1,500 educational robots, known as Albert, to 6,000 students and 600 teachers over the next three years. The first shipment begins this month. Albert is designed to help teach math, including numbers, basic calculations and pattern recognition, among other subjects."  (click on the accompanying graphic for a full size version) Furthermore, "A total of $2.4 million will be spent to train teachers in the region and develop an official education curriculum that utilizes the bot. IDB will spend $1.5 million in developing the curriculum, while the Trade Ministry and SK Telecom will give $750,000 in providing the robots. The Costa Rican government will kick in $150,000 to train teachers."   This is far from a frivolous exercise.  South Korea has years of experience with the use of robots in schools, as documented by some of my earlier posts.  Given the projected size of the worldwide market, this is a development worth watching.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

American views and the future of the Korea-U.S. alliance

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released another in its continuing series of public opinion polls measuring the views of Americans on issues related to Korea and the U.S.-Korea alliance.  The headline from the report published by the council zeroes in on the finding that, "..in a hypothetical North-led invasion of South Korea, 47 percent of the American public support the use of U.S. troops to defend South Korea (49% opposed).  This marks an all time high.  When the question was first asked in 1974, fewer than two in ten stated support."  In other findings, 55% of Americans viewed North Korea's nuclear weapons program as a critical threat.  This, along with mainstream press coverage of North Korea's young leader and his sometimes bizarre behavior are the most likely cause of increased public support for defending South Korea, if it is attacked.  Remember, in historical perspective, that the Korean war itself was unpopular with the war-weary American public after WWII and that reality helped sweep Dwight Eisenhower to a landslide victory in the 1952 presidential election.
One of the poll findings that I found most interesting was the shift in public views in the U.S. about what should happen after North and South Korea reunify.  As shown in the accompanying graphic, the number who think that the U.S. should maintain its alliance but remove ground troops increased substantially from the 2010 poll results.  I have long held the view that most all of the U.S. forces in Korea should be withdrawn upon unification, and perhaps even used as an incentive to encourage peaceful unification.  The only reason for maintaining such a large presence here would be if the reunified Korea requested it and if the regional security situation demanded it.  However, peaceful unification itself would remove the main reason for such a large U.S. military presence here.  A firm foundation for the future alliance between Korea and the U.S. is much more likely to be based on such factors as trade, technology, and commerce along with continued significant educational exchange and collaboration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Markets in North Korea are nothing new!

Yesterday I read an interesting book review post by Andrei Lankov on Reason.com titled "North Korea's Grassroots Capitalism:  How creeping market forces are improving life in the Hermit Kingdom".  He reviewed a book by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson.   The review, and presumably the book, describe North Korea's nascent market economy with some interesting detail, noting that "The first sentence of the first chapter makes things clear: "'Communist' and 'collectivized' are utterly outdated labels for a North Korean economy which now heavily relies on thriving person-to-person market exchanges in which individuals buy and sell private property for the purpose of generating profit."" (The photograph at the left is of a roadside market in Chongdan County, in southwestern North Korea. Click to see a full-size version) Later Lankov notes that "The private economy, however powerful, remains in a kind of limbo, neither recognized nor systematically suppressed by the state." The The book apparently contains a great deal of anecdotal evidence about the penetration of computers, mobile devices, USB sticks and the like in North Korea.
 Lankov's review concludes with the observation that "Remarkably, all this marketization was essentially spontaneous. The old Leninist command economy quietly expired after it was deprived of the Soviet subsidies that had kept it afloat, and the North Korean people more or less created a new system from scratch. There were no neoliberal economic advisers, and there was no reform drive from above. At best, the government was willing to turn a blind eye on developments that contradicted the official line. The new system emerged by itself—a result, as the Leninists used to say, of "the collective creative activity of the toiling masses."" I'm going to read the book, but based on the review alone, I think a major point has been overlooked. For most of its history, Korea was an agrarian, peasant society, and periodic markets are a part of that history stretching from ancient times to the present. The photographs of North Korean markets embedded in this post look pretty much like the periodic markets (farmers markets we might call them) that spring up on a regular basis all over South Korea, but are more common in small towns and rural areas than in the largest cities.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fukushima and Korea's green vs nuclear dilemma

Some of you may wonder what the accompanying photo from the Fukushima nuclear disaster exclusion zone (click to see a full size version) has to do with a blog on Korea's digital development.  Actually, it has a lot to do with it.  Back in 1980, Korea was facing desperate circumstances, politically, economically and socially.  It was at that point that it embarked on digitization and modernization of its basic nationwide telephone network, to augment a commitment already underway to build a strong education infrastructure.  As a resource-poor nation, utterly destroyed by the Korean War, South Korea had little choice but to pursue these paths.  The choice to rely heavily on nuclear energy was made for similar, very rational reasons.
However, those early energy policy choices have come under public and policy questioning in recent years.  The Korean government shifted decisively to a green growth policy during the first decade of the new millennium.  Subsequently, the Fukushima disaster had a profound impact on public and policy support for nuclear energy here in Korea.  Fresh seafood is a part of daily life in Korea, and much of it comes from waters surrounding Japan and the Korean peninsula. Consequently, the question of possible radiation contamination of seafood purchased in Korea's largest seafood markets was a dominant concern in the mainstream media here for months after Fukushima.
When it comes to public and policy support for nuclear energy in South Korea, the picture has become more complex.  To illustrate, I recommend a current article in The Diplomat by a Harvard Kennedy School researcher.  Photographs, such as the one used with this post, capture dimensions that need to be included in the policy debate.  More on this issue in future posts.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Korea as an ICT leader: additional evidence

I'm thinking a lot these days about South Korea's current status in the world as a leader in broadband networks and in the ICT sector more generally.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to read the OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015, as it provides a great deal of updated and improved empirical data that helps researchers and policymakers to better situation Korea within the global digital network revolution.
The headline and chart that caught my eye had to do with the value added by the ICT sector in South Korea compared with other countries. (click to see a full size version) While the share of ICTs in OECD total value added remained stable at 5.5 percent, in Korea that was a world-leading 10.7 percent, largely because of a strong specialization in computer, electronic and optical products.
There is much much more in the OECD report.  For example, in the twelve-year period between 2001 and 2013 Korea was the only OECD country to increase its share of the world market for ICT goods.  In 2013 it was the fourth largest exporter of ICT goods in the world, following China, the United States and Singapore.  However, the report also documents how Korea ranked 25th in the world as an exporter of ICT services.   To place this in context, one has to consider that, according to most industry estimates, approximately three quarters of the global ICT sector market consists of software and services, while hardware makes up less than one quarter.