Sunday, April 23, 2017

New heights in skyscrapers

I've been to Seoul several times this year and there is a new presence in the city.  It is called the Lotte World Tower.   It not only adds a dimension to the Seoul skyline, but also sets one Korean and two world records.  First, it is the tallest skyscraper in Korea and the fifth highest in the world.  Second, it has the highest glass bottom observatory in the world, at 478 meters or 1,568 feet.  Third, it features the world's tallest and fastest double-decker elevator, called the Sky Shuttle.  For further detail, see this CNN story.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fake news: "Korea used to be part of China"

As reported widely in Korea's domestic media, including The Chosun Ilbo, U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal claimed that "Korea actually used to be a part of China."  His claim was based, he said, on conversations he had with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
As readers of this blog will know, I've had a longstanding interest in how mainstream media cover, or do not cover, Korea and what this means for government policymaking. (see these posts, for example)   However, this comment by President Trump is still astonishing.  The truth is that the northeastern area of China used to be part of Korea.  Also, it is worth remembering that Korea's history as a unified nation state, with its own distinctive culture and language, goes back thousands of years.  Korea is not and never was a part of China, although it shares many characteristics.   Likewise, it was only a part of Japan during the first half of the 20th century because of forceful occupation.  President Trump's astonishing claim will only further cement his reputation as the source of "Fake News."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Network-centric digital development in Korea: Origins, growth and prospects

I'm pleased to announce that my article, entitled "Network-centric digital development in Korea:  Origins, growth and prospects," is in press with Telecommunications Policy and now available online at this hyperlink.  If you don't have a library or other authorized access to this journal, feel free to contact me for a PDF copy of the article.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The attention economy

Harold Lasswell, one of the founding fathers of the field of communication research, had a lifelong interest in patterns of human attention.  For example, in 1941 he published an article entitled "The World Attention Survey," in Public Opinion Quarterly.  That article influenced my choice of a doctoral dissertation and led to my first book, Television's Window on the World.  That was way back in the late 1970s.
Today other scholars have concluded that we live in an "attention economy."  This is an interesting way to conceptualize the revolutionary impact of digital computing, storage and communications technologies over the past several decades.   On this topic, I recommend Goldhaber's article in First Monday.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sewol Ferry finally on land

The Sewol Ferry, which tragically sank in the Spring of 2014 is finally back on land.  The accompanying photo was published by the Korea Joongang Daily.  Hopefully this long, drawn out tragedy will soon come to an end as investigators search the vessel.  Readers of this blog will know the relevance of this story to the development of Korea's digital networks, (see prior posts) especially its public safety LTE networks, scheduled to begin operation in late 2018.

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.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A post from Geneva on "the ITU and the Trump administration"

I'm writing this post in the library of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, where I've spent the past two weeks working with an expert group on a forthcoming study.  I fly back to Korea tomorrow.
Since my secondment to the ITU coincided with the start of the Trump administration I couldn't help but talk with colleagues here about the strange new twists and turns of U.S. politics.  One of my ITU colleagues passed along a copy of this article, published January 25 by Anthony Rutkowski, a longtime employee of the ITU.  It is a thoughtful piece and I recommend it to you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Smart apps, not Smart phones are the key to future growth!

An article in The Korea Times today caught my eye, because of its headline, "Smartphones remain key to Samsung, LG earnings."  The opening sentence of the article (which I encourage you to read here) reads as follows. "Despite the ongoing slowdown in the global smartphone industry, conflicting earnings forecasts from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics indicate how crucial handsets remain as their key profit driver."  Indeed, this is the current narrative and thinking of many here in Korea.  Unfortunately, it does not square with global trends and the reality that this nation faces.  For well over decade now leaders of the ICT sector, from industry, government and academia, have recognized the need for Korea to shift from its heavy dependence on hardware manufacturing and export, to software and services.  Globally, services constitute the major part of the ICT market.  More importantly, they are growing at a much faster rate than the hardware segment of the market.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cards, not cash are king in Korea

When I first arrived in Korea as a young American Peace Corps Volunteer in 1971, cash was king.  Virtually all commercial transactions were conducted in cash.  That meant that one of our priority tasks upon arrival was to have a personal dojang (seal) made so that we could open a bank account and deposit or withdraw cash.   I lived in Chuncheon, the capital of Gangwon province, but Peace Corps living allowances were dispensed in cash at the Peace Corps Office in downtown Seoul, near Gwanghwamun, so we traveled to Seoul on average twice a month. How times have changed!
Late last month the Korea Joongang Daily published an article entitled "In Korea, cash is no longer King."   Among other things, it reported data from a Bank of Korea study showing how much cash Korean's carry in their wallets these days, broken down by age cohort.   (click on the infographic to see a full size version)
These days, Korea leads the world in use of various forms of electronic payment, including credit and debit cards, smart phones and most recently the introduction of Internet banking.   According to the Bank of Korea, only about 20 percent of financial transactions these days involve cash.  Welcome to 2017 in the world's digital network leader!