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In reaction to the recent Go victory by a computer program over a human, the government of South Korea has quickly accelerated its plans to back research into the field of artificial intelligence with a commitment of $863 million and the establishment of public/private institute.
Scrambling to respond to the success of Google DeepMind’s world-beating Go program AlphaGo, South Korea announced on 17 March that it would invest $863 million (1 trillion won) in artificial-intelligence (AI) research over the next five years. It is not immediately clear whether the cash represents new funding, or had been previously allocated to AI efforts. But it does include the founding of a high-profile, public–private research centre with participation from several Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor, as well as the technology firm Naver, based near Seoul.
The timing of the announcement indicates the impact in South Korea of AlphaGo, which two days earlier wrapped up a 4–1 victory over grandmaster Lee Sedol in an exhibition match in Seoul. The feat was hailed as a milestone for AI research. But it also shocked the Korean public, stoking widespread concern over the capabilities of AI, as well as a spate of newspaper headlines worrying that South Korea was falling behind in a crucial growth industry.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also announced the formation of a council that will provide recommendations to overhaul the nation’s research and development process to enhance productivity. In her 17 March speech, she emphasized that “artificial intelligence can be a blessing for human society” and called it “the fourth industrial revolution”. She added, “Above all, Korean society is ironically lucky, that thanks to the ‘AlphaGo shock’, we have learned the importance of AI before it is too late.”
Not surprisingly, some academics are complaining that the money is going to industry rather than the universities. For myself, I wonder if this crony capitalistic approach will produce any real development, or whether it will instead end up to be a pork-laden jobs program for South Korean politicians.