South Korea's government is already planning for its economic turnaround after COVID-19, spotlighting AI & 5G technology.

South Korea’s government is already planning for its economic turnaround after COVID-19, spotlighting AI & 5G technology. Source: AFP

South Korea to focus on 5G, AI in post-COVID economic recovery

  • South Korea’s 5G & AI ambitions got a further vote of confidence from the government
  • Post-COVID-19 recovery plans to lean heavily on AI & wireless telecommunications technology to provide economic stimulus
  • Artificial intelligence & 5G technology is already being heavily trialed within the Korean republic

As the global economy continues to slow down amidst fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, organizations are looking towards governments who can stimulate growth potential and create job opportunities once COVID-19 is truly in remission.

The South Korean government led by President Moon Jae-in is one such administration that is setting its sights firmly on a post-pandemic recovery, propped up by a new economic stimulus plan that will draw upon artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G wireless communications technology.

Fresh off last month’s national elections victory, President Moon unveiled his plan to boost innovation and jobs, which he compared to the famed ‘New Deal’ that US president Franklin D. Roosevelt launched to help the US recover from the Great Depression economic slump in the 1930s.

Unlike the original New Deal, economic observers believe that Moon’s plan is designed to support newer, online-centric businesses without oversized government spending.

“It’s different from the traditional New Deal which seeks massive jobs with massive spending,” said Economist Kim Jung-sik at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “South Korea’s financial ammunition is increasingly limited after a series of spending measures to stimulate the economy.”

Using funding from a third emergency budget, South Korea plans to create a fund for supporting AI development, construct new sites for robotic automation testing, help build a nationwide 5G network, and launch businesses that leverage big data in their service offerings.

Leading AI research

In 2018, South Korea revealed an ambitious National AI roadmap, with investments of US$2 billion by 2022 into AI research and development (R&D) centers around the country.

AI-driven applications began to appear in myriad fields, in use cases so diverse that AI is even being used in hiring processes to filter through applicants by major Korean conglomerates like SK Innovation and Hyundai Engineering & Construction.

President Moon believed AI advancements will not only impact industrial sectors, but also have public health benefits for his aging population. This was ably proven as COVID-19 broke out, and AI developments in South Korea’s molecular biotech field led to the country having one of the best early responses to the viral pandemic.

Korea quickly got a handle on the virus compared to its neighbors when the government mobilized the private sector to develop testing kits. Seoul-based Seegene used AI-powered innovations to fast-track disease testing kits, while medical AI software firm Lunit studied lung infections using AI-driven analyses of chest x-rays.

5G: “First in global quality”

Another pillar of the Moon administration’s initiatives to empower the scientific research and technology communities was the activation of the first commercial 5G network in April 2019. The early, aggressive rollout allowed operators to work out the kinks like uneven performance and an initial latency drag as consumers switch from 4G LTE to 5G devices.

As of early April, South Korea has over 5 million subscribers using a 5G handset, marking an extremely productive adoption of the new wireless standard in a short period of time. President Moon sees this as an ideal setting to move from “first in the world” in 5G to “first in global quality.”

Asia’s fourth-largest economy plans to tap 5G as a “growth engine” to establish a “fully-fledged 5G environment” by 2022, which the president expects to create over 600,000 jobs as well as a 5G-driven export industry, touted to be worth US$73 billion by 2026.

Numerous 5G commercial and industrial trials are already underway, including forays into high-definition live streaming services with little to no lag, 5G-enabled autonomous multifunction robots being tested in live factories, cloud-assisted remote driving services, and 5G smart city trials that are experimenting with wireless intelligent CCTV and drone operations.

South Korea’s innovative technology-first approach to reinvigorating its economy following COVID-19 should be very interesting to observe in the coming months, and might even be a model for other countries science and technology assets to look into.