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What is Korea’s Strategy to Manage the Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

Hyea Won Lee's picture
AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) program for Go game, recently beat the world’s top ranked Korean grandmaster Lee Se-dol in a five-game Go match in Seoul. Lee’s defeat by 4-1 turned into a shock for the Korean public and quickly spurred a major discussion on the state of Artificial Intelligence development and its broader impact on society. In response to the soaring public attention, the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) has laid out the Artificial Intelligence Information Industry Development Strategy, which aims to strengthen the foundation for AI growth.
At the same time, the Korean government announced its plan to bring forth a Comprehensive Strategy for Artificial Intelligence Information Society by later this year. According to MSIP, this blueprint will provide in-depth analysis of the transformations brought by the rapid technological progress and the new drivers of the economy. Then, it will propose Korea’s policy vision to address more complex issues arising from the automated economy enabled by AI technologies, including specific policy actions and implementation plans. In sum, Korea’s strategy will reflect an Artificial Intelligence Information Society, a future envisioned by the risks and opportunities brought about by the infiltration of automated machines and computers at all levels of the economy.
Figure 1. Artificial Intelligence Information Society (Source: MSIP)
Korea’s twofold approach to AI shows that challenges are not just about how to create an enabling environment for technological progress; it is more about how well we understand, and prepare for, the broader socioeconomic implications of the new information era. For example, how are AI technologies expected to change the way we live? What are the bright and dark sides of AI technologies?
The optimists argue that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the past despite the fact that every industrial revolution was marked by a concern for machines taking away jobs and increasing social inequality[i]. David Autor, for example, an economist at Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), argues that automating a task increases the demand for human workers to do the other tasks around it that have not been automated[ii].
On the other hand, others describe a more bleak future. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, also economists at MIT, note that we are in the early stage of a Great Restructuring[iii]. They argue that the median income has come down over the past 15 years (1998- 2013) and warn that economic inequality and polarization will only deepen as the economy continues to be automated[iv]. Moreover, some of the challenges will be unforeseen. How should we program driverless cars to decide who to save first in the case of accidents: a pedestrian or a passenger? Is the current welfare system adequate for a society where almost 50% of jobs is at the risk of potential automation[v]?
Figure 2. Probability of Computerization of Different Occupations (Source: Economist)
These and other questions make it critical to consider the economic impact of AI at the global level, including in developing economies, so governments can better prepare for this unprecedented revolution. Furthermore, AI technologies are already expanding benefits in economic development: for example, in education through personalized learning; in health through deep diagnostics; and in agriculture through precision farming[vi]. Nevertheless, the technological progress of AI is also putting poorer countries at risk of losing the opportunity for manufacturing employment, a critical factor behind the economic growth enjoyed by other developed countries[vii]. Furthermore, the jobs that are often offshored to developing countries could be negatively affected by the advances in AI, and may eventually vanish[viii].
It is therefore crucial for the World Bank to identify a key set of challenges and opportunities of AI and other disruptive technologies in the development field. In this context, the World Bank can not only eradicate poverty more efficiently by borrowing the power of technologies but can also boost shared prosperity as an enabler of technologies for development. Moreover, it is time to start devising an innovative structure where we can fully reap the benefits of the technological advances we have made. Depending on what we do, the foreseen technological revolution can either be a step forward in human evolution or the beginning of a structural labor stagnation.
Let us see what kind of vision Korea will present for the future, envisaged by the elimination of boundaries between humans and machines, and how it will attempt to ensure the sustainable coexistence between the two.  There is no doubt that these are exciting times for the fields of AI and development. Do you know of other countries’ strategies to deal with the implications of AI?
[i] Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data. 2015. The Guardian.  
[ii] Automation and anxiety: Will smart machines cause mass unemployment? 2016. The Economist.
[iii] Research Brief: Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. 2012. MIT Center for Digital Business.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] In a study published in 2013, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne examined the probability of computerization for 702 occupations and found that 47% of workers in America had jobs at high risk of potential automation. The return of the machinery question. 2016. The Economist.
[vi] P. 327. Digital Dividends: World Development Report 2016. 2016. The World Bank Group.
[viii] P. 327. Digital Dividends: World Development Report 2016. 2016. The World Bank Group.

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