Published on Digital Development

Harnessing trustworthy artificial intelligence: A lesson from Korea

This page in:
The Republic of Korea is emerging as a global leader in successfully harnessing trustworthy AI
Powered by AI, countries can have incredible potential to solve complex development challenges and expand access to innovative services. Photo: © Shutterstock

The rapid advancement of computing power and digital infrastructure has driven artificial intelligence (AI) forward at a dramatic pace.  We produce so much information that humans can’t use it for forecasting and predictive modeling without help. AI has a critical role to play in managing this explosion of data. 

Why does this matter? Because we need accurate forecasting to give us valuable insights for meeting development needs, for example, in addressing climate change, augmenting productivity, creating innovative services, accelerating growth, creating jobs, and more.  

The current pandemic propelled the adoption and use of AI in organizations to a new level.  According to McKinsey, the AI adoption rate in emerging economies reached 57 percent last year, up from 45 percent in 2020, with the highest adoption rates in India and the Asia Pacific region.  While creating numerous opportunities, AI also poses risks associated with data security, privacy, transparency, safety, and data bias. How can countries harness this technology and mitigate these risks? 


Korea’s strategy to realize trustworthy AI

The Republic of Korea is emerging as a global leader in successfully harnessing trustworthy AI. Thanks to the government’s longstanding support of the ICT sector, Korea boasts of strong digital infrastructure, sound industrial capabilities, and rapid 5G adoption and commercialization — and now aspires to be a world leader in AI.  Korea announced its National Strategy for AI in 2019, making human-centered AI a key element of its digital New Deal initiative for accelerating recovery and reshaping the growth of its data economy in the post-COVID era. In 2020, the government published the National Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence Ethics for promoting trustworthy AI adoption. The Guidelines consist of three basic principles and ten key requirements that should be observed throughout the entire process of developing and utilizing AI.

A study on the national policy for ethical Artificial Intelligence
Source: Moon et al. (2020) A study on the national policy for ethical Artificial Intelligence.

Under the digital New Deal, the country is developing a Data Dam to promote the integration of data, networks, and AI. In addition to the open public data and Big Data platforms, a new AI Hub is being developed to make anonymized unstructured data (image, text, video) available for strengthening the development and training of AI algorithms that can be unbiased in making decisions, for example, in recruiting, healthcare, criminal justice, credit risk scoring, and more. 


 A multi-stakeholder approach

The government encourages building linkages between state authorities, the private sector, and academic institutions to develop a multi-stakeholder AI ecosystem. In developing the National AI strategy, the Ministry of Science and ICT encouraged the involvement of Korean companies such as electronics and automobile manufacturers, telecommunications companies, internet service providers, game companies, semiconductor developers, and AI and data companies. These collaborations represent opportunities to engage in dialogue and consultation with the private sector.

Since the 1970s, Korea has significantly invested in government research institutes and universities to foster the development of domestic capabilities in this space. These institutions now play an important role in shaping the AI Academic Research agenda and supporting R&D in several industry clusters. The government supports their research activities, involves them in developing national policies, and contributes to research that enables Korea to participate in the global discourse on AI.

For example, the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology recently collaborated with the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (Korea is one of its founding members) to produce a set of recommendations on AI for public drug discovery. These task governments with the responsibility of promoting open-data sharing and using AI in R&D in drug discovery, a field that is typically underfunded.


Trust and inclusion for AI adoption 

Citizen engagement remains at the center of the development and implementation of the national AI strategy. The government, private sector, and academia regularly host discussions and public conferences to engage citizens and collect opinions. In November 2021, the Korea Information Society Development Institute held a seminar to present a draft “self-checklist” for individuals and companies to assess their compliance with the National Guidelines for AI ethics. Over the following two months, it surveyed public opinion and is now using the feedback to encourage social acceptance and trust in AI technology and services. 

To win people’s trust in AI, the government also strengthened its data protection and privacy regulations by introducing the Personal Information and Protection Act and various sector-specific laws governing personal data processing in Korea. Similar measures were implemented regarding cybersecurity and communication data management. 


Lessons for other countries

Powered by AI, countries can have incredible potential to solve complex development challenges and expand access to innovative services.  Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in creating an AI-enabled economy. But Korea’s example offers low-middle-income countries a few lessons in harnessing trustworthy AI in their efforts to stimulate job creation, private sector investment, and innovation. This journey includes several actionable areas, including national strategy prioritization, investment in forward-looking data infrastructure, and building a regulatory framework that serves as a safeguard for generating trust and developing talent and innovation. Multi-stakeholder engagement and citizens’ awareness are also essential to ensure future demand and smooth adoption of trustworthy AI.

The blog was inspired by a recent World Bank webinar — Harnessing Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in Korea: Reshaping the Digital Future in a Post-COVID era. 



Applying Korea’s experience to accelerate digital transformation

Can artificial intelligence stop corruption in its tracks?

The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?


Zaki Khoury

Senior Digital Development Specialist

Yulia Lesnichaya

Communications Specialist, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000