South Korea promises $3b for AI R&D after AlphaGo 'shock'

After what has been dubbed the 'AlphaGo shock', South Korea is getting serious about artificial intelligence.
Written by Philip Iglauer, Contributor

South Korea, well known for its IT infrastructure, is promising 3.5 trillion won ($3 billion) in funding from the public and private sectors to develop artificial intelligence for corporate and university AI projects.

South Korea's President Park Geun-hye assembled leaders across the country's tech industry and senior government officials in Seoul last week to announce plans to invest the amount over the next five years. It appears to be largely a reaction to the phenomenal performance of Google's algorithm AlphaGo in an historic AI-versus-human game in Seoul earlier this month, which captured the South Korean media's imagination.

"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," the president told local reporters assembled for the meeting, describing the game as a watershed moment of an imminent "fourth industrial revolution".

That said, the plan calls for 138.8 billion won ($119.24 million) this year; 180 billion won ($154.6 milion) in 2017; 210 billion won ($180.4 million) in 2018; 220 billion won ($189 million) in 2019; and 230 billion won ($197 million) in 2020.

It also calls for the private sector to match the public sector's commitment with 2.5 trillion won ($2.14 billion). That would mean 3.5 trillion won ($3 billion) committed to AI research and development.

The frantic, reflexive sprint toward AI development has led to some concern, which is probably valid, especially from universities.

One big question that South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning has yet to answer is whether this will be additional funds or if the money will be diverted from current R&D programs.

Either way, South Korea will establish a new high-profile, public/private research centre with participation from several Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, LG, telecom giant KT, SK Telecom, Hyundai Motor, and internet portal Naver.

The institute was reportedly already in the works, but AlphaGo's domination quickened the process of setting up the grouping. Some Korean media reports indicate that the institute could open its doors as early as 2017.

South Korea already funds two high-profile AI projects -- Exobrain, which is intended to compete with IBM's Watson computer, and Deep View, a computer vision project.

Korean media reports indicate that some of the 1 trillion won pledged by the government will go to those two projects, but there is no confirmation of a definite figure.

Two days before the AlphaGo match began, deep-learning startup firm NovuMind challenged the Chinese professional Go player Ke Jie to a computer match.

NovuMind was founded in 2015 by Ren Wu, and was developed in California's tech mecca. Wu was former deep-learning researcher at Baidu, the $23 billion Chinese web services corporation.

The country also plans to set up a separate council for science and technology that will completely revamp its research and development efforts.

Given that the president referred to AI as the "fourth industrial revolution", interest in AI will probably only increase over the next few years.

Source: ZDNet.co.kr

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