[Viewpoint] Korea needs change for convergence

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[Viewpoint] Korea needs change for convergence

Convergence is today’s hottest buzzword. The government announced the National Convergence Basic Plan in November, 2008, and is promoting “Green Convergence” as its latest slogan for national development.

Convergence is the best means to create new information and new knowledge. While science and technology went through rapid development throughout the 20th century, development is gradually slowing. A growing number of departments and majors at universities show that science and technology have made off great progress by expanding existing areas of studies into more specific fields. However, the high barriers between specified majors results in difficulties in further development. The best way to overcome these obstacles between academic fields is to fuse them.

Fusion is a process of making a new creation by synthesizing more fields of knowledge. Simply combining various technologies or integrating them within a certain frame cannot be called convergence. A new washing machine that combines a washer and a drier does not feature any new function. However, a new model that combines a washing function with artificial intelligence and nanotechnology is capable of low-cost, high-precision washing is convergence.

Some convergence is made spontaneously as technologies mature, while other convergence is created by intentional and creative experimentation. Convergence of information technology - such as software, computers and semiconductors - can be spontaneous. However, more epochal creations are often born from convergence of seemingly unrelated technologies. The union of nanotechnology and biomedicine and the integration of energy technology and biology create completely new academic fields and knowledge, giving birth to new industries.

Convergence is developed by creative and open-minded researchers and is based on imagination and knowledge from main academic areas. A fourth age of industry driven by creativity and convergence has opened following the second age of the manufacturing industry and the third age of the service industry.

The new age calls for new models of talent. Convergence technology cannot be attained by an expert in an existing field simply studying another field. The fundamental character of convergence technology - such as experimental spirit, diversity, flexibility and creativity - cannot be acquired simply through learning more academic knowledge.

It is a known fact that the high school education system of Korea is a stumbling block. Major universities’ performance in worldwide university rankings is far below Korea’s economic status. Korean graduate schools cannot attract talented scholars, who prefer studying abroad. Major graduate schools should be the base of convergence technology, but they are repeating a decades-old educational model. When undergraduate and graduate schools have the same set of majors, convergence in education and research cannot be realized.

What should be changed? Schools need to go back to the fundamental objective of creating new sciences. Graduate schools should not be mere extensions of undergraduate studies. Instead, they need to offer diversified majors. Graduate programs, as well as undergraduate programs, need to introduce curriculums that emphasize creativity, leadership and adventurism in order to produce people who will be able to create new convergent knowledge. Professors need to change as well. When professors first accept the spirit of the change, the effects will be amplified.

MIT’s Media Lab and Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute are known to be the most active in convergence. They offer famous new models of building up talent through combining educational functions in research institutes. Lately, many universities are founding departments or graduate schools specializing in convergence - but without support for fundamental educational policy changes, educating highly competent convergence experts is not easy. A convergence education program armed with new organization, culture and curriculums needs to be established with the solid support of the government. The shortest way to secure talented convergence specialists is to provide systematically advanced educational training in convergence.

*The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Yang-hee
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