Fostering AI businesses
The child prodigy was interested in chess and poker. In his teen years, he was into developing video games. Korean parents would be worried about him. But this boy went on to study computer science at the University of Cambridge and obtained his Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from University College London.
Demis Hassabis, 39, is a co-founder of DeepMind, the British artificial intelligence company that created AlphaGo. The start-up founded in 2010 was acquired by Google in 2014 for 400 million pounds ($571 million). With Google’s full support, AlphaGo started to go beyond human capacity.
Hassabis’s early life answers the question of why a company like DeepMind cannot exist in Korea. If Hassabis was born in Korea, he would have become a professional gamer or a doctor.
Korea’s venture environment is problematic. Large corporations have long been criticized for trying to steal ideas from start-ups instead of paying the rightful price to acquire them. But big corporations think many of these start-ups are expensive and lack substance. While outstanding brains should start ventures with great ideas, it is often not the case in Korea.
Lee Ji-hye is a founder of the robo-adviser company AIM and has invested in start-ups in Korea and the United States. “In Korea, outstanding people are reluctant to take risks and start a business,” Lee said. “There is little confidence that people can achieve great success to make up for the opportunity cost through starting up their own businesses in Korea.”
In the world of start-ups, success means becoming a major company or being acquired at high price like DeepMind. The Park Geun-hye administration established creative economy and innovation centers around the country to support start-ups. However, to make a start-up “successful,” large conglomerates need to pay the rightful price to acquire them. And when a venture business becomes hugely successful, aspiring entrepreneurs should use it as a role model.
The negative perception of conglomerates merging or acquiring smaller companies in other fields should change. It is not reckless expansion but investment for the future.
Hansung University Prof. Han Min-gyu, who founded a communications-related venture company, said that social atmosphere and systematic tools to allow conglomerates to acquire promising venture companies are needed. “Patent rights should also be reinforced to actively protect the intellectual property of start-ups.”
It is a great opportunity that AlphaGo’s match against a human Go player is being held in Korea. There are talks of fostering artificial intelligence businesses. But we need to expand our sights and create an environment to efficiently nurture start-ups in new industries first. We already know what our problems are. Now, it is time to implement solutions.
The author is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 11, Page 30
by KIM WON-BAE
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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