Funding the future

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Funding the future

The director of the Seoul National University Vehicle Intelligence Laboratory, Seo Seung-woo, is the father of the driverless car “SNUber.” When I met him for an interview, he seemed to be under great pressure. “The annual budget is around 500 million won [$430,000],” he said. I found it hard to believe. How can the lab compete with Google’s self-driving vehicles? “The government helps a bit, but most of the R&D budget goes to big companies.”

The core of self-driving vehicles is artificial intelligence. The software detects pedestrians and other vehicles, and decides when to go and stop. Google invested 33 trillion won in AI development, including AlphaGo, and aims to dominate the self-driving car market. Korean pioneers like Professor Seo are waging an uphill battle against the AI giant.

The government needs to carefully study whether the R&D budget from the valuable taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately. The backward and outdated laws and regulations should be overhauled. The 19th National Assembly has been practically useless in solid economic legislation, and its term is expiring. The Center for Free Enterprise recently called the legislature the most antimarket in history — based on the market friendliness index analyzing bills and legislation.

Three weeks from now, members of the 20th National Assembly will be elected. The assembly should be mature by now, and its responsibility is more significant than ever. We are going through an industrial transformation as turbulent as when the ports were first opened.

But in the bloody fight over nominations, economic policies are not clearly presented. The ruling Saenuri Party came up with three commitments to raise employment. They focus on calling back the companies that left for other countries, nurturing the tourism industry, and developing growth engines like aerospace and superconductors to overcome the crisis. But they are redundant and lack detailed action plans.

The Minjoo Party of Korea is no better. Its “777 Plan” is aimed at increasing the share of household income to gross national income to the 70 percent range to addresses economic polarization.

But while politicians seem to feel no desperation, reporters feel the alarming pace of change. These days, reporters specializing in automobiles also write about IT, and vice versa. Since the second half of last year, this convergence in subjects is rapidly progressing.
The National Assembly needs to show maturity. We should vote for competent and informed politicians in the upcoming election. Let’s review the economic promises of the parties and candidates before heading to the polls. That’s the way to prevent Korea from “resigning” from the game.

*The author is deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


JoongAng Ilbo, March 23, Page 30

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