Exploiting the AlphaGo shock

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Exploiting the AlphaGo shock

AlphaGo and artificial intelligence (AI) remain the hottest subjects in the media. People are shocked by AI’s victory over Korean Go master Lee Se-dol. AlphaGo combines the fears and hopes we have going into an uncertain future. But one thing is undeniable: the historic Go match reminded us of the need to prepare for the future, and the industries and jobs we can expect it to offer.

Earlier this year, a report detailing the opinions of businessmen and experts on the so-called fourth industrial revolution — based on AI and other information- and knowledge-based technologies — was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Compared to previous industrial revolutions, progress will be much faster in the fourth. In five years, we should expect drastic changes to existing lifestyles, means of production and consumption, industrial and employment structures, and the management and maintenance of organizations, including governments and companies. The report called for a prompt recognition of all the daunting changes upon us.
AI is already advanced in a way that was unthinkable in the past. Considering the speed of AI development, Lee Se-dol may be the only human player that ever won against AlphaGo — and only one match out of five. In the near future, it’s likely that every house will have several devices and robots equipped with artificial intelligence.

There is so much we need to do to prepare for the new era. The most important is education reform. It is beyond question that we need drastic reform to our education system to educate talents with creativity and imagination, and also the ability to understand and apply specialized knowledge in other areas. Moreover, it is urgent to establish re-education and retraining systems for all workers now on the job. When Google’s driverless vehicles become commercialized, we cannot expect all taxi drivers to migrate to another profession, for example, software engineers, overnight. But that’s what they will need to do.

In the next 20 years, half of America’s workers will likely be forced to change professions due to technological advancements. This highlights the importance of flexible labor markets.

The government needs to remove outdated regulations in labor and intervene in education to prepare. How can a government that values AI and software restrict seats of computer science departments in colleges and reduce the number of graduates in those programs?

The experts at Davos predicted that the “emotional intelligence” and “social skills” to understand other people and work with them would become more important in all jobs. We must pay special attention here. In Korean education, science and technology are strictly separated from the arts and humanities, and we exhaust our children by forcing them to mechanically and uncreatively cram facts.

Along with education reform to nurture a new type of workforce, business start-ups and innovation at existing companies need to be encouraged to enhance the dynamics of our economic system, and policy efforts to prepare conditions to create as many new jobs as possible should be made. Most of all, the government and companies should work hard to create a social atmosphere where businesses and entrepreneurship are respected and admired. Proper entrepreneurship education at school is also important.

After the AlphaGo shock, the government has kick-started a science and technology strategy meeting presided over by the president, and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy have also offered new business assistance programs and policies.

Here, the government must not forget that Silicon Valley became successful not because it was near Washington, D.C., but because it was as far away as possible. Rather than offering new government assistance that could actually mean increased intervention, the government must prioritize removing adverse elements that hinder corporate activities at present. For example, it would make sense to resolve existing legal and systematic obstacles before offering assistance for big data and Internet of Things industries. In the science and technology strategy meeting chaired by the president, issues that cannot be resolved at the ministerial level should be discussed first.

In 1957, the United States was faced with the Sputnik crisis. After the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, the U.S. government drastically expanded investment in science and technology and reinforced training and support for related professions, along with efforts to enhance systems for research and development and reinforce science and engineering education.

Our government must not waste the opportunity brought by the AlphaGo shock. It must transform that shock into the energy needed for change by pursuing educational reforms, labor reforms and improvement to corporate conditions.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staffJoongAng Ilbo, March 23, Page 28

*The author, a former finance minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Park Young-seok
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