Changing tacks too quickly

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Changing tacks too quickly


The government held the second science and technology strategy meeting led by President Park Geun-hye on Aug. 10 and selected nine “national strategic projects” — five in growth engine areas and four in improving quality of life and happiness. Fine dust is not a new phenomenon, and artificial intelligence and augmented reality are not new technologies, but after making headlines recently, they were included in the nine government projects. It is amazing how quick these policy makers can act.

But how could the national strategic projects change so frequently when they are supposed to be about new growth engines and industries of the future? The government has been searching for new growth engines for over 10 years now. The Roh Moo-hyun administration selected ten next-generation industries in August 2003, and the Lee Myung-bak administration announced 22 new growth engines in September 2008. The following January, the 22 items were trimmed down to 17. While slogans changed for different administrations, they all had the basic direction of government-led nurturing of new industries. During the Park Geun-hye administration, the growth engines changed every year except for the first.

I asked a government official why the selections change so frequently. He responded, “We inevitably have to modify the national strategy to accommodate a rapidly changing world.” It sounded reasonable. So what does the government mean by selecting nine national strategic projects? “The nine industries have priorities in the state strategy.” When I asked again what the priority meant, he said that they have priority in budget allocation.

Let’s say we have 10 trillion won ($9.08 billion) to be used for research and development annually. Last year, 19 items had priority in budget allocation. If the priority has changed and the new list includes nine items, what would happen to the fields that have been excluded? They would get less or no money because the total sum of the R&D funding is limited. The policy makes scientists in the field despair. After the AlphaGo match in March, the government announced a plan to establish an intelligence and information technology institute to focus on AI research. In order to fund the new institute, the budget for the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, which has been researching AI for years for Exobrain and Deep View, has been cut down to 6 billion won from 8 billion won.

Valuable research that has been in progress for years will suffer in order to support the nine new strategic projects.

I am concerned that bureaucrats might abuse their authority and target the scientists who protest. In the last administration, an executive at the Korea Federation of Science and Technology Societies was removed from the position for helping to write an article criticizing science and technology policy.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 12, Page 33

*The author is an industrial news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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