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We can live without an artificial intelligence program that can play Go. Such a software does not necessarily generate money, but it does show how far technology has advanced. What’s important is Korea’s status in burgeoning AI-related industries. In the near future, artificial intelligence is expected to dominate all products and services related to smartphones, home appliances and cars.

So let’s talk about Dolbaram, a Korean-developed AI program that can play Go. Dolbaram was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Computer Go Tournament in Tokyo on March 19. Since Dolbaram finished second in 2015, its ranking has been dropping every year. Lim Jae-bum, CEO of Dolbaram Network and the sole developer, said he could not implement deep-learning technology as he was busy developing software to earn bread. Of course, the fall of Dolbaram does not represent the current status of Korea’s AI industry. But the hardship he has suffered illustrates what a software developer goes through in Korea.

Lim started off working for a number of established software companies, so he knows how Korean companies treat their engineers. “Developers’ opinions are not important,” he said. “The company tells the developers what to make. I felt like I was a tool doing as I was told. I wanted to do something on my own, so I came home after work and developed Dolbaram.”

The government and many private organizations support start-ups. So why couldn’t he get investment? “If you want to get investment, you have to prove how you can make money out of this technology,” he said. “But my goal was to make the technology more advanced.”

After failing to get investment a few times, Lim decided to do it all by himself. He used a 2.5 million won ($2,240) personal computer to develop Dolbaram. By comparison, DeepZenGo, which defeated the highly-ranked player Park Jung-hwan on March 22, was developed on a 30 million won machine, and that’s considered cost-effective. AlphaGo’s hardware costs 10 billion won.

Hundreds of responses have been posted on a JoongAng Ilbo article about how Chinese technology has caught up with Korea. There are two opinions: Chinese technology has already surpassed that of Korea, and it is a consequence of not treating engineers well. Summing up my two-month coverage of industrial competitiveness in Korea and China, I realized that those who posted replies online had a more precise diagnosis of reality than government reports.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, Page 33

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

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