[Column] ‘Moonshot’ investment in software needed

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[Column] ‘Moonshot’ investment in software needed

Na Seung-hoon

The author is the dean of the College of Computer Engineering at Chonbuk National University.

In the age of digital transformation, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration announced a plan to raise one million digital talents from this year to 2026 to help build a world-class digital country. Digital talent is another way of referring to software and artificial intelligence (AI) specialists. In detail, it means fostering experts with the knowledge and capabilities necessary to develop and utilize new digital technologies such as AI, general software, big data, metaverse, cloud, the Internet of Things, and cybersecurity.

As the number — one million — suggests, software and AI talents are urgently needed in various fields of domestic industries such as semiconductors, automobiles, shipbuilding, steel, agriculture, bio, and medical as well as software and IT fields in the age of the fourth industrial revolution. To embody such a bold vision of fostering digital talent, it is necessary to expand sizes of key projects such as software-centered university projects and consistently invest in software education in the long term.

In particular, there should be a “Moonshot” investment aimed at an environment in which global software companies such as Google, MS and Apple can be born and developed in Korea across the software and convergence fields. Unlike hardware fields such as semiconductors, innovative outcomes in the software fields are possible without global scale factories.

Therefore, to overcome the software gap with the U.S. and China and compete with them, the only solution is to train software talents. Large-scale and bold investments in universities in charge of nurturing software talents need to be made in the long run. In other words, the goal of the Moonshot project should be building the environment to create global software companies, and it is necessary to make long-term investments in fostering software talents.

Training software and AI talent will not just affect the software field and inevitably have significant impact on innovating each field. As experienced in the competition between Samsung and Apple, software capabilities determine product competitiveness in the manufacturing and hardware sectors.

Software capabilities are universal meta-capabilities that can bring data and software-based innovation in all industrial fields. They include not only the ability to utilize software knowledge at schools but also the creative ability to abstract problems in several stages and the ability to automate or create platforms based on data. To sum up, it’s no exaggeration to say that fostering software talents means fostering talents who will drive digital innovation and platform innovation in all domestic industries, including the hardware and manufacturing sectors.

Until now, Korea has risen to the rank of the developed countries with global companies engaging in the manufacturing sector. But global software companies are mostly composed of American and Chinese companies. This reality clearly cast a red light for Korea.

Korean manufacturing also is being chased by Chinese companies. In the midst of fierce competition with American, Japanese and Taiwanese companies, I often hear the news of a crisis. But a bigger — and more serious — crisis will soon occur when Korea does not have a competitive edge in software capabilities over the U.S. and China when software capabilities become critical in the manufacturing sector.

China, especially, boasts its global competitiveness in software and AI and continues to make sizable investments. Considering how software has a great ripple effect in the level of meta capability, Korea’s advantage in semiconductors and manufacturing can change anytime. Moreover, anxiety and the sense of crisis increase if you think about how there is not a single global software company in Korea.

In Korea, large-scale and long-term Moonshot investments are urgently needed to foster software and AI talents in order to nurture world-class global software companies. I have to stress again that the reason for creating world-class global software companies in Korea is obvious. Only then, we can secure competitiveness in semiconductor and manufacturing and also prepare the foundation or solution to attain a super-gap with competitors.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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