Today, Korea projects an image of a modern society and technological power, thanks to the international prestige of its products and the popularity of its pop culture. This technological and cultural progress is a natural consequence of a historical process that has imbued the Korean character with a tireless spirit of innovation.
Since time immemorial, Koreans have learned that, in order to preserve their national identity and overcome insurmountable difficulties, they must always seek new ways of doing things, in other words, to constantly innovate.
Some examples that illustrate the above are:
- Koreans built the oldest astronomical observatory in the world, Cheomseongdae, in 634;
- They pressed the world’s oldest books, either with wooden blocks in 750 (Mugujeonggwang Sutra) or with movable metal types in 1234 (Sangjeong Yemun), that is, 200 years before Johannes Gutenberg invented his famous printing press in Europe;
- They designed the world’s first armored warship in the 15th-16th century (Geobukseon or Turtle Ship) and, above all,
- They saw their king, Sejong the Great, create the Hangul in 1443, the first featural writing system, wherein the shapes of the letters are not arbitrary, but encode phonological features of the phonemes they represent, combining the yin-yang principle and the concept of vowel harmony in syllabic blocks of ample phonetic capacity.
Honoring its long-standing tradition of cultural innovation, in recent years, South Korea has led international rankings on innovation, such as the Bloomberg Innovation Index (1st place in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) and the European Innovation Scoreboard (1st place in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017), with high scores in research and development intensity, value-added manufacturing and patent activity.
Cell phones, digital displays, semiconductors and cars of Korean brands have become commonplace in international markets. However, Korea’s technological advance is also looking towards the future. KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) has developed since 2001 one of the most sophisticated humanoid robots in the world, called HUBO. This robot can walk, talk, reason and see with its own two eyes.
KAIST has also created wearable thermoelectric generators that transform the body temperature into electric power (Grand Prix, Unesco Netexplo Award 2015) and highly sensitive tactile sensors that can act as skin for robots or prostheses. Hanyang University and UNIST (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology) developed in 2016 the most efficient perovskite solar cell in the world (capable of transforming 20.1% of the light captured into electric energy). On the other hand, it is estimated that by the end of 2017, South Korea will have a wireless network for the Internet of Things (IoT) with national coverage using LoRa (LPWAN) technology (LPWAN), a wireless technology that allows for high range and low bit rate communications between sensors that, at the same time, can control interconnected systems.
In addition, it was announced that the 5G mobile phone network will have its world premiere in Korea in 2018. 5G (20Gbps) is 20 times faster than 4G and capable of hyperconnecting a million devices per km2, allowing effective control over automatic piloting, super-multiview display and virtual reality.
All these recent developments point to the so-called fourth industrial revolution, marked by an unprecedented convergence of digital, physical and biological technologies, a process vigorously promoted by the Korean Government through the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, the ICT Promotion and Convergence Act of 2014, the creation of three Future Technology Funds (approximately USD 130 million) to support new scientific and technological ventures, and the creation of a special “creative economy” district in Pankyo.
In addition, the new administration of President Moon Jae-in, that began on May 10, announced the creation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution Commission to create policies on the matter and reach social consensus to implement them.
The American journalist Robert P. Vanderpoel once said, “The most successful businessman is the he who holds onto the old just as long as it is good and grabs the new just as soon as it is better”. There is no doubt that Korea is on a road that permanently recreates its innovative character, honoring its tradition and innovating towards the future.