AI Development in South Korea - 2023

An expert perspective that goes beyond conventional comparative analysis

The US media often gets caught up in self-centered narratives, but we firmly believe that learning about global AI affairs, cultural nuances, and political variations can benefit us and our readers a lot.

In today's edition, Ben Eum presents an in-depth historical analysis of AI in South Korea, coupled with key highlights from Generative AI events in 2023. Pay special attention to our takeaways and conclusions to stay well-informed. South Korea has demonstrated remarkable tech-savviness; observing trends in this country could provide crucial insights.


The match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol 9th Dan in March 2016 (officially named the ‘Google DeepMind Challenge Match’) could perhaps be counted as one of the first notable events in the history of artificial intelligence in South Korea. To the citizens of a country intimately familiar with the game of Go, this event was an emotional roller coaster that started with 'confidence' and 'curiosity' and ended in 'shock' and 'confusion'. Following the dramatic 4:1 conclusion of this historic AI-versus-human Go match, media, experts, and the press competed to share their opinions on the meaning of the match. Thereafter, 'artificial intelligence' became a national agenda, deeply ingrained in the minds of Koreans as a 'new technology' with the potential to change the world.

If that match could be compared to the 'First Impact' from the famous anime 'Evangelion,' then the shock to the Korean market and industry brought about by the generative AI services led by ChatGPT, released by OpenAI on November 30, 2022, could be described as a 'Second Impact’ which surpassed the former in both quantitative and qualitative aspects. ChatGPT, which attracted a million users in less than a week of its launch, quickly spread its influence in Korea. A survey by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in March 2023 showed that one in three Koreans had used ChatGPT at least once. As of April 2023, there were already 2.2 million users in Korea according to OpenAI's data. Not only did the stock prices of companies related to generative AI services soar, but major corporations and startups alike have developed and launched various generative AI services within the year. The government has also recognized the significance and importance of generative AI technology, declaring a project for the 'AI routinization for the entire population' and planning and investing in a budget to establish a foundation for nurturing hyper-scale AI.

In 2024, the investment and interest of stakeholders in the Korean market for generative AI are expected to deepen and expand further. Most importantly, AI, which was a national agenda but could only be a proprietary technology of some major corporations, giant tech firms, and a few startups, has come closer to everyone in the form of ‘services not as 'technologies'.

Dream of ‘K-AI’: Driving country transformation and AI leadership with sovereignty

Anyone interested in culture and entertainment might have heard of terms like K-Pop and K-Drama. Korea has added a new interpretation based on its history and culture to various genres that began overseas, systematizing them to create content with Korea's unique color and distinction, which is loved worldwide.

In the field of AI as well, two unique ‘K-AI’ approaches reflecting the current situation and context of South Korea can be identified. One is the 'national-level full investment and dissemination of generative AI as a tool for survival and transformation', and the other is the 'pursuit of vertical integration of the generative AI industry centered on telecom companies, conglomerate groups, and platform companies and securing AI sovereignty'.

National-level full investment and dissemination of generative AI as a tool for survival and transformation

Since the Korean War, South Korea's rapid economic growth has been fueled by policies like fostering talent, industry support, low taxes, and minimal welfare. Yet, post-COVID-19, global uncertainties from US-China trade conflicts and Brexit have raised recession fears. Recognizing this, there's a push for innovation in key sectors like shipbuilding, chemicals, and automobiles through digital and AI technologies, aiming for a fundamental industrial and business model overhaul to counter prolonged low growth.

Moreover, South Korea faces challenges due to drastic demographic shifts, particularly as its low birth rate has led to a total fertility rate of 0.78 in 2022, marking it as the world's fastest-aging country. This situation necessitates urgent responses to the dual issue of a shrinking workforce and rising welfare demands, critical for the nation's sustainability.

The South Korean government recognizes that adopting and spreading AI technology in all industries is a key element in restoring the vitality of the South Korean economy and solving social problems. In December 2019, it announced the 'National AI Strategy' to build a world-leading AI ecosystem and continue investing to transform the country into one that utilizes AI well. Major tasks include establishing AI innovation clusters at key locations nationwide to expand large-scale high-performance computing resources, promoting investment in fundamental AI research and preemptive development of next-generation intelligent semiconductors, and implementing AI literacy and interdisciplinary education throughout the educational curriculum, as well as establishing AI graduate schools to nurture AI specialists.

Furthermore, in April 2023, the Ministry of Science and ICT announced the 'Plan to Strengthen the Competitiveness of Hyper-scale AI' which, based on the achievements in the AI field thus far, plans to strengthen the competitiveness of domestic large language models (LLMs) and nurture generative AI based on LLMs as a future strategic industry. To accelerate the AI routinization for the entire nation, it plans to start with an investment of approximately 400 billion KRW (~$300 million) in 2023 and continue with sustained investment over the next 10 years.

Securing AI Sovereignty: Telecom companies, conglomerate groups, and platform companies pursuing vertical integration in the GenAI industry

With active government support, the Korean industrial sector also conducts aggressive experiments and investments to secure global competitiveness in generative AI, develop new businesses, and expand overseas.

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Generative AI Key Events in 2023

Conclusion & Key Takeaways

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Previously in the Global AI Affair series: 6-month report (from January 2023 to early July 2023):

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