Is Seoul as Desperate as Washington?

Lately in Washington, D.C., where the inoculation rate for the COVID-19 vaccine is high, in-person events have begun to resume. It is evident that the center of discussions for diplomacy and security is now science and technology. At the ROK-U.S. Alliance Peace Conference hosted by the Korea-U.S. Alliance Foundation on July 28, the new deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea-Japan affairs, Mark Lambert, pointed out that “a digital economy, quantum science, artificial intelligence and space expeditions”* are new areas for Korea-U.S. cooperation. At the U.S.-ROK Joint Public-Private Economic Forum hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank on July 21, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon, and then-Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Marcia Bernicat, jointly emphasized cooperation for state-of-the-art technology, such as artificial intelligence, 5G-6G mobile communication, semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries. It may seem obvious, but the attitude of the U.S. was very serious.

The sense of urgency was felt at the Global Emerging Technology Summit hosted by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence on July 13. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan were all present and gave speeches. Inviting high-ranking allied officials, the three key individuals in the United States’ diplomacy and security services all said that in order to prevent the spread of the authoritarian order led by China, the U.S. government must speed up its establishment of a secure supply chain between technological innovation and our allies. It seemed to be based on the dystopian prediction that our children will live in a world without freedom if we don’t act immediately.

Why are they hurrying to this extent? The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence obtained and read the report about artificial intelligence that was submitted to President Joe Biden and Congress back in March. The report, written by an advisory committee led by the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, was very grim. “In the future, warfare will pit algorithm against algorithm. … Using espionage and publicly available data, adversaries will gather information and use AI to identify vulnerabilities in individuals, society, and critical infrastructure. … The best human operator cannot defend against multiple machines making thousands of maneuvers per second potentially moving at hypersonic speeds and orchestrated by AI across domains.”

The sentence “The U.S. government still operates at human speed, not machine speed” was the most impactful. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence stated that the lack of people who understand state-of-the-art technology, such as artificial intelligence, is a concern, so they recommend a digital bureaucracy, just like they advocated for a digital service academy for the U.S. military. Naturally the thought, “In the midst of the future that the power nation U.S. is contemplating, how ready is Korea,” came to mind. Korea being treated as a key partner now is attributed to the semiconductor and electric vehicle battery companies, and this can be seen as one last opportunity for the Korean government to assess its capabilities. The lack of serious concern for the future is worrisome.

*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated from the original, could not be verified.

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