The South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT has faced criticism and questions over its decision to cut next year’s budget for state-sponsored scientific research activities. The topic was brought up during a policy forum between the ministry’s second vice minister, Park Yun-kyu, and foreign correspondents in Seoul. The forum aimed to discuss Korea’s Digital Bill of Rights, which advocates for international cooperation in utilizing digital technologies for humanitarian purposes, including the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI).
Concerns were raised about the potential negative impact of the budget cuts on the government’s ambitious plans for innovation. Independent lawmaker Rep. Park Wan-joo revealed data that showed a planned 28.4% reduction in the budget for AI research next year, sparking protests from Korean scientists and drawing attention from international scientific journals such as Nature and Science.
Nature, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, published an article highlighting the protests by Korean scientists against the budget cuts. The editor-in-chief of Nature, Magdalena Skipper, voiced her concern at a recent biotechnology symposium in Busan, stating that reducing research and development (R&D) spending is atypical given the long-term perspective required for scientific projects.
However, Vice Minister Park Yun-kyu defended the budget cuts, asserting that previous R&D expenditures had been inefficient. He reassured attendees of the forum that there will still be state-sponsored R&D investments in strategic sectors. He also expressed confidence that the budget would rebound in the coming years.
Vice Minister Park further expressed optimism about the competitiveness of Korean AI companies in the global market, countering skepticism about their ability to compete with giants like Microsoft and Google. He believes that Korean AI firms will excel in non-native English speaking countries and professional fields.
The issue of environmental impact due to increased electricity consumption associated with AI and data centers was also addressed. The Digital Bill of Rights includes an article that calls for efforts to minimize the negative effects of digital technology on the environment. Vice Minister Park mentioned that the government intends to introduce specific regulations on AI and other digital technologies in line with the bill, although the bill itself is non-binding.
Overall, the South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT faces scrutiny and questions over its decision to cut the budget for scientific research activities. While concerns have been raised by Korean scientists and international scientific journals, the vice minister remains confident in the government’s plans, emphasizing the need for efficiency in R&D expenditures.