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Korea as Number One in the Robot Revolution

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We have read numerous articles describing the apocalyptic future that awaits Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and portions of China’s coastline as a dramatic drop in childbirths, combined with the extended life expectancy, creates cities of elderly with no youth to support them.

Although such concerns are not unfounded, and if all other factors were constant, this would be convincing enough, yet there is one factor that many analysts have left out. There is currently a revolution taking place in robot technology which will be fully unleashed over the next five years, from 2012 to 2017. An increasing number of tasks will be done more effectively and more consistently by robots, a change that may well completely transform society as well as our relationship with machines. Although we are beginning to get some sense of the contours of this shift in our world, most citizens have not fully thought through just how profound those changes may be.

Superannuated societies are distinctive in that they have an extremely low resistance to the use of robots and mechanization. In fact, many children in Korea are hoping that robots will be as sophisticated as possible, as soon as possible, so that they can entrust their aging parents to be cared for by them. It will be no small feat to design robots that can feed, bathe, medicate and amuse aging people, but we have every reason to believe that such robots will be developed in the very near future—in part as a result of the evolution of technology and in part because of demand in Northeast Asia.

The question is not so much what technologies are possible, but rather how much social resistance there will be to their implementation. In this respect, Korea will have the least resistance, as it literally may need robots to run its society. Although this might seem at first glance to be a de- mographic disaster, it is very well possible that we are observing a classic blessing in disguise. As other nations struggle over the pros and cons of complete automation and the use of robots in the home, Korea will have no doubt as to which way they should go. That means that Koreans will be the earliest adapters of robot technologies and Korea will potentially become the leader in the new wave: complete integration of robots in daily life after 2015. Korea will gain tremendous advantages in its technological and economic development, advantages that far outweigh the short term problems of a drop in population.

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