SK Telecom

SK Telecom CEO Urges South Korean ‘Super Cooperation’ in AI Research

South Korean technology companies should combine their artificial intelligence research work to compete with U.S. tech giants, according to SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-Ho. Speaking at CES in Las Vegas last week, Park urged South Korean technology developers to work together on AI lest they end up overwhelmed by Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

South Korean Super Cooperation

Park described the arrangement he would like to see as “Super Cooperation,” where research and development of AI technology is a shared activity among South Korean tech firms. The applications and branding would be handled by the individual companies based on that basic research. SK Telecom is one of the most successful brands in the industry in South Korea, but Park pointed to the slowly growing presence of the biggest American tech companies in the country as a potential crisis for homegrown companies like SK Telecom and Samsung. Without the agreements he envisions, Park said the U.S. companies will take over the market and South Korean companies will need to use their platforms instead of their own.

Park met with Samsung CEO Koh Dong-jin at CES to discuss a potential arrangement between their two companies. Samsung would be a huge win for Park’s plan, but SK Telecom is already working on building these “Super Cooperation” partnerships with other South Korean companies. As an example of how the deal could work, Park pointed to the way SK Telecom and three South Korean broadcasters had jointly created over-the-top video service Wavve. Mobile lifestyle tech developer Kakao has also agreed to work with SK Telecom when it comes to AI research.

Competition and Partnerships

South Korea is a very competitive space when it comes to AI. SK Telecom, KT, and Naver all focus on selling digital assistants and smart speakers solely within the country, making for a fierce commerce war. It’s such a struggle that Samsung, better known though it is internationally, has yet to get much of the market share in its home base.

Only South Korean companies offered voice assistants in their country until very recently when Google began selling Google Home and Google Home Mini smart speakers there in September. That’s partly because Korean is known as a tough language for natural language understanding programs to understand. The many Android OS devices in South Korea are helping Google Assistant compete, but the actual numbers of people using the voice assistant are thought to be very low. Amazon’s Alexa assistant doesn’t speak Korean and the Echo speaker isn’t sold there, meaning only a few Alexa devices, all speaking English, can be found in South Korea.

Park clearly doesn’t see the AI partnerships as a limitation to more global cooperation, in general. Chinese electric vehicle developer Byton, which debuted a new voice assistant powered by Aiquodo, announced a deal with SK Telecom to improve its competitiveness in South Korea. SK Telecom is also teaming up with Amazon, Microsoft, and other big tech companies to expand the global 5G network. When it comes to AI, however, Park wants to see his nation’s brands band together against the world.


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