Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, the two major semiconductor companies in Korea, are focusing on the development of neuroporphic semiconductors based on their knowledge of the brain. The neuromorphic chip is a next-generation semiconductor made by imitating human brain thinking process, and it can efficiently process irregular data (character, shape, voice) which computer is difficult to recognize nowadays.
Samsung Electronics began developing its own neuromorphic chip, and also introduced a camera image sensor based on the 'TrueNorth,” a kind of new neuromorphic chip developed by IBM. In particular, the TrueNorth is a semiconductor developed by IBM as part of a neural network computing project initiated by the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Samsung Electronics has been in charge of its foundry production since 2014.
Last year, Samsung Venture Investment invested US$ 20 million in the US startup “Vicarious” whose goal is to develop a machine with a soul. A Silicon Valley software engineer and a brain scientist co-founded the company to develop new-concept artificial intelligence (AI) by studying how the human brain processes information and applying it. The company set the target year for the commercialization of the new-concept AI at 2031. Experts regard this AI which resembles human intelligence and has creative and intuitive problem-solving ability as "strong AI" and a key technology to determine the winner of the fourth industrial revolution.
Companies' attempts to commercialize 'strong AI' which can think like human beings, going beyond AI are being made in a heterogeneous combination of the hardware aspect that create the existing fourth industrial revolution and the software sector that includes brain science in order to develop new markets. That is to say, a new race is on to win future new industry competition covering high-performance autonomous vehicles and humanoids robots.
The AI industry believes that the neuromorphic chip is one of prerequisites for strong AI. This means that strong AI which advanced from weak AI such as Google Alphago and IBM Watson can be realized with a semiconductor that dramatically enhances a data processing capacity.
Companies are actually obtaining results in the big data business which collects a huge volume of human behavior data. Distribution companies such as Lotte, Shinsegae, and CJ are analyzing consumers’ purchase patterns and preferences and using the results of the analysis to develop marketing and customized services. Naver launched the “DataLab” Service, a big data distribution platform to allow small and medium-sized businesses to utilize search data collected through PCs and mobile devices. Not to lose competition, Kakao is focusing on increasing sales in the customized advertising market based on user data accumulated via its platform such as Kakao Story and Kakao Taxi.
Samsung Electronics monitors the behaviors of users by gender and ages, collects a large volume of ergonomic data and applies the data to the development of new home appliances. The Hyundai Motor Group decided to build a big data center to collect the actual operation data of smart cars in Guizhou Province, China.
Among mobile carriers, there are some companies promoting the AI business based on user big data. Recently KT announced that the company applied AI to customer relationship management (CRM) data collected by KT Big Data Center over the past three years and used them for the development of customized products and sales strategy. In addition, KT plans to actively apply AI technology of its own development to smart home services and fifth generation network management.
In spite of these efforts, Korean companies still lag behind the US, Europe and Japan in the fields of brain neural network research and big data analysis. It is said that currently, Korea's AI technology is two to three years behind the world's best.
Under these circumstances, various efforts are being made to promote AI-related research. In August of this year, the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (AIRI), a private AI research institute was established by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning with the participation of seven large companies including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, LG Electronics, SK Telecom, KT, Naver and Hanwha Life, each of which contributed three billion won to the research center. In October, SK Hynix also announced that it will start researching neuromorphic chips in earnest by partnering with Stanford University and Lam Research.