Going to the scene of global future technology.
Han Kyung - SNU Engineering joint production.
(9) End - Jong-Ho Lee, the minister of ICT.Science and technology are the powers that protect our nation’s interests amidst the US-China conflict.
Jong-Ho Lee, the minister of ICT, whilst holding a wafer which is one of the components necessary for semiconductor production, explains the national strategic technology which would develop into the “the next semiconductor”.>
Science and technology are now at the forefront of global competition for hegemony. The United States is strengthening its hegemony through the IRA and the CHIPS act, and is strongly demanding Korea to participate in the “CHIP 4” alliance. China also does not seem to give in, as suggested by its outline of the 14th 5-year-plan that emphasizes revolutions in the technological field, self-reliance, and self-support.
Decisions related to science and technology have become important decisions that decide the nation’s survival now that Korea is forced to make a difficult choice between the US and China. Science and technology now affect not only the economic and industrial sectors but also foreign affairs and national security. In this critical moment, what plans does the head of science and technology have? On the 19th, we met Jong-Ho Lee, the minister of ICT at the office in Myeong-Dong, Seoul, and interviewed him on crucial national strategies and technologies, including the semiconductor technology. Minister Lee said, “We need 3~4 more technologies similar to semiconductors, which the US and China covet, so that Korea can maintain its national interests as the top priority and at the same time avoid the current danger.”
▷There are criticisms that there does not seem to be an “overall picture” to the Korean government’s efforts in the field of science and technology
“I have been assigned the role of making choices regarding policies on science and technology for the Yoon’s government. We are considering many options. With the ministry of ICT at the center, we are designing a detailed goal that takes into account contemporary settings together with the ministry of trade, industry and energy, and the ministry of SMEs.”
▷Similar to the “CHIP 4 alliance” incident, there have been many occurrences of scenarios
where we are forced to make a choice between the US and China regarding the science and technology sector.
“We have to read the state of affairs as precisely as how lines are drawn in semiconductor wafers in the scale of 1 nanometer. It is an unavoidable fate, since we are stuck between two strong nations. The only way to survive is to develop revolutionary technology. We need to obtain technologies that other countries covet, such as semiconductors, displays, rechargeable batteries, something “sharp”. In this way, we can maintain the national interests as our top priority”
▷Objectively, how competitive is our semiconductor industry?
“If Korea can’t sell memory semiconductors, countries that can’t buy our memory semiconductors will also experience huge losses. For example, If Korea and China fall apart and we stop selling them to China, companies such as Tencent will be damaged tremendously. Even if China were to place an embargo on us, directly placing restrictions on Samsung Electronics or SK Hynix would be difficult. Acquiring more of such competitive technologies would help Korea to survive amongst the tensions between superpowers.”
▷Samsung Electronics and other countries are leading the market, but is there a risk of other countries catching up, especially with advances in the field of semiconductors?
“Of course, the lead cannot be maintained forever. China’s pace is formidable. There are also other areas in that they have almost caught up to us. One area where the lead is still significant is the yield of finished products without faults. But yields can be improved over time. Korea has to think of other areas. The field of AI semiconductors is one major field. Similar to how Nvidia of the United States produces excellent GPUs, we have to develop a nation that is able to also produce quality system semiconductors.”
▷How will the support for the development of AI semiconductors be provided?
“The government has recently completed plans regarding the support for the development of the AI semiconductor industry. In the next 5 years, 1 trillion and 200 billion wons will be invested in acquiring the best AI semiconductor technology. We will test AI semiconductors that are made in Korea in our data centers, and raise 7000 highly educated professionals in this field by establishing graduate schools in this field.”
▷AI semiconductor fabless industries are expressing that foundries are rejecting producing their semiconductors.
“They cannot be forced to produce chips designed from our universities’ labs or startups when they are already overloaded with orders from foreign companies. They will have to be financially assisted by the ministry of industry or given tax incentives. One solution is for them to be given a share of the profits from the chips designed by the startups.”
▷It appears that the effect that science and technology have on the nation’s survival has increased drastically.
“There are many cases throughout history where countries bloomed or fell because of the rise of new technologies – gunpowder and steam engines for example. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine is another example. There are over 2800 satellites from SpaceX above the Ukraine airspace. They are providing real-time information to Ukraine’s forces against the Russian army.
▷Do you have detailed plans for developing science and technology?
“The national strategical technology system formulations and development plans will be announced in a few days. The size of Korea’s R&D have increased from 78 trillion wons to 100 trillion won over the last 5 years. It is planned to select areas that have high values foreign affairs wise and national security wise, and focus on developing those areas.”
▷What is one area that we cannot afford to lose?
“All areas are interrelated; it is difficult to simply choose one. For example, the field of biotechnology has immense synergy with AI and biotechnology. The field of ICT necessitates high developments in the hardware and software sectors. In the jargon used in the industry, we need a “full stack” technology. We really need to excel in all areas.”
▷What is one area that Korea desperately needs to strengthen?
“If I had to choose, I would choose quantum technology. I believe that we cannot afford to not develop quantum computers and quantum encoded information transmission.”
▷How will quantum technology be supported by the government?
“The project to invest 2 trillion won into quantum technology from 2025 to 2034 will be pushed for in the first quarter of the following year. The main goal is to enable the production of quantum materials, parts, and equipment on our own, and develop quantum technology that is shared among many other technologies.”
▷With the development of the Nuri(KSLV-II) and Danuri(KPLO), the public’s interest in space has escalated.
“When I was at the site of the launch of Danuri, was so overwhelmed with emotions that I had goosebumps. But at the same time, I believe that we still have a long way to go. The Artemis space program of the United States requires several trillion dollars for a single launch. It is difficult for the government to do everything. Korea needs companies in the civilian sectors such as SpaceX that would cooperate with the government to enable such space programs.”
▷The cooperation with security authorities while developing space technology has increased.
“Space has increasing values regarding national security. Last year, the bill to push for space development was passed, which enabled security authorities to participate more actively. There will be increasing cooperation, such as in parts, satellites, and other areas. After the establishment of the space-aeronautical service, cooperation with the civilian and military sectors will take place.”
▷It is difficult to not ask how the government plans to develop experts in the field of science and technology.
“To develop “grade S” personnel, there are institutional monetary supports put in place. Graduate schools specializing in AI and digital areas are being established, and 6 million wons are put aside to bring in experts from other countries. The number of inter-disciplinary AI graduate schools will be increased from the current 15 to 19. The number of big data graduate schools will increase by 10 until 2027, the number of inter-disciplinary security graduate schools will increase from the current 8 to 12 in 2026, and the number of university ICT research centers will increase from the current 48 to 80 by 2027.”
▷Please tell us if you have anything that you would like to achieve during your time at the office.
“How policies will be a boon to the citizens is the most important aspect of policies, regardless of how small or large they are. Bruce Lee could take down huge muscular opponents using his rather small, but trained and compact muscles. I will strive to not obsess over large policies and carefully look over the small policies as well.”
The minister of ICT, Jong-Ho Lee is a…
global scholar that pioneered the development of bar-shaped smartphones.
Minster Lee is a global scholar that contributed greatly to the opening of the era of bar-shaped smartphones. During his time as a professor at Won Kwang university in 2001, in cooperation with KAIST, he developed the bulk finfet technology. This technology, which builds on the traditional MOSFET, introduced a 3D structure to semiconductors and is now applied to all smartphone application processors. It is known that minister Lee has received royalties from Samsung, Intel, Apple, TSMC, and others, totaling 160 million wons over the span of 2012 to 2017.
△Graduated from the dept. of electrical engineering from Kyung Book University
△Masters and Ph.D. from Seoul National University
△Researcher at ETRI
△Post-Doc researcher at MIT
△Professor of electrical and material engineering at Won Kwang University
△Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Kyung Book University
△Current professor of electrical and computer engineering at Seoul National University
△Head of Inter-university Semiconductor Research Center, SNU
Translated by: Do-Hyung Kim, English Editor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org