The recent visit of Bill Gates to Seoul to explore opportunities for new business ventures represented a significant shift in the culture of Korean business and government — away from the mantra of work, work, and work — toward an emphasis on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. This transformation was palpable at a recent gathering of leading entrepreneurs from business, research and government known simply as Research, Innovation, Start-up & Employment (or RISE) that was held on May 21-22 at COEX in Seoul.
Elad Cohen Toren, founder of the StarTau program to nurture aspiring entrepreneurs in Israel, was present to advise how Korea could develop its own unique venture ecosystem. Also in attendance was Lee Sir-goo, CEO of Korea’s free mobile messaging app Kakao Talk.
The most striking moment at RISE was the pair of keynote speeches by two Americans respectively representing technology and the humanities, who embody innovation and have latched on to Korea as fertile ground for future ventures.
Ray Kurzweil, author of futurist book “The Singularity is Near,” and relentless inventor (he currently works at Google as director of engineering) spoke about the opportunities offered by the rapid technological evolution and called on Koreans to seize them. He highlighted the emergence of three-dimensional printing and the biomedical revolution for drug delivery. Kurzweil’s start-up, Kurzweil Music, now operates in Korea.
Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute, then took the stage to present a humanist perspective on the question of accelerating technological change. Pastreich was less sanguine about the impact of rapid technological change for society, suggesting that a certain spiritual confusion could result from the profound, but invisible, shifts in how we perceive the world.
Pastreich called on Korea to take the lead in drafting a global “constitution of information” that would ensure that the information that is now produced with increasing speed remains accurate and that the information gathered through new technologies by individuals and groups is not abused.
The RISE conference marked a new level of sophistication in the country’s cultural and technological influence, bringing together outstanding talent from around the world to seek out opportunities in the midst of our age’s unprecedented challenges.
By Arthur E. Michalak