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Why World Economic Forum focuses on science and technology

Why World Economic Forum focuses on science and technology

Posted January. 13, 2014 08:27,   


The World Economic Forum 2014 will take place in the remote village of Davos in next week. I made a presentation on “10 Emerging Technologies” while serving as chairman of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Biotechnology in 2012. It was meaningful in that the gathering of economic, political, and social leaders across the world values science and technology. In the past, science and technology used to have a big impact on industries, but now it has significant impact on all areas ranging from politics to society, economy and culture, which the World Economic Forum also acknowledges.

Samsung Electronics’ fourth-quarter earnings of last year and concerns over new growth engines indicate that we can sustain by creating globally competitive products continuously. Few would deny that scientists and those who devoted to the development of nation`s industries are behind the miracles that increased Korea’s per capita income 260 times, and the GDP almost 500 times only in six decades from the end of Korean War. To make a giant leap forward, science and technology must be the growth engine based on creativity.

It is hopeful to see that professors and students in diverse majors study day and night at the KAIST Institute for Convergence. They are conducting projects with imagination and without fear for failures in laboratories with no partitions. They are producing results from creative projects such as technology that enables transformational robots like those in the movie “Transformers,” new materials that create Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, tablet software that makes people feel like reading a real book with an emotional touch on software, and technologies that treat many diseases related to aging, and technologies that change microorganisms into gasoline.

When I ask many young students who want research, “Why do you want to major in science and technology?” their first answer is “It’s fun and I like it.” They also say they want to endeavor to develop the world’s first or the world’s best technology. However, many of them are worried about their future as they get closer to graduation. When encountered with the reality – a few slots at universities and science institutes that are hard to get and companies that they should be worried about potential layoffs – students say they feel frustrated about what they have done with passion for such a poor treatment.

We have no future if scientists who indulged their passion for studying and research do not get fair treatment. Scientists also have remarkable task to create meaningful results in fundamental, applied, and industrialization research.

President Park Geun-hye is well known for her affection for science and technology. Despite global economic uncertainties, the Park administration has steadily increased the budget for science. The president invited future science talents including students who receive presidential science scholarships to the presidential office for encouragement, and visited the Daedeok Techno Vally and KAIST to embolden scientists.

According to an article of Dong-A Ilbo`s Wednesday edition, the prize money for the Korean Science Award, dubbed as the “Nobel Prize of Korea,” was curtailed from 50 million won (47,130 U.S. dollars) to 30 million (28,0000 dollars) won last year, and the prize money for the Young Scientist Award also decreased. Few scientists complain about the reduction in the prize money because they have a big pride in what they do. Nevertheless, people and the authorities respect and treat scientists fairly in the belief that they are the ones who will realize the vision of the president’s “creative economy” as the driving force in developing Korea.

Lee Sang-yup, professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST