AI Photo

National AI Priorities Evident in South Korea's Partnerships with New York and Princeton Universities

Asia Korea

New York and Princeton Universities signed partnerships with South Korea aiming to heighten cooperation and research in artificial intelligence as well as other emerging technologies

New York University and the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) announced a partnership called the ROK Institutions-NYU AI and Digital Partnership on September 21st, 2023, at the Digital Vision Forum held in New York. The aim of the initiative is to expand research between the two institutions on artificial intelligence and investigate the social impact of such technologies.

More specifically, an important goal of the research will be investigating potential ethical standards for AI and digital governance. This aligns with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's recent call to the 78th United Nations General Assembly urging other nations and the international community to develop more robust rules around such technologies, just a day before the agreement was formalized.

This partnership follows cooperation which began between the two institutions in the year prior. They agreed to establish a joint campus in New York City by 2025 and a joint undergraduate engineering program along with study abroad opportunities in both the United States and South Korea. It was also laid out that NYU-KAIST offices in New York City would be located at One MetroTech Center, near the Tandon School of Engineering.

Likewise, Princeton University and the CJ Corporation's AI Center announced a collaborative research agreement on October 19th, 2023, set against the backdrop of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy's economic trade mission to Asia, with notable stops in South Korea and Japan. The goal of this partnership will be to pair experts in the fields of AI, machine learning, and computer sciences to drive innovation.

The AI Ecosystem in New York and New Jersey and Synergy with South Korea

New York is a hub to well-known IT and AI companies. Google recently opened its new office in Manhattan, while leading venture capital firms like Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz opened New York offices outside of the West Coast. To bolster investments in tech and AI sectors, New York City recently unveiled the "New York City Artificial Intelligence Action Plan." According to this plan, the city will establish an AI governance framework, set up an external AI Advisory Council, and amplify AI proficiency within both the city and state government. This signifies concerted efforts at both the city and state levels to advance AI and frontier technologies.

Similarly, New Jersey's proximity to New York and its own thriving tech scene — bolstered by esteemed institutions like Princeton University — has made it a significant player in the AI space. Like New York, it is also attempting to foster AI development at the state-level. For example, the state recently established an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to analyze both the benefits and risks of using AI in government services, while also investigating potential public-private partnerships involving the technology.

South Korea has observed the potential of states like New York and New Jersey in AI research and commercial development. This recognition is highlighted by its collaborations with institutions such as NYU and Princeton. The country is an important partner for both states, as it is the home of technology giants like Samsung and cutting-edge facilities like the Research Data Center of AI Innovation at Seoul National University. Such companies and facilities have made the country’s prowess in AI and electronics renowned and competitive.

US-ROK National Partnerships in Emerging Technologies and AI

At the national level, South Korea and the United States have emphasized the need for collaboration over AI and emerging technologies over the past decade. For example, the 11th US-ROK Joint Committee on Science and Technology occurred earlier this year in May, where a host of agencies such as the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened to discuss topics ranging from AI to biotechnology, semiconductors, and data sharing. Likewise, the US-ROK Information and Communications Technology Policy Forum is emblematic of this continued focus, as it was hosted from September 12th to September 13th, 2023, the seventh time since 2013. A core focus of the forum was to spurn more coordination in areas such as AI, but also cloud computing and intellectual property rights – both areas in which AI is increasingly becoming more prominent.

Moreover, joint AI research and development initiatives have increased in importance from a bilateral national security standpoint. The US Department of Defense claimed last year that its officials identified five key technology domains that must be further developed with South Korea, and the first among them mentioned was AI. The ROK Ministry of National Defense Acquistion Program Administration and the US Department of Homeland Security renewed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) earlier this year, emphasizing the need to create standards and interoperability for emerging technologies. Considering the alarms around AI being used in a potential conflict with China, coordination with South Korea in this domain has become more imperative for the United States.

Recognizing the transformative economic potential of AI, South Korea and the United States have also integrated this technology into their industrial strategies. Generative AI is estimated to contribute $4 trillion annually to the global economy, which is on top of the $11 trillion nongenerative AI and other forms of automation are projected to contribute. To capitalize on this potential, the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology of the Yoon administration announced the Digital New Deal 2.0 Action Plan 2022. Part of this initiative involves funneling around $4.4 billion to facilitate integration of data, networks, and AI in the economy to generate growth. The Biden Administration has acted to pressure companies who misuse AI, but has also shown great interest in spurring technological development, as evidenced by the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan compiled by the National Science and Technology Council.

The new partnerships between ROK institutions and US universities in New York and New Jersey are local indications of the aforementioned national priorities. With these initiatives and more like them, South Korea and the United States are poised to be outsized beneficiaries of this AI-driven economic and security revolution.

SeungHwan (Shane) Kim is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, where he is focusing on security and statecraft in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Matthew Willis is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in International Relations, Economics, Government, and East Asian Studies.