The Korean Artificial Intelligence Industry

South Korea has emerged as a prominent player in the global artificial intelligence (AI) landscape, with a strong focus on research and development, robust tech environment, and an energetic startup scene. Korea’s commitment to maintaining global competitiveness, strategic industry alliances, supportive government regulations, and the rapid integration of AI in various sectors are the driving forces behind the growth of the Korean artificial intelligence industry. Asian Insiders partner in Korean, Hannes Humala, examines the current state of the Korean AI industry, its market segmentation, competitive landscape, and future prospects, including the challenges and opportunities it faces.

The government has been promoting the development of the Korean artificial intelligence industry as a national strategy for several years. The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence was released in December 2019 by all ministries. The strategy outlines a comprehensive plan for research, development, and commercialization and in deploying the slogan ‘Beyond IT powerhouse to AI powerhouse’ illustrates, is an expression of the government’s policy to understand AI as a civilisational driver of change and to use it as a tool to build the economy and to resolve various social limitations. This plan prioritises “trustworthy AI,” emphasizing ethical development and responsible utilisation of the technology under 100 government-wide action tasks and nine separate sub-strategies. Furthermore, the government’s ‘Digital New Deal’ initiative of 2020 placed AI at the core, with projects like the ‘AI Open Data Project’ fostering collaboration and innovation.

South Korea has built a singular advantage: a dense network of AI-focused startups, also known as ‘scaleups’. These companies, numbering in the hundreds, are not necessarily small but are established players pushing the boundaries of AI technology. These companies work alongside a dense network of academic, industry and research institutes encompassing an ecosystem that surpasses even Silicon Valley in terms of AI-focused scaleups, highlighting the intense focus and emerging talent pool that the intense  Korean education system nurtures.

In 2024, Korea’s science ministry announced the opening of a massive data centre for AI studies that it said was a part of the country’s plan to build a world class AI research network. The AI Innovation Hub, located in Seoul, is a computing mega-lab offering up to 35 petaFLOPS processing capabilities with an initial investment of USD 35 million, supporting more than 630 AI scholars and researchers from over 200 institutions participated in state-sponsored AI projects that include hyperscale deep learning, spatial-temporal reasoning and new, large language speech synthesis.

A well-known and distinctive feature of Korean business is the strength of its business conglomerates or ‘chaebols’ and that have increasingly become global. These conglomerates are increasingly looking overseas as bases of their own artificial intelligence research centres to build strong networks with academia and industry while also attracting international talent and experience. Examples of these include a USD 240 million AI research centre in Massachusetts by Hyundai Motor Group, the LG AI Research Centre in Michigan, Gauss Labs Inc, funded by SK Group in Silicon Valley while Samsung now operate six AI R&D centres worldwide in Silicon Valley, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Moscow and Cambridge, England. In this, larger Korean companies are recognising that Korean AI research needs to tap into larger talent pools than at home, while working in with national initiatives abroad.

This intense development of the Korean artificial intelligence industry is intended to keep the country at the fore of its global competitiveness across a number of sectors and will drive innovation in areas such as language processing, computer vision, machine learning and advanced robotics. This year, 2024, is building to be significant for generative AI, with the emergence of B2B-oriented generative AI solutions and services expected to impact many aspects of the B2B business landscape including leading research on AI semiconductors. The country ranks third globally in the number of AI patents filed between 2010 and 2021, with machine learning featuring in around 77% of patents filed. Korea also stands out in AI patents related to fields such as energy management, education and military.

There is a synergy in Korea being one of the handful of countries that produce high end semiconductor devices needed for AI development. Semiconductors have now becomes the most important export item in the South Korean economy, representing around 19% of total value of exports in 2022.

Per capita, Korea produces more engineering graduates than the US, India or China and while this number is increasing, demand is still beating supply. Regarding investment, while Korean conglomerates and investment funds are heavily involved in the Korean artificial intelligence industry, significant investment is also coming in from the US, Europe and other Asian nations. The sector is booming and poised for a rapidly changing near future.

Asian Insiders offers deep connections, expertise and long experience in Korea. To succeed in South Korea, you are invited to a no-obligation call with Jari Hietala, Managing Partner: jari.hietala(at) or with Managing Partner for Korea, Hannes Humala: hannes.humala(at)

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