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Tech influencers discuss AI, robotics, health tech at EmTech Korea

By Jo He-rim

Published : May 30, 2024 - 18:05

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Amy Nordrum, executive editor of MIT Technology Review, speaks at he EmTech Korea conference held in Seoul on Thursday. (Jie Ye-eun/The Korea Herald) Amy Nordrum, executive editor of MIT Technology Review, speaks at he EmTech Korea conference held in Seoul on Thursday. (Jie Ye-eun/The Korea Herald)

Global tech influencers and professors gathered at this year's EmTech Korea to discuss the impact and potential of breakthrough technologies encompassing artificial intelligence in various sectors including space and robotics, energy and health tech, in Seoul on Thursday.

Orchestrated by the MIT Technology Review, the annual conference aimed at exploring the fusion of global technology trends and industries took place at the Coex convention and exhibition center in Seoul, for the first time.

Opening the event, Amy Nordrum, executive editor of the bimonthly MIT Technology Review, presented the 10 breakthrough technologies seen to hold greatest potential to change the future.

AI technology ranked first on the list, the technologies of which are chosen by the magazine's reporters and editors. They survey the tech landscape every year to predict future developments.

Super-efficient solar cells, weight-loss drugs, enhanced geothermal systems, chiplets, the first gene-editing treatment, exascale computers and heat pumps made the list. Apple’s latest mixed reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro, "Twitter killers" and thermal batteries were also included.

AI, which took the tech world by storm, was one of the key topics discussed at the event. Orzen Etzioni, researcher and former CEO of Allen Research for AI, elaborated on the influence of the technology in every aspect of human lives.

Steven Chien, a technical fellow at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, spoke of how artificial intelligence is critically essential to finding life beyond Earth, cutting down the high costs and long times required to analyze various data collected from space.

"Missions should run completely by AI. The hundreds of people that work on a typical space mission to operate it... there has to be sufficient AI to represent enough of their expertise so that it can go there, get into orbit and most importantly, figure out what data to send back that indicates that there is or is not life there," Chien said.

In the session dubbed, "Large Language Models and the Prospects for Generative AI," Tong Zhang, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and former chief of Tencent, talked about how researchers are designing systems that promote inclusivity and better reflect society's values with machine learning and generative AI.

In a follow-up panel discussion moderated by Karen Hao, Zhang was joined by Lee Moon-tae, a lab leader at LG AI Research, and Yoon Kim, a partner at Saehan Ventures, talked about the current capabilities and limits of the rising AI tools including chatbots.

Robotics experts also took the floor to talk about the potential of humanoids in daily lives, and AI as the agent to enable the technology.

Kim Sung-bae, director of the Biomimetic and Robotics Laboratory and professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, highlighted the importance of “physical intelligence” in adopting AI technology in robots that are tasked with physically interactive activities.

Hwangbo Je-min, a researcher at KAIST, and Rainbow Robotics CEO Lee Jung-ho joined Kim to talk about robots’ seamless interactions with humans.

“I believe humanoid technology will continue to evolve, as it relies on natural human desire for self-replication, whether it is directed at life extension or digitalizing self-identity,” Lee said.

Ron Weiss, principal investigator at Weiss Lab for Synthetic Biology and professor of biological engineering at MIT, talked about how cells communicate and process information on its own way, and how researchers can manipulate the cells and genes using the language to construct biological systems that do useful tasks for humans.

Lee Seung-woo, an associate professor at the Woodfruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, elaborated on the global effort for transition to clean energy, and how new types of batteries, which safely store energy longer and at lower cost, to realize the goal.

On health tech front, Lili Qiu, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, elaborated on how wireless sensing technology is being developed to collect data on physical activities to detect trips and falls and track sleep. She also touched on the concerns on privacy and improper use of the data.

For aspiring inventors and engineers, the speakers also led the discussion on how to commercialize the innovative technologies and how they can become successful business models.

Cha Sang-kyun, founder of Freedom of Innovative Ventures and founding dean of the Graduate School of Data Science at Seoul National University, went over the birth of venture capital in Silicon Valley, and underscored the importance of private capital.

"Government funding is necessary for basic and long-term research, but beware that it is the least efficient means of funding for impactful research," Cha said.

Hosting the EmTech Conference in Korea this year, Park Se-jeong, the publisher of MIT Technology Review Korea, underscored that event has been planned to address the curiosity of the audience.

"The event is special in that it goes beyond the introduction of new technologies, and covers ways for new technologies to become successful businesses," Park said.