Why South Korea is an ideal breeding ground for robots
At Incheon International Airport (ICN), outside South Korea’s capital Seoul, a team of congenial staff will help you find your boarding gate or escort you to the nearest lounge. They’re well trained, well behaved and quadrilingual to boot C but they’re not so good at small talk. That’s because they’re robots.
韩国首都首尔郊外的仁川国际机场（ Incheon International Airport ），一些勤快的工作人员会帮助你找到登机口，或领你到最近的候机厅。他们彬彬有礼，非常专业，还会说多种语言，唯一的缺点是不会跟你聊天。因为他们是机器人。
The robotic airport guides, developed by Korean tech titan LG Electronics, have been working alongside human employees since the end of July 2017. Standing 1.4m tall, they move autonomously on a wheelbase, display an LCD information screen and navigate using cameras and ultrasonic, laser and edge sensors. They can also recognise voice and process language.
这个机场机器人向导是韩国电子业巨人乐金电器（ LG Electronics ）研发创制的。自2017年7月底以来，这些机器人就跟他们的人类同行一起工作了。1.4米高，他们通过滑轮板自动移动，LCD 屏幕展示信息，并通过相机、超声波、激光和先进传感器导航。另外，他们也能辨别声音并使用相应的语言交流。
They’re not the only robots to be making headlines in South Korea, as the country prepares to host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics from 9-25 February in the north-eastern city of Pyeongchang.
韩国东北城市平昌（ Pyeongchang ）正在为主办2018年2月冬奥会加紧准备，这些机场机器人向导可不是韩国人热议的唯一机器人。
Others include Hankook Mirae Technology’s towering Method-2, proclaimed to be the world’s first manned bipedal robot, and DRC-HUBO, a humanoid robot with transformer capabilities, created by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and 2015 winner of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. LG has also developed another airport robot, a cleaner that uses mapping and obstacle-avoidance technology to calculate the most efficient pathways and keep the space sparkling.
韩泰未来技术公司（Hankook Mirae Technology）研发制造的超大机器人 Method-2 ，据称是全球首款双足载人机器人，而另一款 DRC-HUBO――有传输功能的类人机器人，由韩国尖端科技研究所（Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology）研发，曾赢得2015年世界机器人挑战赛（DARPA）冠军。韩国公司乐金（LG）研发了另一款机场清洁机器人，他们能最有效率地保持机场空地和通道洁净无瑕。
South Korea, along with its easterly neighbour Japan, has for many years been known for its cutting-edge intelligent designs, having already deployed robotic teachers, industrial manufacturing workers and service staff. Together, they make up a futuristic workforce where autonomous devices are stepping in to fill human roles.
“In our view, artificial intelligence, robots and related solutions are not just new gadgets, but key technologies to support humans,” said Jae-myoung Hong, senior engineer in LG’s Smart Solutions Division. “In some cases, robots may perform jobs that are too dangerous or too complicated for regular workers.”
"我们认为，人工智能、机器人和相关解决方案并不仅仅是些新奇玩意儿，而是帮助人类的关键技术。"LG智能方案部们的高级工程师 Jae-myoung Hong 说，"在有些危险或过于复杂的工作条件下，机器人可以替代普通工人。"
While South Korea is hurtling toward a brave new world, it’s rooted in a familiar old one, too. It is that ancient heritage, replete with animals who have their own hopes and dreams, trees with souls and mountains with spirits, that may have, in some way, helped influence South Korea’s modern technology.
The innovation powerhouse might not even exist today C at least if Korean folklore has anything to say about it C if it weren’t for one bear who was as persistent as she was optimistic.
This bear, more than 4,300 years ago, was high atop a mountain with a tiger. They both longed to be human. Taking pity on them, the son of the Lord of Heaven gave them two sacred foods, garlic cloves and mugwort, and told them to ration the supply and stay out of the sun for 100 days. Impatient, the tiger quickly quit. The bear, though, made it to the end of the challenge, transforming into a woman who went on to marry the son of the Lord of Heaven and give birth to a son of her own. Named Dangun, he took the throne and became the ruler of the land.
And so, the Korean kingdom owed its creation to an animal who achieved very human aspirations.
The nation’s foundation myth, celebrated every 3 October, is just one in a collection of animist legends that form a cornerstone of the country’s oldest religion: shamanism. Even today, shamanist attitudes remain “embedded” in the Korean psyche, influencing “business, politics and everyday lives,” according to Kwang-yeong Shin, professor of sociology at Chung-ang University in Seoul.
韩国的这个古老传说――他们每年在10月3日庆祝，只是组成该国最古老的原始宗教"萨满教"（ shamanism ）基石的若干动物传说之一。甚至在今天，萨满教精神仍然隐含在韩国人的灵魂中，根据首尔中央大学（ Chung-ang University ）社会学教授 Kwang-yeong Shin的说法，仍然影响着韩国的"商业、政治和日常生活"。
In the Korean shamanist faith, many of whose core elements have been incorporated into Buddhism, it’s not unusual to think that a passing bird could carry the reincarnated soul of your dead uncle, or even that a meaningful memento or particularly beloved musical instrument might have sacred spirits of their own. “We can think that any kind of non-human being might have a spiritual or super power beyond human capacity, whether it is a natural object or artificial object,” Shin told me.
All of which makes the idea of other non-humans C such as robots C adopting human qualities not exactly cause for alarm in South Korea.
“It makes sense that animistic features of shamanism might go well with robots, which are not living agents but have some characteristics of human beings,” said Dong-kyu Kim, a shamanism scholar at Sogang University’s Institute for the Study of Religion.
"可以理解，萨满教的万物有灵论跟机器人似乎能相通，虽然这些机器人不是生物，但却有人类的一些特征。"韩国西江大学（ Sogang University）研究萨满教的学者 Dong-kyu Kim说。
In this way, ancient spirituality may have primed the Korean people to be more culturally and socially open-minded to autonomous devices than perhaps Westerners. Armed with this accepting attitude, South Korea became an ideal breeding ground, and consumer market, for advanced robotics innovation.
In 2016, South Korea sold more than 41,000 robots, second most on the planet, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). That’s nearly half as many as China, which is more than 25 times as populous and 95 times as big. In fact, South Korea has the highest level of industrial robot density in the world. In the manufacturing industry, there are 631 robot workers for every 10,000 human employees, reports IFR. And in the automotive industry, 2,145 for every 10,000.
根据机器人国际联合会（International Federation of Robotics）的统计，2016年韩国出售的机器人超过了4.1万，是地球上销售机器人第二多的国家。这一数字是中国的将近一半――而中国的人口是韩国的25倍，疆土更是韩国的95倍。实际上，韩国是世界上工业机器人最稠密的国家。机器人国际联合会的报告显示，韩国制造业每一万个人类雇员就有631个机器人，而在汽车制造业每一万工人就有2,145个机器人。
Some Koreans do feel concerned this will result in fewer jobs for themselves, but in the minds of many, the concern stops there. “Mass media anticipated many Korean people… would lose their jobs. However, that was it,” Kim said. “Since then, it is rare to hear about worry regarding robots.”
Meanwhile in the US, consider the doomsday scenarios depicted in mainstream cinema, from The Terminator to The Matrix to I, Robot, and by the apocalyptic discourse of some of the nation’s tech leaders, like Elon Musk. (According to a recent Pew Research survey, 72% of Americans are in fact very or somewhat worried about the future of automation.)
与此同时，在美国有关人类末日的景象常常出现在主流银幕上，例如《终结者》（The Terminator）、《黑客帝国》（The Matrix）和《我，机器人》（I, Robot）等，还有像埃隆・马斯克（ Elon Musk ）那样的美国科技领军人物的演说。（最近的皮尤研究中心 Pew Research 一项调查显示，72％的美国人对这类自动化工业的未来感到担心。）
So, while some people may feel anxious that robots will not only steal all their jobs, but also develop a superior and unstoppable intelligence, stage a coup and, in a Frankenstein-like fate, destroy the very people who created them, Koreans just aren’t that panicked.
Of course, it’s much more complex than that. Koreans have always recognised a certain necessity, too.
After the Korean War, which ended in 1953, the country’s government set out to pull itself out of poverty by putting its manufacturing sector front and centre. That precipitated the need to develop high-tech innovation and a highly skilled workforce C both of which helped make South Korea the economic success story it is today. Indeed South Korea has ranked as the world’s most innovative economy for the past four years in a row, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, and the country spent more than any other on research and development in 2014, when measured by share of GDP, reports the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
朝鲜战争在1953年结束之后，韩国政府为了恢复国家的元气，决定将制造业置于发展前沿和中心位置。这使得该国鼓励发展高科技创新，并培养技术精良的劳动大军，这两者造就了韩国今天的经济腾飞。根据"彭博创新指数"（Bloomberg Innovation Index），韩国连续四年冠为世界上最成功创新经济。经济合作与发展组织（Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development）2014年有关各国GDP分配比例的报告中显示，韩国在研究和发展方面的经费比例超过世界上任何国家。
Tech-savvy, community-minded and intensely pragmatic, Koreans might be more eager than many markets, then, to view artificial intelligence as part of the solution, not the problem. Instead of worrying about an AI apocalypse, they’re figuring out how robots can make their lives better, helping to solve a vast range of social troubles from the very small to the large and looming.
LG, for example, is working to develop more and more types of robots that can optimise both the home C from autonomous lawnmowers to smart appliances C and beyond, including hotels, shopping malls, tourist centres and other public spaces. “Our goal is to identify areas where automated devices can add the most value,” said Hong, who expects some of the company’s robots to be ready for commercial release within the next one to two years.
Future applications of robotics innovation could also make it possible for South Korea to not only replace a workforce that’s rapidly aging and retiring, but also care for it. And, perhaps even more urgently, artificial intelligence could play an increasingly important role in defending the country’s DMZ border with North Korea, which has already seen the deployment of semi-autonomous sentries like the SGR-A1, first developed by Samsung.
Back in Incheon, where the robot guides are about to finish their pilot programme, the airport is preparing to welcome some of them as full-time workers in early 2018. So if you happen to find yourself at ICN, keep an eye out for a merry, if mechanical, guide, who will be more than happy to show you around.