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What is knowledge in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution...
  • Writer : Communications Team
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  • Date : 2019-12-06

Special Interview
What is knowledge in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Emeritus Professor Moon-Suk Ahn (Head of the KU ICT/IoT Campus Committee)


)In living through a tumultuous time riddled with unpredictability, Korea University has striven to initiate debate on the future of higher education in the era of Industry 4.0. What future are we preparing and educating students for in light of the era of machine intelligence, where machine teaches machine, going beyond the era of artificial intelligence? Emeritus Professor Moon-Suk Ahn from the Department of Public Administration of Korea University, who is also Co-chair of the e-Government Committee, gives his insights on this central question of our time, in conversation with KU Today.

Q. In what way is technological change throughout history associated with higher education?
The form higher education takes is usually intimately related to the dominant technologies of the time. The first wave of change in the modern era was driven by the invention of the steam engine, the second by electricity and the third by computers. The fourth wave of change is being enabled by artificial intelligence. This cutting-edge technology is the so-called “frontier technology” that will transform human civilization on the greatest scale we have ever seen. During this process, it will fundamentally alter the core of higher education, as well as of society at large. As we look back on the history of technological change, the invention of the steam engine revolutionized transportation and thus expanded the orbit of people's daily lives, and as a result a growing number of universities was established in cities during the Second Industrial Revolution. These institutions began to produce students who displayed uniform capacities, like factories do with workers. This changed upon the arrival of the Third Industrial Revolution, which has allowed knowledge to be produced, preserved and diffused in cyber space, thereby transcending spatial limitations. However, universities are still providing classroom-, professor- and provider-centered education, which is the form of education that manufacturing-centered society pursued. Today, universities are still spending a lot on the construction of new buildings and other physical infrastructure, but this is an outdated focus.

Q. How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution impact nations and societies?
A steam engine cannot be equaled by one hundred horses, and a lightbulb cannot be matched by one hundred candles. Today, a hundred human professional players are no match for one AlphaGo. Throughout history, the nations that foresaw paradigm shifts and adapted to them have prevailed while others that resisted change have lagged behind. So, where do we go from here? The fourth wave of change will create the “intelligence and information society”, which will supersede the information society. In this new society, cyborgs, a new form of humankind that combines humans and machine intelligence, will appear. This means that we are poised to enter a future in which we must cooperate not just with each other but with intelligent machines in order to maximise progress in society and the world as a whole. This is surely a tremendous change.

Q. What roles and responsibilities will be required of higher education in this new era?
The emergence of a new spatial reality, and of novel forms of humanity and of relationships will pose threats and opportunities simultaneously to higher education in the coming years. To a much greater extent professors will assume the role of asking students questions, instead of implanting knowledge in them, thus encouraging them to identify answers autonomously. Furthermore, in this new era, machines will transfer knowledge to machines, without the need of human input. Artificial intelligence thrives on data, so nations and companies that possess a huge amount of data will have a competitive advantage. In order to keep pace with this paradigm shift, higher education must change as well. The universities that are able to handle data deftly and to accumulate Big Data will outcompete others. In the society in which artificial intelligence is a central facet, the happiness of each individual will matter more than it has in previous eras. Therefore it will become important for universities to provide individualized or tailored services, and standardized services that leave little room for customization will not be attractive.

Q. What should universities prepare for in the era of artificial intelligence?
It is necessary to accumulate and record a wide range of data to prepare for the future. The Joseon Dynasty lasted for 500 years, mainly thanks to its commitment to documenting and preserving its annals. , Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, oversaw a decrease in the number of fires during his terms in office, because he analyzed relevant Big Data to identify which buildings were vulnerable to fire, efficiently assigned firefighters to monitor those buildings, and implemented preventive measures. These examples have broad implications for us. Universities should also record all data related to students, in terms of their education and other activities. They should observe, record and shape into data the daily lives of students. It is noteworthy that the development of social media has enabled individuals to develop data of their own. In doing so, they enjoy making records of their activities and thoughts, and they sometimes even start a business based on their records. The accumulation of exclusive data is highly important not only for individuals but also for schools.

Q. How should individuals adapt as the fourth wave of change affects the production of knowledge and intellectual labor generally?
The third wave of change brought about the era of the dissemination of knowledge to the public thanks to the development of technologies that helped us save and transfer information. In other words, the development of platforms that enable spontaneous collective intelligence, such as Wikipedia, as well as Google, Naver and other search engines, brought an end to the era in which access to knowledge had been dominated by elites. However, universities has been failing to adapt to the new environment of the information society, mostly due to the inertia bequeathed by the status quo of industrial society. As we enter into the fourth wave of change, we should train ourselves to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings. “New wine must be poured into new wineskins,” as the old saying has it. We need on a widespread basis to learn computer language and artificial intelligence language, and to do so, we have to resort to approaches entirely different from the ones that are used in the existing educational system. Just as we will have a better experience if we learn French before having a meal at a restaurant in France, likewise, we should treat computer language as if it were a second language, if not our native tongue.

Q. In which direction should Korea University proceed as it advances into the fourth wave of change?
In 2005, when Korea University marked the 100th anniversary of its founding, it succeeded in revolutionizing itself as it strove to become the leading institution of higher education in the nation. Since then, it has continued its efforts to foster innovation, all the while being wary of complacency. However, now is the time for Korea University to undergo another significant change. At the root of reform there is generally the need to forgo privileges. The transformation of KU into a wholly new university with a new way of operating will only be possible when all stakeholders are involved in the effort, and a form of inclusiveness that embraces diversity will be the key factor in the success of this process. The culture of creativity and the convergence of knowledge, based on a pioneering spirit, is deeply rooted in the tradition and history of Korea University. On this basis, I believe that KU will continue to make history as it leads the way for education over the course of the next century.


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