A host of new technologies, including biochips and robots sensitive to human emotions, will bring further dramatic improvements in quality of life, says Jong-Yong Yun

We have been living through a revolution in technology since the 1960s. Those of us leading the change, however, must continue to look ahead for future drivers of the economy. While we keep a keen eye on the progress of digital convergence in the near term, we must also identify and address the application of technology in the long term, all the while anticipating consumer needs.

For the next stage in the revolution, technology will not only be an integrated part of life but will also be used to enhance the quality of life. Beyond the knowledge economy, it will not be enough for consumers simply to have access to information. Technology must instantly facilitate the way in which that information can be applied and used. With a solid foundation of digital convergence, emerging technologies will expand existing markets by creating new businesses in response to demand.

Progress of digital convergence

In the short time since the advent of computers in the 1960s, there have been revolutionary developments in digitization. Today, the first stage of digital convergence – in the form of devices – has been substantially achieved. There is a plethora of products that offer several functions, for example mobile phones that take digital photographs and play digital music files. Moreover, there is convergence between products and networking between products at home and in offices and with mobile devices.

The second stage of digital convergence – in the form of networks – will be fully realized within a couple of years. We expect that the infrastructure for a super high-speed information society will soon be established with the construction of the “last mile” of broadband highways to homes around the world. Mobile devices will provide what we call “quadruple play” services, combining voice, data, media and wireless services. In addition, two-way services will be facilitated by the acceleration of the convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting. For example, say a television viewer sees a celebrity on TV and admires her mobile phone. New interactive technology will allow her to click on the TV set to find out about it. The fully-fledged introduction of terrestrial digital broadcasting combined with satellite broadcasting and cable networks will soon provide the infrastructure for wired and wireless networks.

With the acceleration of device convergence and network convergence, service convergence – expanding business areas and integrated services that comprise wired and wireless services – will be the next step in digital convergence. The rash of mergers and alliances taking place among telecommunications, cable and internet portal service providers since 2004 attests to this trend. A variety of services for consumers will be provided through integrated media. Information will be delivered to several media, and so the process of gathering information will no longer be constrained by space or time.

Existing media – print, television and mobile devices – have their own value chain. Accordingly, consumers are currently compelled to use a combination of a variety of media. However, in the near future, in a genuine customer-oriented era, different media and value chains will converge and information will be available through one single medium, signifying the apex of the knowledge economy.

Next-generation technology

There are a number of promising technologies that will lead the post-knowledge economy. We have identified three areas as key economic drivers in the long term. These are: ubiquitous computing technology; the integration of information technology and biotechnology; and emotional intelligent-agent technology, that is technology which is able to sense human emotion and respond appropriately to human behaviour. These technologies all rely on the base of highly-developed nanotechnology. Not only will these technologies provide users with immediate access to knowledge but, and more importantly, they will also expand the areas in which technology can be applied to enhance the quality of life.

The emergence of ubiquitous computing is a natural progression from the era of digital convergence. With the further development and penetration of digital convergence, computers in chip form will be placed not only in products, but also in the surrounding environment, and the information gathered through these chips will be distributed on demand through wired and wireless networks. This environment of ubiquitous computing will be network-free – no differentiation between networks will be necessary. It will be device-free – any device will be able to connect to the desired network. It will also be time-free – wired and wireless connections will be available regardless of time or place. As a result, we expect that new types of businesses and services will emerge that provide consumers with constant access to their services. There will be radical improvements in quality of life. Ubiquitous computing combined with sensors could, for example, provide an earthquake early-warning system, not just to scientists, but also to all the people in the affected region.

Mobile phones as lifesavers

The convergence of information technology and biotechnology will bring about a sea change in how we live, effectively using technology to improve our health and our quality of life.

For example, biochip technology, which enables immediate diagnosis of disease using genetic data acquired through biotechnology, is a promising area. With a surrounding infrastructure that allows immediate access to this technology, preventive medicine will take on a whole new form. Mobile devices will have integrated medical services, such as a handset equipped with sensors that read bio-signals like blood pressure, heartbeat and body temperature, taking digital convergence to a new level.

Robotics – the use of emotional intelligent-agent technology that not only performs tasks, but accurately reads the surrounding environment and interfaces intelligently with users – will also be a boon to our standard of living. Home-care robots will be able to clean, provide home security and enable remote-controlled health checks. Moreover, these services can be made available outside the home by linking the robots to a ubiquitous computing network. One basic challenge is how to integrate sensitive engineering so that every user, regardless of age, can feel comfortable interfacing with this new technology.
At the heart of all three growth areas is nanotechnology. This speeds the development of new materials and low-cost manufacturing and accelerates the advancement of technology in other areas such as semiconductor chips, inkjet printers, biochips and batteries. By focusing on nanotechnology, companies like Samsung Electronics can bring future technology closer to the present.

Government help

Although emerging technologies will certainly improve the quality of life, making them commercially viable is not easy. There are many challenges to surmount, including expanding the market to a viable size, mastering the technology and developing the best production techniques. However, new markets will open and develop sooner than expected if roles are clearly divided and systemic preparations are made in close cooperation between governments and corporations.

First, there needs to be an initial demand from consumers for these new technologies to advance. The customer base can grow if we implement a variety of government-led programmes in the areas of education, social welfare and public services. An aggressive drive to lead companies through temporary incentive programmes is also an important factor in promoting overall market growth.

We project that, by 2010, the biochip market will reach $6 billion, while the home robotics market will be about $18 billion. These are by no means small figures but, in order to meet the full potential of such markets, we need to establish and implement win-win strategies between governing bodies and companies contributing to future technologies.

The role of governments at the initial stages of building these technologies is of prime importance. A variety of institutional support and legislation is necessary to expand the demand and create a profitable market. These technologies can only thrive successfully when the legal system addresses privacy and information-protection issues and anticipates safe use of new services by consumers.
Companies need to focus on stabilizing and reducing costs of new technologies in terms
of development, standardization and establishment of business models through test beds. For large companies, it is important to continue monitoring and developing the technology of venture and specialized companies. As such, joint developments can produce win-win results through licensing or purchasing technology.

As we move closer to realizing these future areas of growth, the integrated relationship among users, corporations and regulatory bodies will provide a sound basis for the best development and application of new technologies.

With systematic oversight, companies can provide the most effective products and services to the sophisticated consumers of the post-knowledge economy.

CV Jong-Yong Yun

Jong-Yong Yun is vice-chairman and chief executive of Samsung Electronics, where he has worked since 1969. Under his leadership, Samsung has set out to be a leader in consumer electronics in an era of digital convergence.