South Korea’s demographic decline is creating an advanced robotic future
South Korea has progressed immensely in infrastructure since the 1970s. Technological companies such as LG and Samsung and other hi-tech chaebols alike have shaped the modern economy of the country: bringing massive economic prosperity to the country on the brinks of poverty half a century earlier and establishing an edge in technologies such as semiconductors, displays, and mobile phones. South Korea also is partnered with Russia in its space exploration, according to the article A Closer Look at South Korea’s plan for Cooperation with Russia. Some of these innovations have brought one of the highest life expectancies to the country: 82.5 years and have sustained a consistent 3% GDP growth rate for the country, but as the old population increases and the fertility rate stays below two – the future of South Korea’s prosperity is threatened as there is less of pool taxpayers to support the increasing medical costs of the elderly: solving this problem through robotics and immigrations are the considerations the country is taking.
Undoubtedly, South Korea ranks ahead of most countries on many fronts, digital and not, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). South Korea has a 51.8 million population, a 3.8 unemployment rate, ranks 1st in mathematics education, but an alarming 1.05 fertility rate. This severely threatens the future of the country as a fertility rate of 2.1 is required to maintain the population. The World Bank’s data reveals that South Korea has a high level of technological attainment and efficiency: its factories are considered to be the most automated in the world, according to the International Federation of Robotics, which reveals the country ‘boasts 631 robots per 10,000’ employees. Meanwhile, the workforce of South Korea maintains a high capital index of 0.84, highlighting the productivity of its workers. Most importantly, South Korea’s R&D has been steadily increasing to 4.55% of GDP, exemplifying the country’s strong investment in future technology. Trademark, patent, and technology exports have also all skyrocketed the past five years. The country offers some of the fastest average internet access speed according to Akamai Technologies Internet Connectivity Report, has one of the highest internet penetration rates, and was one of the first countries to upgrade to 5G technology. More so, the internet in South Korea is considered to have relatively free of censorship, except for some exceptions including pro-North Korean websites and adult content for minors, according to the journal Data protection and privacy in South Korea.
According to the Guardian article, South Korea’s inequality paradox: long life, good health, and poverty, income inequality is a big problem for South Korea’s elderly, “While South Korea’s soaring rise in life expectancy is expected to continue, almost half of its citizens aged over 65 now live in relative poverty, according to OECD data.” Despite South Korea’s impressive economic gains, the former cultural expectation of children supporting their parents once they are older has faded away while the government has only recently taken action establishing a pension system. Current pensions are at around $150 USD per month, but the government hopes to increase this. Currently, however, the country received a D grade in the 2018 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index. According to the Global Gender Gap report, South Korea ranks 121st of 141 countries in ‘economic participation and opportunity. The Social Institution Gender index mentions that South Korea has “very low levels of discriminatory family code, low levels of restricted civil liberties, and medium levels of restricted resources and assets.”
As mentioned before, South Korea’s fertility rate is the lowest, and its death rate is also one of the lowest. Because South Korea is in a position where its workforce will rapidly shrink in the next thirty years, new initiatives in the form of replacing human labor with robotics and immigration are of utmost importance, according to the article South Korea’s demographic dilemma. Part of this change comes with legislation: the government is raising the retirement ‘from 55 to 60’ to ease the decline in the working population. This demographic change means the amount of conscripted men is shrinking every year in the South Korean army, which is still at war with the North. To combat this, the country is depending more on robotic technologies and hiring professional soldiers to rely less on conscripts. Even hiring soldiers means fewer people will be working in the private sector, therefore, the importance of continuing to integrate automation is an initiative the Korean government is taking seriously. Another potential solution for the country is immigration. The article explains that “there are also mounting calls for the country to welcome back overseas Koreans and to even look to immigration to increase the population,” the same article states.
According to the Marrakula Center for Applied Ethics’ A Framework for Ethical Decision Making South Korea is using the utilitarian approach in minimizing the effects of population decline while maximizing the innovations that aim to solve the problem. While South Korea’s initiatives at tackling the demographic crisis are wide-ranging, certain initiatives are appearing to pay off: “At the end of 2015, the country counted nearly 1.5 million registered foreign nationals, just under 3 percent of the population of 51.5 million.” According to the article, South Korea Carefully Tests the Waters on Immigration. Many of these jobs are filling the unskilled labor sector and these are not permanent residents. Progress in robotics and automation is hard to keep track of, however, the article South Korea reaches a new record of 300,000 industrial robots in operation reveals that the country has doubled its industrial robots in about five years. Robot density is now 2nd in the world after Singapore. Additionally, more useful service robots are starting to appear where they can be used in areas of dining, education, and more, according to the UPI article, Robotic future is on display in South Korea. More so, these robots are appearing to create more economic opportunities, rather, than take them away from humans, where all robots create “an additional $5 trillion to global GDP, which would potentially create new employment opportunities at the same rate that jobs are lost.” To combat the decline in military conscripts, it appears South Korea is making progress towards introducing animal-inspired ‘biobots’ to fight alongside its soldiers by 2024, according to the article, “Biobots” Will Serve Alongside South Korean Soldiers by 2024.