One On One With South Korea’s CTO

Exclusive: Convergence, breaking down the barriers for business and the role of low-power in just about everything.

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By Ed Sperling
Chang-Gyu Hwang, national chief technology officer for South Korea, sat down with Low-Power Engineering to talk about the future trends in technology, global business and power. Prior to his current role, which was created by the Korean government in April, he ran the semiconductor business at Samsung, where he spent the last 20 years in top management positions. He also is the former CTO at Samsung. What follows are excerpts of that interview.

LPE: What do you see happening next in technology?
Hwang: Over the past 20 years we’ve gone from PCs to mobile and the Internet. That will go to the mobile Internet, which will dominate over the next couple years. Then we’re expecting some fusion type of industry. There is a lot of room to improve, technology-wise and business-wise, but to satisfy and raise customer demand there will have to be some fusion industry. Inside IT many technologies will be embedded. Biotechnology will be a future technology. So will nanotechnology.

LPE: How will these technologies be used?
Hwang: In green transportation systems, for example, every country has automobiles, express trains, battery technology and battery charger systems, a smart grid and even nuclear energy. All of these are related. We’re expecting these industries will converge. Korea is relatively late in the industrial revolution, but it is strong in IT, shipbuilding, nuclear power and smart grids. We are looking for synergy in different technologies. I’m spending a lot of time in the United States. It’s a big market, and there are interesting technologies. I’m looking for partnerships from an open innovation point of view.

LPE: There’s a huge emphasis on saving power these days. What will change and why, both from a technology and a business standpoint?
Hwang: Smart grids are about using energy more intelligently and optimizing it, both from the producer and the consumer point of view. Korea is doing both. Korea has a relatively good start. We’re educating engineers. From an industry point of view, we’re well balanced in terms of nuclear and other types.

LPE: You mentioned embedding technology and convergence. Can you elaborate?
Hwang: It started with semiconductors. Many functions are now embedded into a single chip. They’re more cost-effective and use less power. At Samsung we introduced fusion technology where we embedded SRAM logic into memory chips in the OneNAND chip. There was intelligence in the software. We improved speed, reduced the chip size, used less power and boosted overall performance. That chip is dominating all markets because of its many advantages and lower cost. That kind of trend will be more prevalent. But the whole concept of an SoC was introduced because other chips were too expensive. The future will be in the fusion of emerging technology into one chip in the mobile and multimedia area. That will happen in other industries such as energy savings for automobile applications and across other industries.

LPE: Will the boundaries change between who produces what?
Hwang: Korea is relatively strong in hardware. It has a good total solution for making components, with good engineering skills. It knows how to reduce cost while maintaining relatively high performance. In the United States, companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have different strengths. They’re strong in business and technology. Google is good in search engines, but they need server, low-power and low-latency technologies. Korea is a major supplier of components for Apple. If you apply this to other industries, there are many opportunities for collaboration. The United States has a lot of creative ideas and is very good in software, but in Korea there is more application in new fields. The two working together will drive those industries.

LPE: How about China?
Hwang: China is another variable. They are not a first mover, but they are a very effective follower—especially with low labor costs and low-cost solutions. The United States and Korean collaboration is at a higher level than what China will offer. Korea spends a lot of money on R&D, and it’s strong in core technologies in several industries. At that level we can collaborate with the United States.

Dr Hwang

LPE: What is your big challenge?
Hwang: My goal is to become the No. 5 technology country by 2020. We also need to be a first mover in some technologies. I have to figure out which industries to target, from the early design and planning stage. These should be as unique as possible, whether it was started in Korea or whether it can be developed using open innovation from other sources.

LPE: Where does the government play vs. companies?
Hwang: When you look at major Korean companies like Samsung, LG or Hyundai, they have their own plan. They are investing in R&D for the next era. But from a national R&D point of view, there’s more risk taking involved. We try to find areas that are not easy to get into, consolidate whatever research is out there, and then create new projects. Eventually companies will get involved, but initially this will be a government effort.

LPE: So this is pure research?
Hwang: Yes. More long-term research and more fundamental. I call it R&BD—research and business development. Otherwise we will not consider it seriously.

LPE: Can companies afford this kind of research on advanced SoCs?
Hwang: Normally a company cannot afford to initiate a project by itself. But at this moment we need to collect all the ideas, not only within a company. It also has to come from research laboratories, institutes and university research. There needs to be consolidation from the initial stage to the planning stage. That’s the reason we are initiating this from a national level. That’s our role.

LPE: How much of this is done through universities?
Hwang: We don’t involve them much, but we are inviting leading institutes and universities to collaborate at the initial stage.

LPE: Is there a lot of opportunity in fixing the Internet?
Hwang: The Internet still needs a lot of new technology. It’s handling massive storage. It needs low power technology. But most consumers are still asking for more speed. Low power and high speed are a contradiction, so we need to bridge these two extremes. There is an opportunity for technology. There’s also an opportunity from a business standpoint for using new technologies.

LPE: Where is the United States lagging?
Hwang: The United States is quite late for biotechnology. But there are opportunities for merging biotechnology with information technology with things like protein chips or chips that can check the status of your heart. There are many applications to find disease in the early stage at a very low cost. Korea is one of the leaders in this kind of hardware, as well as mobile phones and TVs—which are all linked to each other.