The Born2Global Centre released an article that highlights the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT)'s Korean Digital New Deal. As part of the Korean government MSIT, Born2Global Centre has played a crucial role by connecting Korean startups with various opportunities worldwide.
The advances in cutting-edge technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT), have ushered in the so-called "hyperconnected" digital era. The new era defies physical and time boundaries to connect everything and everyone online around the world.
To name a few technologies that facilitate the hyperconnected world, metaverse is a three-dimensional (3D) immersive virtual environment that people can access via the Internet to perform social, economic, and cultural activities virtually. Blockchain technology enables secure and transparent means of exchanging and storing data among users, without needing to involve an intermediary. This technology transforms the landscape of global industries, spanning from finance and manufacturing to healthcare and public services.
Keeping pace with this global transformation, the Korean government also focuses heavily on fostering technologies that lead the hyperconnected industries, especially metaverse and blockchain.
The Korean Digital New Deal 2.0, updated this year from version 1.0, is a testament to the government's efforts, aiming to enhance the capabilities of Korean tech companies specializing in these hyperconnected new industries.
Game Changers in Hyperconnected Industries
The pan-government economic initiative has helped grow tech companies into key players in our hyperconnected world. Among others, three participating firms in the initiative have shown outstanding growth, bringing a breath of fresh air to the manufacturing and healthcare industries at home.
These companies are the three "Digital New Deal Excellent Performers" announced on Oct. 27 by the MSIT.
First, metaverse content developer SKonec Entertainment has developed an immersive training solution based on extended reality (XR) technology. XR is a technology that merges AR and VR to create immersive ways of interacting with computer-generated 3D images and simulations.
The immersive content helps firefighters to conduct disaster response drills and trainings safely and effectively in virtual environments designed exactly like real situations. The virtual training system is considered to have helped improve firefighters' disaster response capabilities and minimize training accidents.
SKonec Entertainment also plays a crucial role by engaging the nation to actively set a global standard for metaverse technology. The company, together with Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA), currently participates in the process of developing a standard for metaverse technology by jointly working with the IEEE 2888 (Interfacing Cyber and Physical World) Working Group (WG).
Another metaverse development leader Virnect has invented an AR-based virtual collaboration solution. The technology provides realistic and real-time AR content to inform workers about necessary information, such as how to operate manufacturing equipment. The operation system has been credited for minimizing errors that could occur in the manufacturing process and reducing production time significantly, which resulted in the increased accuracy and efficiency of work.
Virnect currently supplies the solution to small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies and plans to introduce the system to 10 more factories in other sectors, including energy and construction, by 2022.
Lastly, Nongshim Data System (NDS) has applied its blockchain prowess to the so-called "My Data" platform designed for healthcare services. The firm's signature "Life Wallet" platform is based on Decentralized Identifiers, or DID, a globally unique identifier that does not require a centralized registration authority and enables verifiable, decentralized digital identity. The platform makes it easier and faster for patients to receive healthcare data from medical institutions, such as prescriptions and the results of health checkups and gene tests, as well as a variety of healthcare services tailored to their health conditions.
NDS's other blockchain-based platform, called "Smart Hospital," is a one-stop solution that allows patients to make medical appointments, pay medical fees, and receive a prescription at their fingertips. Experts say that NDS's solutions have facilitated a safer, easier access and exchange of medical records between patients and hospitals.
"The Digital New Deal Excellent Performers have contributed to innovating traditional industries by means of metaverse and blockchain, two main focuses of Digital New Deal 2.0," said the science ministry. "More importantly, their technology has made the lives of citizens safer and more comfortable. The government will continue to help foster key technologies leading the hyperconnected industries and support Korean tech leaders in the fields by enhancing their technological capabilities."
Deepbrain AI (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The capital will be used to expand the company’s customer base and operations globally, CEO Eric Jang said in a statement, with a particular emphasis on the U.S.
Deepbrain provides a range of AI-powered customer service products, but its focus is on “synthetic humans,” or human-like avatars that respond to natural language questions. Because the pandemic makes online meetups a regular occurrence, the concept of “virtual people” is gaining steam. Startups including Soul Machines, Brud, Wave, Samsung-backed STAR Labs, the AI Foundation, and Deepbrain aim to will a sort of “metaverse” into existence by pursuing AI techniques that can mimic the experience of speaking with a human being (for example, a support agent).
Founded in 2016, Deepbrain offers video and speech synthesis and chatbot solutions to 22 enterprise customers including MBN, Metro News, and LG HelloVision as well as KB Kookmin Bank and education service provider Kyowon. Using a combination of AI technologies, Deepbrain creates what it calls “AI humans,” or avatars that can respond to questions in a person’s voice.
To create an “AI human,” Deepbrain captures video of a human model in a studio and trains a machine learning system. The model is given a script to read, enabling the system to generate an avatar of the model with synchronized, true-to-life lip, mouth, and head movements.
Jang points out that Deepbrain’s technology can improve virtual experiences while minimizing the need for costly video production. For example, the company is working with an education provider to build “AI human” tutors that will give lectures and answer students’ questions. Separately, Deepbrain says it’s collaborating with a financial organization to create “AI bankers” that can direct customers to the right human bank personnel, potentially reducing employees’ workloads.
DeepBrain’s annual recurring revenue was $2.5 million in 2020. This year, it expects that number to double to $5 million.
“[Our investors] understand the opportunity we have to enhance the customer experience and lead the growing contactless industry brought on by the pandemic,” Jang said in a press release. “This new investment is validation of our technology, strong business opportunity, and customer traction in key customer service-driven industries.”
Some experts have expressed concern that tools like these could be used to create deepfakes, or AI-generated videos that take a person in an existing video and replace them with someone else’s likeness. The fear is that these fakes might be used to do things like sway opinion during an election or implicate a person in a crime. Deepfakes have already been abused to generate pornographic material of actors and defraud a major energy producer.
Deepbrain doesn’t make clear what protections it has in place to prevent abuse. We’ve reached out to the company for comment.
Beyond Korea Development Bank, Deepbrain counts as investors IDG Capital China, CH & Partners, Donghun Investment, L&S Venture Capital, and Posco Tech Investment. The series B brings the 100-employee company’s total raised to $52 million to date.