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The Peninsula

Korea’s Attempt to Fix Social Problems with Technological Solutions

Published February 8, 2022
Author: Korea View

What Happened:

  • The suicide rate for people aged 80 or above has declined over the past decade, but it remains significantly higher than other age groups.
  • A pilot program in South Chungcheong province is deploying AI care robots to aid and comfort the elderly with music and sensors that alert the authorities in an emergency.
  • Meanwhile, South Korea’s Digital New Deal plans to invest USD 3 billion to strengthen AI semiconductor production and research capabilities.

Implication: Public sector interventions show preference for technical solutions over systemic changes. While rising economic difficulties correspond with high suicide rates among the elderly, the Korean government’s adoption of technology to administer counseling instead of poverty alleviation betrays a narrow approach to this social problem. While South Korea’s relative poverty rate for ages 66+ is the highest among OECD nations (43.2% in 2019), the country offers one of the lowest pensions to the elderly in the community of advanced economies. The delivery of technical solutions may have been motivated by its alignment with the government’s industrial policy objective of advancing domestic AI technology.

Context: South Korea’s suicide rate has been among the highest in the OECD during the past decade. While high-profile suicides make headlines, elderly men above the age of 80 have consistently accounted for the highest rate of suicides in the country. Suicide in this age cohort has been blamed on economic woes, loneliness, and the breakup of the family unit. Simultaneously, Korea is witnessing an alarming increase in suicide rates among young women.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of dnlspnk

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