Development of technology for the world of harmony

Professor Sang-Mook Lee

Professor Sang-Mook Lee delivering his lecture at AsiaN 10th anniversary froum

By Professor Sang-Mook Lee,
Department of Environmental Studies and Earth Sciences at Seoul National University

SEOUL: What does co-living technology development have to do with ESG?

Edward Wilson, a professor of biology at Harvard University wrote a book called “Human Conquest of the Earth”. It said this:

When we think of biological evolution, we generally think of survival of the fittest, but that’s not always the case. Humans form groups and have protected the socially weak within them. Because the unit of the group was superior and worth protecting, we fought and worked hard to protect the group. So it was said that it was group selection, not survival of the fittest.

It is said that 250,000 years ago, less than 1% of Homo sapiens formed a group and helped each other, so today’s Earth is powerful. Humanity has always succeeded by going with the socially underprivileged, and I think that should be our survival strategy even in the face of a crisis in the future.

I am so handicapped. I had an accident in the US 15 years ago. Medical expenses in the United States are 15 times more expensive than in Korea. The cost per day was about 23 million won, or about 1 million won an hour. It came out quickly because it was too expensive, but after returning to Korea, I became very famous. The truth is, I had to come out so quickly because of the money, but they thought I was special.

Professor Lee Sang-mook prior to the accident

Professor Lee Sang-mook prior to the accident

Before I became disabled, there was something like that. After the accident, I wrote a book called “0.1 Gram of Hope”, and people said, “Where does 0.1 come from? No matter how many books you read, there is no such thing as 0.1.”

Professor Choe Jae-chun, who is next to me today, wrote a book review and told me the meaning of 0.1g. Also, it was thanks to President Chung Un-chan, who is here, that I was able to receive the letter of appointment as a professor at Seoul National University.

Computers are said to be a gift from God to the disabled. Ask deaf people what the most revolutionary tool is, and they’ll say without hesitation a cell phone text message. ICT technology, represented by smartphones, becomes the eyes and ears of the disabled, and it is an important medium that connects them to the huge world of information.

I became disabled in a car accident 15 years ago, but thanks to these information and communication devices, I am living my life unaware of the inconvenience.

The three major pains of the disabled can be solved with ICT technology

In general, the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities are referred to as economic difficulties, social difficulties, and conflicts between family members depending on who should take care of the disabled.

However, I believe that these issues can be resolved to some extent with information and communication (ICT) technology, which Korea has strengths in.

Welfare-related technologies for people with disabilities tend to lead the world better the later they start. London and Paris are the places where the subway is the most inconvenient, and the best places are Taiwan and Singapore. Since it was introduced late, it was even better. Therefore, I think Korea can be number one in the world in this field.

The way to overcome the above three difficulties is to live independently and have a high-paying job. For this, education is important. In the meantime, there have been many educations for the disabled, but there were no cases of them leading to jobs, so even the disabled were passive.

One of the most important things for people with disabilities is a job. Up to now, the disabled have mostly done the things that non-disabled people are reluctant to or do not want to do. The state also purchased the products produced through them.

Coding done by hand (left) and coding done by voice

Coding done by hand (left) and coding done by voice

The one on the left is hand-typed, and the one on the right is the voice coded of the same code. If people with disabilities can do high-level programming like this, they can have high-paying jobs, and their lives will be vastly improved.

In preparation for the presentation, we have prepared the following answers to the question of ‘what do you want for the next administration?’.

In the late 1990s, President Kim Dae-jung established the Information and Cultural Center, saying, “I will make the people of Korea the best people who use computers in the world.”

However, in 2010, under President Lee Myung-bak, the institution was consolidated and closed. I thought it was a bit early during the time of President Kim Dae-jung, but I think it is very unfortunate that there is no such institution at a time when it is really needed as smartphones are widely spread in society.

Fourth industrial boom, but disabled people…

Recently, the government is raging about the fourth industry, but there is no system or support for the disabled here. I hope that the next government will build a control tower that connects IT and people with disabilities. People with disabilities can also contribute to society by working from home, processing big data and analyzing public data.

Today, many people may have experienced working from home due to COVID-19. If people with severe disabilities can do these things at home, their income and self-esteem will go up, and the country will reach an important turning point in putting welfare expenses where it is really needed.

Personally, I’ve been working on high-level programming through voice recognition recently. In this way, technology is advancing day by day. Many of you may not be aware of it, but miracles like these are possible. We ask the government and society to pay attention.

Lee Sang-mook, Professor of Oceanography, suffered a terrible accident, but overcame it. He is called ‘Korea’s Stephen Hawking’, and has been developing and supplementing assistive devices for the disabled.

He is internationally recognized for his achievements as he serves as the organizer of the Global Environment International Forum held under the theme of ‘The Future of the Earth Seen from the Boundary of Knowledge’.

He currently serves as the chairman of the International Central Ridge Research Council, and is a professor at Seoul National University’s Department of Environmental Studies and Earth Sciences.


This lecture was delivered by Professor Sang-Mook Lee at the AsiaN Forum marking its tenth anniversary.

The forum, ‘Next Leadership Toward Active ESG’, feature prominent figures and experts, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon who delivered the keynote speech.

AsiaN is the media arm of the Asia Journalist Association (AJA).


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