A Vision Forward from South Korea’s Untact Initiative

December 29, 2020

South Korea’s government is pushing a national policy called ‘untact’ to help ignite growth in the sluggish economy. 

What is ‘untact’?

Plainly put, according to local consumer science gurus in Korea, ‘untact’ means doing things without direct contact with other people.   It envisions a digital world dominating human interaction and companies replacing humans with machines. 

Yes, the future is now, and this is happening, but they sure could have come up with a better moniker.  A computer without tact doesn’t sound very appealing, but of course they meant ‘contactless.’  What a name, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

Some obvious examples of untact activity are using social media to connect, using self-service kiosks, shopping online or making contactless payments.

President Moon Jae-in’s ‘New Deal’

The untact policy has become a central them in the South Korean’s President’s $62 billion “New Deal” program, a better name which he borrowed from FDR’s historic program.

The key investments to realize untact vision in the program are:

  • remote work infrastructure for 160,000 companies;
  • high-speed internet to connect 1,300 farming and fishing villages; and
  • tablet PCs for 240,000 students.

Of course, robots, drones and self-driving vehicles and similar tech all contribute to reductions in personal contact.

Kim Rando, a professor of consumer science at Seoul National University says, “Covid-19 will probably compel many nations that have been nonchalant about untacting technology to take this trend seriously.”

South Korea is well positioned for an untact conversion

  • South Korea already ranks No. 2 worldwide in the density of robotsin manufacturing, according to the International Federation of Robotics, with 774 installed for every 10,000 workers. For comparison, the U.S. number is 217.
  • Lotteria, South Korea’s Mickey D’s, has installed self-ordering kiosks at more than half its locations
  • Retailers Emart24 and Korea Sevenhave already been experimenting with self-serve checkout for years

Takeaway.  If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that a robust digital world is a lot more than online shopping and social media.  Information and access has to be widely distributed on a fair basis.  The South Korean experiment will definitely provide a glimpse into what works and what doesn’t in a digital future.

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