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Artificial intelligence

SK Telecom taps AI expert as new technology chief

Lee Sang-ho, CEO of e-commerce brand 11Street, expected to bolster SK's search and recommendation algorithms

By Jan 04, 2022 (Gmt+09:00)

SK Telecom launches a new subscription e-commerce brand T Universe in 2021 (Courtesy of SK Telecom)
SK Telecom launches a new subscription e-commerce brand T Universe in 2021 (Courtesy of SK Telecom)

SK Telecom Co., South Korea's top mobile carrier, has tapped its e-commerce arm's chief executive and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Lee Sang-ho as chief technology officer (CTO).

His appointment, announced last week, comes as the wireless service provider is trying to provide AI as a service (AIaaS), utilizing search and recommendation algorithms to boost its commerce and subscription-based businesses such as 11Street Co. and T Universe.

Along with Lee, SK Telecom named Yang Maeng-seok, senior manager of its in-house metaverse platform, as head of the business, according to industry sources on Monday.

The two incoming managers are replacing CTO Kim Yoon and Jeon Jinsoo, Metaverse business head, both of whom survived the company's management reshuffle in November of last year.

Both Kim and Jeon recently expressed their intentions to resign to set up or move to a startup. Kim, a former developer of Apple Inc.'s voice assistant Siri, will serve as a technology advisor after his resignation.

The incoming CTO has been leading 11Street as CEO since 2018. SK is determined to make the e-commerce unit the Korean version of Amazon.com. At SK Telecom, he spearheaded the development of the Korean-speaking AI assistant service NUGU.

Lee studied audio and natural language processing, a field of AI to teach computers how to understand and interpret human language, at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). 

Previously, he developed search and voice recognition technology at Korean startups, which later were acquired by the country's two internet giants, respectively.

For the time being, he will remain as CEO of 11Street as well, but industry watchers said he would eventually settle into one of the two titles.

INCOMING METAVERSE HEAD

Yang, SK's new metaverse business chief, is expected to strengthen collaborations between the company's metaverse platform called "ifland" with its other services. 

He has built experience in the areas of virtual reality and augmented reality, described as the predecessors of the metaverse, as well as in cloud-based games.

"We expect Yang to introduce new services for ifland and boost its content, and lead its global expansion as well," said an SK Teleocm source. 

Since joining SK Telecom in 1996, Yang has worked for mobile network operation and marketing divisions. He moved to the metaverse unit in April 2021.

Last year, SK Telecom was split into two entities: a surviving company that succeeded its telecom business as a mobile network operator and a new entity that is essentially an investment firm seeking new opportunities in non-telecom sectors.

On Tuesday, SK Telecom separated its AI semiconductor business and establish an independent corporation, tentatively dubbed SAPEON Korea.

Write to Han-Gyeol Seon and Dong-Hui Park at always@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.
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