Water Delivery 100 Years in the Future
Water Delivery 100 Years in the Future
  • Yeo Ho-young, CEO of GIS (yeohy@gsion.com)
  • 승인 2011.06.16 12:18
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Yeo Ho-young, CEO of GIS
A few years ago, I saw a comedy about a water deliveryman who worked in Seoul 100 years ago. Back in those days, only rich people could afford to have water delivered to their homes. The water deliveryman had to carry water in two large wooden buckets from Soh-been-goh (an ice storage facility on the West side of the Han River) to Kay-dong (an affluent area located downtown, near the palace).


Every day, the water deliveryman would walk through from Soh-been-goh, through the South Main Gate to the home of a high-ranking official. A beautiful servant-woman named "Mother of Sang-Soo" would always answer when he knocked at the front door.

"Here is your water," the water deliveryman would say.

"Thank-you very much," the woman servant-woman would reply.

This scene was repeated on a daily basis for several months. After a while, the pair fell in love.

One day, the water deliveryman became ill as he was walking home because the water he had to carry was very heavy and he had walked a long way. But despite his weakened condition, he felt happy because he enjoyed his job quite a bit. Furthermore, his wife had promised to make him bean soup with sliced pumpkin and dried shrimp for dinner that evening, and his mind was preoccupied by imagining how delicious the meal would be. The South Main Gate closed at 6 p.m. every evening, so he had to rush out in order to get back to his home, which was located near Soh-been-goh.

At that time, water deliverymen were paid once a year. Their customers were usually high-ranking officials who owned rice farms in the southern part of the country. The officials would collect rent from the farmers every autumn, after harvest. There wasn't a well-developed national currency, so rent was usually paid in rice. When an official received rent from the farmers, he would pay the water deliveryman his annual salary.

The water buckets used back in those days were made of wood, bound with bamboo. If they sprung a leak (which happened quite often), a water deliveryman would have to repair them using an adhesive mixture made of cooked rice and sawdust. In the 1890's, steel buckets, made in Japan, became available. The steel buckets were lighter and more reliable than the wooden buckets, but they were also considerably more expensive. Water deliverymen had to decide which type of bucket would yield the greatest overall profit: the wooden buckets, which were cheap, but time-consuming because they were heavy and constantly in need of repair; or the steel buckets, which were expensive, but effective because they were light and very reliable.

In the early 1960's, industrialization made farming less profitable, so people started moving from the rural areas to Seoul in search of prosperity. The city became quite crowded, so the newcomers had to live on the hillsides in cheap, hastily constructed homes made of cardboard or plywood. During this time, there were two ways that water was delivered. Rich people, who lived around the city center, had running water, which was piped directly to their homes. But the poorer people couldn't get running water because the water pressure wasn't strong enough to pipe water up the hillsides. Each home had a water bowl that was filled on a daily basis by a water deliveryman who pushed a 200-litre tub of water up the hillside in a wagon. Each tub had a hole in the bottom, which was connected to a hose made from an old bicycle tube. As they pushed their wagons up the hills, the deliverymen would hold the hose in the air to prevent water from leaking out. When they arrived at a customer's home, they would use the hose to fill the water bowl with water. Payment was usually made on a monthly basis.

Water deliverymen disappeared for a while when water pressure was upgraded so that homes at higher elevations could get running water, but they weren't gone for long. In the late 1960's, a group of American ambassadors, businessmen, military staff, etc. developed a community for foreigners on the South side of Namsan Mountain. The people who lived in this community didn't trust the quality of Korea's drinking water, so they imported "Diamond Pure" water from Japan. "Diamond Pure" was the first branded water ever sold in the country. It came in big glass bottles packed in rectangular wooden frames.

In the years following the Seoul Olympics (1988), it became fashionable for wealthier families to use bottled water for all cooking and drinking. As a result, several bottled water delivery companies emerged, and each company had its own brand. The bottled water business did very well in Seoul-almost too well. The government became concerned that the popularity of bottled water would damage the reputation of the city's tap water, so it issued a bylaw banning all forms of advertising for bottled water (this by law is still in effect today).

The number of water companies and brands multiplied as the popularity of bottled water continued to grow. The competitive nature of the market led to public uncertainty regarding the reliability of bottled water, so wealthier families started buying water-purifying machines, imported from overseas. The water-purifying machine business was very successful. Innovation and market demand led to new models with functions that could change water according to the drinkers' specific needs. For example, one machine had a function that could modulate ph balance to make water alkaline or acidic.

This era also saw the rise of personal "tele-diagnostic" machines-devices that could conduct a comprehensive survey of various health indicators and transmit the information to a doctor for analysis. The machines were originally designed for people in remote villages who did not have easy access to a doctor, but it wasn't long before they found a market among urban consumers as well. By simply pressing a button, customers could undergo a complete physical examination in the privacy of their own home. If the machine detected a problem, it could transmit the information to a doctor immediately so the problem could be solved. The machines were also capable of keeping track of a customers' personal health record. After time, a tele-diagnostic machine could "get to know you," almost as if it were a personal physician.

The tele-diagnostic machines led to the development of the "MYCIN" network, an artificial intelligence system that combined diagnostic capabilities with a massive database containing the collective knowledge of thousands of doctors. Tele-diagnostic machines connected to the MYCIN network were capable of conducting a full medical diagnosis, detecting problems and issuing prescriptions. MYCIN was generally regarded to be as good, or better, than a doctor who had been practicing medicine for one year.

The success of MYCIN software led to a greater level of health consciousness among the general public. In response to this trend, certain bottled water merchants began to change their marketing strategies. Rather than focusing on qualities such as "purity," "taste" or "color," they developed brands with mineral additives (iron, copper, magnesium, etc.) to "personalize" the water according to the requirements prescribed by the customers' MYCIN diagnosis. The personalized bottled water became very popular. Water companies that failed to adapt to the new trend were caught off guard by a sharp decline in sales.

The success of "personalized" bottled water, led to the development of water purifying machines connected to the MYCIN network. These new "A.I. water machines" could produce personalized prescriptions for water according to the specifications of a family member's daily MYCIN diagnosis. They were eventually installed in every home...

A few years ago, as I was leaving my home for work, I noticed that my neighbor, Ms. Eun-mi, was looking exceptionally healthy. Her complexion was perfect, a few of her wrinkles had disappeared and her face seemed to shine with good health.

"Ms Eun-mi," I said. "You look fantastic. What is your secret"

"Oh, thank-you," she replied. "My secret is quite simple. I purchased the latest-model A.I. water machine a few weeks ago, and it works extremely well."

I decided that very moment that I should upgrade my A.I. water machine as soon as possible. After a bit of research, I learned that the company that makes Ms. Eun-mi's water machine had a massive customer base. In order to maintain market dominance, they dedicated a large portion of their profit toward developing new models.

In order to keep business operations running as smoothly as possible, the A.I. water machine company installed a massive electronic ledger in their boardroom, which displayed all of the company's incoming and outgoing funds. Every time a customer drank a cup of water from one of their machines, payment was automatically transferred from the customer's account and appeared on the plus side of the boardroom ledger.

Of course, the rise of the A.I. water machines led to even greater demands for perfection among the general public. Customers were no longer happy to have drinking water piped into their homes or delivered in person. They wanted assurance that their water would be absolutely perfect. To satisfy this demand, companies developed machines that pull water molecules out of the air to create water that is absolutely pure. Small, wireless versions of these machines soon became available for use in the car.

By this point, water deliverymen, bottling plants and delivery companies had officially become a thing of the past, but new businesses sprung up in their place. One particularly innovative company developed a machine that could produce a beautiful new crystal glass every time a person wanted to drink water. When the customer was finished drinking the water, the glass could be discarded, broken down and recycled to create another.

Today (2088) most homes are equipped with A.I. water machines that can: produce personalized prescriptions for water according to the specifications of a family member's daily MYCIN diagnosis; pull water molecules out of the air to create water that is absolutely pure; and create/recycle a personalized crystal glasses for every cup of water. Payment for each glass of water is usually ten cents per glass. There are lots of companies in the A.I. water machine business, so payment is usually made to a centralized coordinating company.

The other day, I turned my computer on and came across a story about my great-great grandfather.

My great-great grandfather worked in a village. One day, he got thirsty while he was walking, so he began looking around for something to drink. He noticed a lady carrying a big jar of water on her head, and asked her if she could spare a small spoonful (at that time, there weren't any cups). The woman gave my great-great grandfather a spoonful of water, but she also put a small leaf in the spoon.

"Why did you put a leaf in the water" my great-great grandfather asked.

"Because I want you to drink it slowly so you won't hurt yourself," the lady replied. "It's better to go slow."

When my great-great grandfather was finished drinking the water, he held the lady's hand tenderly and thanked her several times.

When I read the story of my great-great grandfather, I realized that people were much happier back in those days. I wish I could taste water like that!


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