• The government websites here all ends in gov.tw, right? It’s the government website.

  • They ‑‑ well we, actually, I am still a participant of g0v ‑‑ we replaced the "O" to a zero. So that for whatever website that you don’t like, you just replace the "O" to a zero and you get into this shadow government website that offers the same data and the same information, just in a more interactive and more useful way.

  • And for our g0v work, we often just relinquish our copyright completely. So by the next procurement cycle, the government can just take this "fork," well, we call it "forking," like taking the government data and doing something experimental, something different, and then merge it into the government’s service.

  • We’ve seen it with participatory budgeting system, with dictionaries, with many systems where g0v first did an experimental prototype, and then the government take it in as something that is just normal, part of the administration work.

  • It is the same in this case for the vTaiwan project in g0v to experiment with those shining new toys, and then for the government’s own platform, the joint platform, to absorb these experiments into something that’s everyday done for every regulation, and so on.

  • This is a very systematic weekly collaboration between the government, and then the civil society, and also crowd decision.

  • As far I know, you joined politics during the actions of the Sunflower Movement.

  • What was your idea to join the movement, and what consequences did you draw out from this experience? I mean, are you in favor of more grassroots democracy by integrating into the political deliberation protest, NGOs, and the civil society more?

  • The 2014 Sunflower Movement, there’s basically a vacancy in the parliament where the MPs refused to deliver a trade service agreement, and the students occupied it, literally, for 22 days. Not just for protesting, but a demo, as in a demonstration of how, actually, to talk about trade service agreements with people ‑‑ half a million people ‑‑ on the street.

  • Back then there was this occupied parliamentary site, but there was also three different streets occupied respectively by the pro‑independence people, by the left, the labor union‑ish people, by the green, environmental, ecologist people, and also human right activists, and so on. There was like 20 different NGOs, all occupying different sites here.

  • My role then was working with g0v people as one of the hundreds of civic hackers, meaning that we built the intranet, the network lines that connects these sites together. Then we also built a extranet, that is to say, the g0v today website that makes sure that whatever is being deliberated on any of those sites gets transcribed, and broadcasted, and live‑streamed so that the facts spreads faster than rumors.

  • We also set up projectors, so that on the external site, on the street, people can see with their own eyes what’s happening in the occupied place. Even though there’s police between these walls, it’s as if it’s completely transparent because it provides a view into the parliament to make sure that there’s no rumors and there’s no adversarial movements.

  • What happens after this dynamic, which I am part of the plumbing team, really, is that we see that every day they converge a little bit more. We see the things being settled, and things being not settled to be listed into the next day’s agenda, so that after 20 days or so people converge on a set of very strong consensus, which the head of Parliament then bought in.

  • Were it not for this kind of what we call the ICT infrastructure, the Internet and Communication Technology, then, like many other occupies, they tend to diverge and morph into being a purposeless crowd.

  • This very fact of ICT making it possible for people with very different standings to listen to each other and converge on something is a public demonstration to Taiwan that this methodology, although very expensive, actually works.

  • My work in the administration so far is to make it work, but in a less expensive way, and so that we can do it for more regulations, not just for all the regulations when you have a million on the street. That’s obviously not as the scale that we want, but we do want to involve more people. That’s my main work.

  • If I may ask an additional question, the new President Tsai Ing‑wen and the DPP, the ruling party, are strongly supported by the younger generations.

  • What does the government, and what does the President, and what do you have to do to keep young people and the younger generations on your side?

  • That is a very good question. The joint website currently frequented by millions of people, we just had a presentation that says the vast majority of it are people under 35 who want to participate in this kind of online consultation and deliberation platform.

  • Meaning that for people who are more established, people who are already heads of some association or something, there are actually, of course, other channels for them to engage in politics. To work with MPs, to work with media, and so on, to set their own agenda.

  • For people who are younger than me, they often don’t have access to this kind of channel, or at least not a agenda‑setting power level access. For them, this kind of e‑petition, e‑consultation, and so on are actually much more viable than the MPs or the media, which they have very little power to set the agenda of.

    But to get 5,000 people to come here and sign something, that’s something they can do. They can set up a Facebook page, a Twitter campaign, and then to get 5,000 people into the e‑petition system, and get us listening to them.

  • For them, this is a very concrete buying power where they set this agenda. We do discuss it every Friday, and then by the end of Friday we publish all the transcripts, often also live‑streamed, and then into the public for the public to see.

  • Then, the next Monday, I bring it to the Premier, so the Premier can also set his idea on it. This is a continuous, everyday practice, where we let the young people see that their petitions are being heard and being processed by the administration.

  • The projector at that end seems to have fallen off. Maybe I should just get on with voice.

  • Political support is more or less a technical question?

  • I wouldn’t say so. I would say mobilization is part of politics, but how to turn mobilization into organization, how to make mobilizing forces into organizing forces, that is the technical question.

  • Most of the time it’s not so difficult to enthusiast the public with this, but the problem is the government itself, because public servants are often not used to these kind of techniques. How do you deal with that?

  • The very first case that we processed in this new model is how to make civil servants legal to form labor unions. That makes them stakeholders. Also, it’s about the so‑called National Travel Card, which is a way to reimburse for their extra work time, and so on.

  • The first few cases, because the agenda is being set by what we call participation officers, or POs, there is one or more PO in every single ministry. Of the 32 ministries, there’s about 40‑something POs, and they vote the things that we process for this collaboration of weekly petition cases.

  • Of course, them being stakeholders, the first two cases are all about civil servant rights, whether it’s legal for civil servant to go to strike [laughs] , and so on. We did have some very good results. For example, they also said that we need a safe space to voice our concerns on public policy without being attributed, blamed afterwards, and so on.

  • In addition to join there is now, being constructed, a new platform called internal join, which is what’s suggested by the POs. The internal join meaning that only public servants get to post there and it has a much lower threshold. The external join needs 5,000 people. The internal join only needs, maybe, 300 people.

  • Then we designed it so that they, themselves, nominate themselves to run the internal join platform. To date, there is already 111 public servants who nominated themselves as the initial steering member of the meeting. Member of which we will publicly draw about nine people into the first set to kick‑start the whole platform.

  • The whole platform is designed so that the information platform must protect whatever the steering group wants. Meaning that if they don’t want their IPs to be looked up, they don’t want their identity to be revealed, they want to remain pseudonymous, and so on, all the technical people need to support this idea so that they can feel safe, but still maintain a pseudonymous identity and participate in this discussion. Mostly around your own working conditions, but also, about policies in general.

  • My answer to you is that by making the first few cases all about public servants as stakeholders, they get to feel both the hope, and the outrage, and the frustration of being people on the street. Then that gives them much more empathy to deal with other cases in the next couple months to them.

  • Do you see any threats from Mainland China? I mean threats like cyber attacks or fake news propaganda? If so, do you think you will do something to counter that?

  • Actually, cyber security, of course, underlies the whole idea of safe space. If people don’t trust the Internet, then they won’t exercise the freedom of speech or freedom of assembly online, and this whole thing is void. This is built on the security, and security meaning a subjective feeling of security about using the Internet.

  • I would say that most of the operations is not designed to undermine the Internet infrastructure of the state, which is very difficult, but to undermine people’s trust on the Internet, which is much easier, as you said, around disinformation around all sort of different computational propaganda, and so on.

  • It is not just limited to one country or one region. Anywhere that people who feels that this kind of democratic process is to their detriment will have the motivation to undermine peoples’ trust on the public Internet. It is not limited to any region at all.

  • Yes, cyber security is very important, and there is no particular enemy here. It is all people who want to undermine versus people who want to uphold the Internet as a democratic vehicle.

  • We do work on what we call inoculation of the mind, which is media literacy. We introduce, starting next year, part of the K‑12 basic education. Not a class on media literacy or on IT technology, not this kind of class, but for all the different classes we try to repurpose the curriculum so that the teachers are no longer lecturing teachers, but people who learn with the students.

  • All the while teaching them, by example, critical thinking, media literacy, checking different sources. The basic journalism training that you all went through. [laughs]

  • This is the thing that we’re building in, into the basic education. We think that it is much easier if the kids are raised not blindly trusting anyone with an authority’s voice or authority’s print, because those things are very easy to fake nowadays. Growing up, checking their own balance, and have a very nuanced view on news, on media, and so on, then it makes much harder for disinformation or propaganda to spread.

  • Of course, we’re facilitating this by making interactive games for educational purposes, by recording all those public petition processing cases as curriculums, and under Creative Commons, so all the schools can talk about it. Also, have our own FAQ, frequently asked questions, on major issues so that civic teachers can also use them as the material to raise kids.

  • At the end of it, I think this is the only way forward, is to raise a generation of people who will demand to think for themselves and with the government, instead of just from the government. I think that’s the basic attitude we’re taking.

  • To ask the same question again, do you have any indications or proof that the Chinese government tried to influence the outcome of the elections in January, 2016 by having out bots and whatever? Because they were very much interested in the outcome of the elections, at least as interested as Putin was in the outcome of the elections of the United States.

  • Everybody was interested, and there’s quite a few campaigns, such as the Chou Tzu-Yu campaign, that did affect the election, but I wouldn’t attribute it to any particular source. To answer your question very quickly, there is this website, pdis.tw, where I publish all my interviews and meetings, and including this one, with you folks, but with, of course, people having the capability to edit for typos, or whatever, for 10 days after the fact. Literally, everything that I do, I chair here, is on record.

  • When a certain Nick Monaco interviewed me asking exactly the question you ask, about computation propaganda involved in whatever, I think he ended up publishing something about this just a few days ago as part of a Google Jigsaw‑sponsored study.

  • If you look at the transcript, then you can very easily identify his anonymous source. The wizard source is me, because I said the things that he quoted. You can look all this up yourself as of what I did answer him.

  • But because I practice radical transparency this way, I actually am barred, by my own volition, to enter any national security discussions or to touch any confidential material. If there is the national security issues, as you mentioned, I wouldn’t know, because by default anything that I hear, anything I see is FOIA compatible. I can actually publish it online without checking with the Premier or anyone else.

  • Conversely, this means that I don’t actually have access to the national security stuff because, by law, if I do have access, then everything that I output need to be subject to security review, which I wouldn’t want. I don’t have the access to the answer to your question, if there was one.

  • Any other questions?

  • This subject must be of some kind of worrying for you, because you want to open up the government in a new way, and the technical means are here, but there’s also a dangerous side about this. You must be aware of this problem, even if you don’t know the security stuff.

  • Certainly. All I know is whether people come to the platform that we build or not. All I know is whether they approach us with extreme suspicion or with some sort of willingness to discuss.

  • This I know, but whether there is some manipulation, or whatever, forces that makes this happen, I can make educated guesses, but I don’t really have any evidence or proof of what’s happening. I think I just deal with it on a as‑is basis.

  • I also want to say that this technique of what we call ICT‑enabled, scalable listening is not actually threatening to any political system. Although it does work, as we saw, with representative democracy, it works equally well with centralized democracy or non‑democracies because technology, by itself, is neutral.

  • Some regimes use the so‑called 信访 system, meaning visits directly to the top level, and very much the same techniques can directly gather opinions from the stakeholders, bypassing the mid‑level bureaucracy, and so on.

  • What I mean is that all the technical contributions that I make, which is all public, can be used by both representative democratic, and centralized democracy, and not-at-all democratic countries. They may interpret it in a different way. I’m OK with this, is what I’m saying.

  • It’s a reality of life.

  • Can you quantify this new approach? The younger generation, how they’re more involved in politics. Can you use some numbers as to success?

  • It’s very hard to compare with the previous administration because many of those systems were built in response to the Sunflower Movement at 2014.

  • If you just look at the numbers of young people on the street, a few months before the Sunflower Movement there was this Citizen 1985 Movement — the so‑called Silver Cross Movement — which is, again, a quarter million people. Then the Sunflower’s half a million people, and then there’s many in anti‑nuclear parade, and so on.

  • There’s tremendous participation, but that was also because the young people were very, very angry [laughs] with the government. If we compare raw numbers, we would say that there is less young people engagement, if you measure by people on the street, or people protesting, or people proposing those petitions online.

  • Of course, it’s less active than it was back in 2014 now, but it’s probably not for the obvious reason. [laughs] The reason is, nowadays, that we have a standardized channel to work with young people, and to work with anyone from civil society who has something to say, who have something to propose.

  • It does make it seem quieter. It is true that it makes it seem quieter, calmer perhaps, but it also makes the quality of participation much deeper, because for people who are one of the half a million on the street, their contributions may be just one bit or two bits.

  • Maybe there wasn’t actually a very good mechanism to get their opinions into the President’s office or the administration, but nowadays it’s easy to quantify that. For any given petition of, say, 5,000 people, there is, for example, hundreds of people watching the live stream whenever we talk about those petitions.

  • There’s thousands more people, after replying to those 5,000 people, who will then ask other questions or express their own volitions. Of the 5,000 or so, there’s roughly 2,000 or 3,000 in it who will then contribute their extra viewpoints, and so on.

  • If you go to join.gov.tw, there are numbers for you to list. Not just petitions, but also regulation announcements, and also those large‑scale projects. That’s ongoing projects. These are all subject to civic participation.

  • Can you give an example for a law or something else concrete happened as a result of a online petition?

  • The very first case, the treatment of terminal stage cancer using the so‑called cell immunology treatment method, that was something that’s genuinely new for the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Because it was the first petition case, there’s also no precedents to look for. There was a write‑up, I can send you the link afterwards, that we proposed in parts.

  • The whole idea is that the Minister of Health and Welfare contacted the petitioner and found out that he, himself, is one of those terminal stage cancer patients who fly regularly to Japan because Taiwan doesn’t open up this kind of treatments. He, of course, can afford to do so, but many other people can’t.

  • Legally, there’s nothing really forbidding it. It’s the doctors must pay for this out of pocket, instead of charging to recover the cost. Even the most affluent doctor can just treat one or two cases by paying out of their own pocket, so they need to relax this part, and also relax the FDA equivalent, the TFDA regulations, which is exactly what they did as the response to those two‑month’s petition.

  • At the time we learned a lot, because the MPs were kind of unhappy. Because what they see, at that time, is the competition of the agenda-setting power by the parliament, so that they consider one person raising, 5,000 people petitioning, and then the administration rushed through it because it doesn’t require law change. It’s a regulation‑level change.

  • The MPs are kind of unhappy. The issue’s that the regulation really should go to public hearing by the MPs, by parliament review, because it’s new to them.

  • When she proposed this, the very next morning her Facebook page was awash with people posting their own cancer photos and things like that, saying that the one‑day you delay, that the more people you kill, or whatever. She resigned her objection, and then this was passed on time.

  • I wouldn’t to say that this a victory of the petitioners, because we really should have communicated with the MPs at the beginning, not at the end of the six‑day process. We did change the process.

  • Actually, by the next session the parliament will have their own petition system, starting a couple months from now. Their threshold is 10,000 people, versus ours, which is 5,000 people, but they now fully buy into this process, after a couple years of negotiations, so on.

  • This is one of the flagship cases, where we use to talk with the MPs, and so on, saying that this is actually also good for you, because we did the research and everything for you. If you affirm the process, then we all save some work, because we did the stakeholder communication analysis.

  • Even though at the end of two months the petitioner didn’t survive to see the result, but it was pre‑announced, so that he left knowing that this will pass, and this was indeed passed.

  • This is a broad question. I don’t intend it as a leading question. What’s your sense of the state of democracy in the United States right now, and what’s happening with Trump and the resistance to him?

  • There’s anger, but not necessarily results at this point, and an inability of the two parties to really speak to one another.

  • Really? Because when I participate in the Personal Democracy Forum just a few weeks ago ‑‑ the PDF. It’s a hash tag ‑‑ in New York, what I got there was the sense of there is a consensus of that we need to listen to people with opposing views to find the values that we share. That was the theme for the conference.

  • We did see that there’s arrangements of people who of the different sides of the political spectrum, and so on. They arranged a retreat, and listened to each other, and reported what they learned from each other.

  • There is a lot of pro‑something, with something, and I don’t hear that much against something anymore. It seems that the initial reaction to the election has morphed, at least for the people participating in the PDF, into a organizing force for people who care deeper.

  • I remember one of the senators ‑‑ the New Jersey senator, I think ‑‑ who said, "You know, people think this is extraordinary time, but for black people’s rights, it’s actually just ordinary time." Their cause wasn’t surfaced as much during Obama, but it is actually one of those very structural issues that needs collective awareness.

  • They think that they now actually have more visibility to get awareness and get to what they call the deep canvassing, which is to listen to people with different opinions, and then find that they actually share some common value.

  • What I got from PDF was pretty positive, I would say, but, of course, it could be sampling biased. I don’t really know.

  • That may be, because it’s not happening, on a legislative basis, at least. There’s a sense among people to try to find some commonalities, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily happening within Congress.

  • There have been a lot of studies showing that the polarization of politics in America is greater than it’s been at any time in modern history.

  • The sampling bias I referred to is because it’s called a Personal Democracy Forum, so people who attend are, by default, people who don’t rely on Congress that much, anyway, to begin with, so I don’t really know. I don’t have this much involvement in the congressional politics in the States, so it’s impossible for me to make an informed answer.

  • Another question on what is not, actually, related to digital. What is your position on same‑sex marriage in Taiwan? What significance would Taiwan have if the country becomes the first Asian country to admit same‑sex marriage?

  • Well, it is already [laughs] , constitutionally. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution must protect marriage equality, and that’s a done deal. It’s not like we’re waiting for two years, no.

  • The Secretary General is meeting with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior every week to look at every line in the civil code that pertains to marriage equality and declare whether this applies, whether this doesn’t apply. For example, there is a very obscure clause called divorce by impotence, which doesn’t apply. [laughs]

  • Indeed, it does require line‑by‑line review, of course. This is what we are doing, or what the Secretary General is doing, every week.

  • This is very good because it shows that this is something that both sides, or all sides, really, all affirm. This is what we call a common value among different views, is because no matter which side you’re on you must care about marriage in order to say something about it.

  • I don’t care about marriage, so I don’t say something about it, but people who care about marriage, like the divorce rate, which is sky high in Taiwan, they do want to hold to those family values. The people who are into marriage equality also uphold marriage as intimate relationship that need to be institutionalized, and so on.

  • They actually have more in common with each other than with me. It is good, because this weekly review meeting as part of the media communication cycle actually says marriage is not some magic thing. It is, legally speaking, hundreds, if not thousands, of privileges and obligations .

  • Then, by reviewing it week after week, the society is converging, rather than diverging. This also echoes what President Tsai Ing‑wen said.

  • She said, "The bill is not the end of it. It’s just the beginning of dialogue with people, with different life experiences." I think that’s very well‑presented.

  • What’s the international significance of Taiwan being the first country in Asia? Will it make Taiwan’s image better?

  • I don’t know, but I do get invited to the Madrid Pride, just on this fact alone, to give not just one talk but two talks. This, I think, is good because it does give us more common language to talk with our international counterparts, both in how we deal with this issue in a very civilized democratic way, but also how we can help other people, who are still as part of this dialogue.

  • Also, learn from people who’s already moved far beyond us in this constitutional issue. It gives us more to talk about. While I couldn’t really fly to Madrid, I did report two talks for that.

  • Do you think that Taiwan innovation in general and this type of government innovation can help Taiwan overcome part of the international isolation it suffers? If so, do you use it and how?

  • As a conservative anarchist, I officially don’t think that diplomacy is exclusive among states. I maintain that state is only a useful illusion that serves the people. I would like people to eventually wake up from the illusion. Maybe not during my lifetime, but sometime in the future.

  • As a anarchist, I think it is, of course, very worthy for people to try to participate in multilateral or bilateral talks because it does affects people’s lives and so on. My focus throughout my life was always on multi‑state coder approaches instead of multilateral approaches.

  • To me, everyone who’s affected by climate change ‑‑ the Pacific Islanders, islanders anywhere who see their habitats destroyed by extreme weather and so on ‑‑ they have more in common than so‑called the nation states with nearby whatever countries and whatever.

  • It is my political view that all the real diplomacy happens in the civil society and the private sector level. The government level, while I recognize that it is a useful illusion, it is not something that I personally contribute to help maintaining.

  • May I raise another topic? You’re also, through this party, responsible for implementing the national digital plan.

  • I want to ask you what are the major challenges for Taiwan succeeding in the transformation process from a high‑tech hardware manufacturer to an immigration‑driven economy and society, that’s IoT and so on.

  • Great question. The DIGI+ plan or the so‑called Digital Nation Plan, I helped writing its cover, but not much of its content because most of its content it’s done by the time I joined the cabinet.

  • I did help defining the cover. The DIGI means respectively the development of a stable infrastructure, which is shared by the whole society.

  • The innovation by the private sector, which means that it should be the private sector’s way to tell the government what they want to experiment. For the governments that’s regulating, just to help experiment and facilitate discussions by the innovation. Instead of the government saying, "You know, from the next 10 years, these are going to be two major industry or whatever," the private sector now takes on this role.

  • The government, instead of just, in a very traditional way of saying, "You know, this is black market and this is white market," are regulating both. We’re now actually introducing, for example, the Financial Experimentation Act, which lets the people break the rules and regulations for a while, for a few months, and then publish their results of doing so, of course, transparently.

  • Then, for the whole society to talk about this new technology and ask what we need to ask to the technology, instead of what the technology dictates to us. This conversation needs to be led by the private sector, not the government, so this is the innovation part of the Digital Plan.

  • The governance plan, of course, centers around open government. Open government means radical transparency, meaning that we trust the people, even though the people doesn’t trust us yet. We make sure that all the procedures and whatever, to the extent possible, is open to the people in a transparent way.

  • This is very difficult to do on a paper‑based bureaucracy because papers take time to scan, to recognize. My work mostly is to digitize the government itself and make sure people go through digital systems, and this is very easily then opened up for people to see in a transparent way, so this is my main work.

  • Then, of course, the last I is inclusion, which is what the civil society, the NGOs are particularly good at. They’re now so good that they’re sustainable in a way, not just traditional NGOs as social enterprises, but also in different ways.

  • They know how to include people in the discussion. They know how to reach that last mile. If we are to introduce VR deliberation, without the civil society it’s not possible because they know who to contact and which stakeholders to reach. We also say, for inclusion, the government doesn’t dictate what kind of social enterprises thrive, what kind of NGOs thrive.

  • We’re changing the basic laws of, for example, the Social Group Formation Act, which means that instead of one county, one representative social association, we now have multiple associations in the civil society to fulfill perhaps overlapping needs, and so on. This is saying the civil society and the voluntary sector take leads on innovation, on the inclusion part.

  • Basically, what’s that DIGI+ plan? The government has shrunk its size to just maintain the infrastructure and opening of the government, which is one half of our previous duties, if you look at the NICI plan that was before the DIGI+ plan.

  • We’re now explicitly saying, as much as possible, we’re now using multi‑stakeholder approach for the innovation with private sector and for inclusion with the civil society. That is the main direction. Of course, if you go into the details, there’s many other details as well, but that’s the main idea.

  • Hello, I’m Ximena from Mexico. Is it important of a country to have a digital minister like you? Do you see in Latin America a need for the digital minister?

  • Right. It is a great question. I’m a minister without portfolio, meaning that I’m a minister without ministry. Digital is by definition a very cross‑ministry business.

  • I think this is also kind of an ephemeral position because maybe 20 years from now, all the ministers will be digital. Maybe we’ll reserve a analog minister for the people who are not digital yet.

  • (laughter)

  • So it is transitional. This is a part of digital transformation. We did have this position, a minister without portfolio in charge for digital affairs for many, many years. It was the Science and Technology minister without portfolio, who are in charge of open data and so on.

  • Before me here was a minister without portfolio, so‑called cyberspace minister, in charge of cyber law and stuff. This is, whatever it’s called, there’s one role in the minister without portfolio level in charge of digital or cyber space or Internet‑related affairs.

  • Whether it’s useful or not, I think it is kind of useful as what we call pre‑figurative politics way. The whole idea pre‑figurative politics is to be the change we want to see in the world, but in a smaller scale.

  • I run my meetings like this. I run my websites like this. I do radical transparency knowing that, of course, it’s impossible to ask every ministry, every level in Taiwan to do this in five months. It’s just not possible.

  • By showing people that it actually reduces costs, both in time and also in people involved, also, it’s fun, right, you make this much participatory. Also that is effective. It removes the fear of the public servants of the unknown.

  • Soo we turn the unknown into something that you can see on a smaller scale. It’s up to each level of government, to each ministry to see whether they want to implement these procedures and introduce those digital tools. How much to introduce is all up to them.

  • As a anarchist, of course, I don’t give commands, but I just show those examples and people take whatever they like. They seem to like it because by showing it works, it’s probably certainly they’re all smart people. They try to pick the things that they need, that they want, and improve their quality of life, which is great.

  • I think having someone who demonstrate in a demo sense that digital tools does improve the quality of life, and in the future not just with VR or AR, but also with the basis of machine learning and so on as part of the public service infrastructure in a safe, repetitive way.

  • This is very useful in a demonstration kind of way, regardless of where on earth that you are. Whether it takes a minister without portfolio or some advisory council or a digital service unit, I think that’s up to each country to decide.

  • More general question. The entire world is going through much upheavals past couple of years and many people blame technology causing the background, the basis for these upheavals. Are you optimistic about the way technology is changing our lives? If you can elaborate about as to why it is or why not?

  • Sure. Technology is a really broad term. Mostly people blame social media, which is a very narrow slice of technology. Social media makes, for the first time in human history, sharing easier and faster than actually reading something, which is very weird.

  • Before social media, we used to read an article, to listen to something, and then recommend it to people. Nowadays, with social media, there’s things that just mobilize our center for emotions, for anger, for outrage, for sadness, or whatever.

  • Mobilize one of these emotions, so people would share before they even consider its content. Because of this, people have become much closer, much more connected on a subconscious emotional level, instead of on a conscious, more deliberative level. It makes it very easy for epidemics of emotions, of ideologies to spread. It is a perfect place for these kind of things.

  • Of course, it is, like any other outbreak, people develop antibodies to it. People get used to the need to fact‑check before believing anything online.

  • Like any other virus strains, it mutates. There’s different populations developing different immunities to it. The whole point is that it is not about optimism or about negotiating with technology.

  • Just as if it’s an actual flu, whether it’s avian flu or some other epidemic, you don’t actually negotiate with the virus because it doesn’t talk back. It’s not a same category of things.

  • It doesn’t help to anthropomorphize this kind of effect. What does help is to quantify, to learn about it, to see those virus of the mind as a kind of virus and then try to develop inoculation.

  • One of the very effective ways in practice is just by listening to each other, especially to opposing views deeply. Afterwards, for that particular topic, one becomes immune to any propaganda or whatever. It is scientifically proven.

  • I’m optimistic in the humanity’s potential to deal with any outbreaks, virtual or real, of virus. I also trust the people researching this kind of thing because before joining the cabinet, I was also working with Silicon Valley companies, developing social media for the enterprise setting for eight years.

  • For me, I don’t look at Facebook posts and get angry or whatever. For me it’s just the output of a algorithm that I also contributed to design. What we didn’t think of, back in 2008, was that we all designed to make people become aware of the ambient knowledge, the ambient consciousness, presuming that there’s just one app corresponding to this.

  • What we didn’t anticipate was that if you installed more than three of those social media tools is a cocktail of effect that people don’t have the slice of time, the attention to pay full attention to anything anymore. The emotion is much more contagious in this setting. We didn’t anticipate that.

  • One of those countermeasures that I personally do is to just install what we call News Feed Eradicator, which does what it says on the tin, which is a browser plug‑in for all the major browsers. I actually put it on my Facebook profile.

  • The Facebook News Feed Eradicator basically just turns the newsfeed off, but you can still go to groups and follow and participate in chats and whatever. You only see the things you expect, instead of something unexpected covered in the news feed.

  • Block the overflow?

  • Block the overflow?

  • Overflow of information.

  • It prevents overflow, of course. It replaces the overflow in news feed with a quote from someone, usually about productivity. You can change the quote also. I also installed another, what we call the Quiet FB plug‑in, which turns all the social media photos into grayscale, so it doesn’t touch my emotional center.

  • If you just hover on it intentionally, then you see the color. Then, you are expecting it, so you are in a psychological state to anticipate its effect on your first system and your second system.

  • There’s all sort of psychological devices that one can use to try to not get oneself contagious. That’s the personal way. The more deeper way, still, is in the media literacy, which is part of the curriculum.

  • What role do you see social media playing going forward in strengthening democracy or even turning countries into democracy, or maybe changing the political system?

  • I’m biased towards democracy because my personal view is that this is one of the better system that we have to work with.

  • Some people might have different views, so that’s why I phrased it that way. Essentially, what I want to know is what role do you see social media playing in changing realities of what most of the world considers to be a better political system?

  • Right. Well, social media is very broad. What I care about is whether we ended up becoming what we call a recursive public, which is one of the very old way, back in the Napster days, the P2P people, my people [laughs] who coined this term, the free software community coined this term.

  • This is basically a public concerned very deeply on the ways in which they communicate, they form decisions, and so on. It’s as if everyone in a public, in republic is concerned with constitutional law. It’s something like that, how the society itself is being formed is being constantly under scrutiny by people who participate in public discussion.

  • This characterized, not only the free software community, but Wikipedia community, the Creative Common community, the open access, open science community, and many other communities who are vitally concerned about the rules, constitutions of how the public is formed.

  • Then, later, of course, we see the current generation of social media, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, which are not recursive in the same way. People who participate don’t actually think they do have a say on the code that makes up Facebook or that makes up Twitter. They’re more users in the traditional user sense.

  • It is still pre‑figurative because compared to many different governments, Facebook or Twitter are actually more responsive and is a way to make people feel closer. So their distance with the government may be like this in a democratic government system, which is slowly shrinking with technology.

  • But suddenly, with social media, people become much more closer to each other. Then, they form, even subconsciously, those very contagious relationships between each other. I think this changes the imaginations of organization of democracy in a pre‑figurative way. People got a taste of the way it could be like, and then they start asking the government this.

  • Of course, for governments to actually work, people need to behave as adults. We need to somehow learn from this emotional contagion ways to behave as adults, listening to each other online, and so on, which is the main technological work that I’m doing as a digital minister.

  • I think it is pre‑figurative in a sense that people would want more, but it is also a hindrance if it doesn’t evolve into something recursive, something that people can then say, "OK, this is the kind of social media we want," instead of blindly following what is the major platform at the moment. It gets us halfway there, but it doesn’t get us all the way there.

  • A follow‑up, you used the word "contagious." Is that a good thing or is it a not so good thing or is it just what it is?

  • Just like any other where it’s an epidemics or virology, it is just as it is. I don’t think any strains of DNAs or RNAs carry any morality. It is just a fact that we’re dealing with.

  • Can you speak about media literacy? What form does that take in the schools? What are the key performance and message they are trying to get out?

  • It does seem like a very important thing as I don’t think people don’t really question sources of their news information. It seems that it’s essential to almost try to convey at a young age that media takes many forms and we don’t necessarily certainly take it at face value.

  • What are some of the key elements that you’re trying to convey?

  • Right. I was trying to look at a English slide for this, but it doesn’t really have one. So I’m sorry, but you’ll have to work with my poor translation. [laughs] I’ll try to translate it. Just a second. This may work.

  • (off‑mic comments)

  • (clicking)

  • This might work. OK, It does work. That’s right.

  • So this is the "foundational chart" of what we call "life‑long learning," which is the slogan of our new curriculum. What this does is that it replaces the previous curriculum which was added in the year 2000.

  • Back in the year 2000, we categorized the K12 system into a set of skills, capabilities, that every student needed to have by the age of 18. Now, instead of saying skills or capabilities, we’re now saying "literacies."

  • These are the three major literacies that every student need to have regardless of whatever skill or capability, because we stop playing for profits. We don’t even know what the world would be like to appear afterwards, but we know that having these literacies help people.

  • The three literacies are the literacy of autonomy, including a balance of body and mind, the spiritual balance, system thinking and problem solving, planning, and innovation. Those are the autonomous part.

  • The interaction part is the second strength, includes the use of symbols in communications. This is more on the...

  • Sure, yes. Autonomy on the top, interaction on the right, and then, the common good on the left. These are the three main pie charts. As you can see, none of this is about one particular skill.

  • This is about literacy. This is about being aware of something, being aware in a sort of self‑aware sense.

  • The autonomy part, has, this is the body‑mind balance. This is system thinking, and this is innovation and planning.

  • These are the things that, across the K‑12, we need to redesign all the specific class curriculum with these autonomy in mind with the very start.

  • It also says that instead of teaching the children music, or handicraft, or whatever as classes, it is now in one large class in the first two years in school, called [non‑English speech] , or living, basically.

  • It’s not about teachers teaching anymore. It’s about the teachers spending time with children. This is really not that revolutionary in, for example, Finland, or Estonia, or whatever, but this is unique in Asia, which are very much still in the indoctrination part of education.

  • By saying autonomy is what we want from the children, we also say the teachers are now playing a very different role. The interaction part, the use of symbols, and willingness to communication, the literacy of art and aesthetics. Then this part, which is the part we focus on, is the science, technology, information, and media literacy.

  • This is not a literacy just on media. This is knowing that media is now a complex fabrication, a kind of hologram being woven from technologies and IT systems.

  • It’s impossible to be literate in media without knowing the technology that enable it. Nor is it possible to be technologically literate without knowing the communication framework that is part of its constitution.

  • By this part, what we do is that we put critical thinking, we put independent source verification, we put those things into every class so that the new curriculum designers, the textbook designers, need to design the textbooks for all the interactive parts between children, not as competitors of each other, but as collaborators who fill in each other’s blind spots, or whatever.

  • That’s the design document, but it’s realized differently in math, in literature, in science, in whatever. It’s realized differently each class, but the textbook was designed with this in mind.

  • Of course, once they get the interaction part, we now move to the common good part, which was the plural culture and international understanding. This is the interpersonal teamwork, and building, and the realization of ethics, and the civic awareness in which we talk about Occupies, and so on.

  • This is the whole point. All the textbook need to be re-designed using these three fundamental items in mind. I can of course go into a lot more details, because I was part of K‑12 curriculum committee right before being the digital minister. But I’m still very passionate about my previous work.

  • Maybe a rather strange question, but if you were asked to advise the KMT what they should have to do to regain public trust and support?

  • It’s a great question.

  • What would you suggest?

  • As an independent and an anarchist, it is a very strange question to ask. Even now, I still pride the current government as being led by an independent premier. There’s more members of the cabinet that’s independent than members of cabinet of any party.

  • This is unique, because it enables us to do much more experimental, much more interesting policy‑based discussions directly with the public that would sometimes be considered against the party lines if the premier or the ruling party is playing too big a role in the administration. I’m happy to serve in an independent, balanced administration, just to start saying.

  • But with any other parties, you can see my talk’s wisdom in the Radical Transparency website, PDIS.tw. I did talk with KMT MPs such as Jason Shu, who did visit; Chiang Wan-an, who did visit; as did DPP’s Karen Yu.

  • Also we have Hongsheng Zhao, who is now at NPP now, and the latest ones are with the DPP’s spokesperson. I did talk with pretty much across all the...

  • Stories from the future of democracy or what?

  • This is me, my talk in New York, saying I’m literally from the future, which is 12 hours from the other side of this planet, time‑zone‑speaking. This is where I introduced...

  • Yeah, that’s my PDF talk. There’s also a panel which we’ll publish later. I did talk with all the parties’ MPs or spokespersons and whatever.

  • My advice is always the same. Just by speak less and listen more. It’s common sense, but how to listen at scale is something that traditional parties are not very good at. They are very good at speaking at scale. To reach millions of people ‑‑ that’s your specialty.

  • But how to listen to millions of people, how to get millions of people to listen to each other, it is something that especially Leninist parties are not particularly good at, because information flows in one direction only.

  • Some parties adapt faster, some slower. But they all need to adapt, more or less. I don’t have any specific recommendations, but I do think parties need to be more fun parties, where everyone [laughs] get to speak and everyone gets listened to, and instead of traditional parties, where they speak but don’t listen.

  • Are there any more questions?

  • Can I ask you, what made an anarchist to join the government and become a minister?

  • Well, I’m a conservative anarchist.

  • (laughter)

  • Conservative means two things. First, that I do want to conserve the recursive public that’s already working. The IETF ‑‑ the Internet Engineering Task Force, the ICANN ‑‑ all those are anarchistic organizations of multi‑stakeholder approach that exist independent of states but still runs the Internet and runs how Internet governance is being done, despite many countries who want to take it into a more UN‑style, multilateral public.

  • We do have something to conserve ‑‑ an anarchistic tradition that defines the early Internet and the constitution of the early Internet. If I can work with Taiwan to further the conservation of the recursive public, well, that’s what I do. That’s one of the answers.

  • The other answer is the conservatism in a more traditional sense, and the idea of there’s a long tradition of civilization. Instead of introducing a disruptive change that will render previous history meaningless, like the so‑called technological singularity for one, or some even more unlikely scenarios.

  • If you render the previous civilization void, because it would be a new species rising of robots or whatever. Instead of the technological singularity happening, as many fear, many friends of mine in Silicon Valley actually believe that this is happening, that the future doesn’t need humans or whatever.

  • It is my thought that if together we can listen to each other as each technology comes, blockchain, whatever, we can know what to ask of the technology and as a society to step forward, instead of just a few people stepping forward and excluding other people, eventually render the species into two species.

  • In this humanistic conservation, kind of conservative way is also why I do want to work as a public servant with the public, to make sure that the civilization as we know it still continues. I do this not out of some public duty or whatever, but because it’s fun.

  • It is very enjoyable to work on this topic, which was one of my main research subject anyway, so it is good that the Taiwan people pay me to work full‑time with the government. [laughs] I will continue to do this same work regardless of whether I hold a official post or not. Any other questions or thoughts?

  • Can you give your email?

  • Yeah, sure. It is [email protected] That’s my official email. Feel free to ask me anything. I’ll answer publicly.

  • (laughter)

  • Is it on a personal blog?

  • I think it’s recorded, right? We will make a transcript, I will send it to all of you so that you can correct typos and whatever, and then after 10 days we’ll just publish a copy of this.

  • Thanks for the meeting.

  • Looking forward to...