• I don’t need to take any notes, because I will get a transcript from you?

  • That’s right, yes. We get to edit for 10 days before publishing to the general public. Feel free to edit afterwards.

  • Does this have some voice recognition technology, or do you have somebody transcribe it, listen to it, transcribe for you?

  • It’s a combination. We use this microphone array, mostly because it enables better automatic recognition. If we talk about domain-specific words, for example, there will be another pass where people go through transcript, and fix the terminologies.

  • If you use some software, I would be interested to know what it is. We run a lot of events, and we don’t have the means to live-stream. We have done transcripts. Lots of people read our transcripts, but normally, what we do is we just record it, and we have somebody then type out a transcript.

  • Yeah, we tried a lot of suppliers. The early ones, the first one that worked really well was called Trint. Recently, we’ve switched to Temi, which I think is just Google underneath.

  • I have to see if, our events are mostly in German. Can I take a screenshot of this?

  • Of course. There’s many offers from IBM, from Microsoft, from Google.

  • Thank you. Let me first maybe tell you a little bit about myself. I’m Stefan. I’m from Berlin in Germany. I’m there with a think tank - "Stiftung Neue Verantwortung". It’s a nonprofit organization. We are not affiliated with any political party, so we are independent.

  • We are a team of about 20 people, and we work mostly on issues of new technologies, digital technologies from cyber security to open government, to what can we do with AI, and how do we need to regulate it?

  • What are the problems with new technologies, what are the potentials? Actually, from the way we work, it’s very similar...Not similar, but has some similarities to your thinking about how policy should be done. We talk a lot about our methodology, because we have been asking ourselves, what is differentiates our think tank from a research institute at university?

  • We’ve found that, especially in these new technologies, it takes very long for academics to write papers about it. There’s peer review process. It takes quite some time until their expertise is out. You need expertise very quickly.

  • The policymakers are asking very quickly, “What can we do about this?” Often, the technology companies are much faster than the understanding in the broader public, and also in the politics. What we do in our organizations is research sprints, like sprints you would do in agile development.

  • Then we do workshops, where we test our ideas. The workshops, because as a nonprofit, it’s very important for us that our problem analysis, and also the solution we propose, are public interest-based.

  • We try to invite people from all different sectors. We actually call it intersectoral. We try to invite government people, because we want to inform the government in exchange for collaboration, and we want them to take up the ideas.

  • We invite the business and tech community because they develop these new technologies. Often, they come from them. We need to understand what they are doing, so we need to make them part of the conversation.

  • We also have very strong relationships to civil society organizations and NGOs who really, or independent academics, or people engaged or working with organization’s like the Chaos Computer Club you may have heard about in Germany.

  • Hackers, independent experts. They’re really important for us to bring the public interest perspective on this. With them, in the research sprint, we try to frame the problem, lay out hypotheses on how we think about it. Then we use a lot of these design thinking methodologies in terms of how we test them.

  • Yes, I’m very familiar with that kind of work, and our office like that, too. A lot of posters, lots of sticky notes, lots of brainstorming happening there. Our funding comes mostly from foundations, like 70 percent.

  • We have some money from the corporate side, but it’s very difficult for us to get, because we don’t do corporate sponsorships. We cannot compromise our independence. They have to make a donation to the institution, and they don’t get branding visibility or influence on our...

  • They don’t control your research agenda.

  • Yeah, so that makes it hard to convince them...

  • Not very attractive. [laughs]

  • We have found some people who think it’s important to have an independent organization doing this. Sometimes, we collaborate with government, and government will support some of our work.

  • This is one, some of the things that I’m really interested in your perspective. What we have is, I think, actually, that we are also doing, we’re providing a service to different communities that we bring together. Especially to the government. It’s really hard to figure this out.

  • We have also seen that we are constantly also in some tension with government, because we are pushing the ideas. They often have some ideas of what they want to do. If you bring in all these different stakeholders, they don’t control the agenda.

  • They don’t control the outcomes of the workshops, of the thinking, of the discussions. There are some people in government open to that, but often, they are lower in the hierarchy, in my experience. The higher you go in the hierarchies, the harder it is to get people interested in this kind of approach.

  • Until you reach the very top, where they become interested again.

  • (laughter)

  • Yes, but to get to the top, you have to go through a lot of layers underneath. German government is structured very formalistic, hierarchical.

  • I mean the topmost, like the Digitalrat, the digital consultation council.

  • There’s a question how the digital council that was just created, how they can have impact, because of they’re a separate orbit from what happens in the ministries. I’m very interested in your experience, how you get buy-in from ministries, and how you create positive relationships with them.

  • I would imagine that you don’t sit within a single ministry, so you’re also sometimes seen...I don’t know if you’re perceived as an outsider.

  • How you manage to get in? I’m really interested in this perspective. Maybe just personal background, what brought me here. I’m married to a Taiwanese. I met her in the United States. I got my PhD in political science in the United States. We met there.

  • I’ve been coming to Taiwan every year for more than 10 years. She’s a big supporter of the equal marriage and other social issues. She has been following those campaigns, and has been very disappointed by the outcome of the referendum.

  • Well, it’s binding for two years.

  • From her, and also from other people, I heard about the work that you’re doing. People told me you’re very open, so I just tried to contact you through Twitter, as you saw.

  • Yeah, just one tweet away.

  • Thought we also have some overlapping interests in how we work, and I think your approach also, in trying to reach out, and bring civil society in a collaborative way, to find solutions. It’s exactly our philosophy, that we need to find collaborative solutions.

  • I was really interested in meeting you, hearing from your perspective, learning, and also asking you, so far, have you had any engagements with counterparts in Germany? How you see that, and maybe if there’s any opportunities to facilitate that?

  • You’re here for the holiday season?

  • Yeah, basically, because there was Christmas, New Year’s, so it’s holidays in Germany. I know it’s not the best time of the year to visit Taiwan.

  • We’re warmer in January, actually.

  • (laughter)

  • That’s right. You’re warmer, but often, there’s a lot of rain. It feels cold here, because of the humidity, and there’s no heating. This, now, I’m actually quite concerned. This year feels so weird. We had such a hot summer in Germany. There’s no winter. It’s not really cold. I think this is also warmer than normal.

  • I can really feel the climate not being normal.

  • It’s a new normal. [laughs]

  • I’m hoping more people will wake up and do more about it.

  • It’s also an interesting question, what role technology can play in this. We have also an energy problem, where we look at...Germany has done a lot of investing in renewable energy. We are trying to get out of nuclear.

  • The problem is that, with renewable energy, you have a decentralized system, where you don’t control the feed in. When the sun is shining, the wind blows, you have lots of energy, but not necessarily when people want it.

  • Which is why you need a smart grid...

  • Yeah, and we don’t even think you need a smart grid anymore. The smart grid idea from 20 years ago was a centralized idea, that you have some centralized authority that manages the grid. What we really think is that you need a decentralized smart grid.

  • Give people -- we call it prosumers in Germany -- give people directly the ability, who have a solar system or wind system, and they’re able to directly trade, and directly feed in energy. There is now a low transaction cost of digital platforms as a way to implement this.

  • The German system on a regulatory level, we are not there yet. There’s still very old industry, coal interests in Germany, and nuclear interests, like you have here in Taiwan, that are pushing back on this, too. We think that this peer-focused, decentralized systems are really important in solving some social problems.

  • It’s how do we get people involved in shaping the policies we need for that, and pushing the government to adopt them, I see as a very big challenge.

  • In Taiwan, even the pro-nuclear people are also pro-renewable. I think that renewable is very much something that everybody agrees on. When we talk about smart grid, there’s actually enabling laws and regulations that enables, for example, indigenous communities and so on to completely own the hydro, solar, wind power plants in their indigenous lands.

  • We’re now figuring out ways for them to trade back with the grid system nearby. I think it’s not just economy, it is actually a regional revitalization, because then they identify with the sovereignty of their indigenous lands.

  • It’s very important to have critical all understood and managed by the local people. It goes beyond the economic argument, it is mostly a social solidarity around the energy that everybody can understand and participate.

  • I think both pro and anti-nuclear people are actually in favor of that idea. It’s actually easier to push now.

  • Actually, the indigenous communities are leading this in Taiwan?

  • A lot of indigenous communities are very interested. I’ve personally visited one, the Taromak community of the Rukai nation. They worship the sun god. Actually, it’s the same word that they use for the sun god and the solar panel. It’s like solar panel is incarnation of the solar spirit.

  • They have a hydro plant in their region, and they have a few wind turbines as well. Mostly, they are focusing on solar at the moment. The three combined together takes care for more than 100% of their need.

  • They are now figuring out a way to share it to other communities. That will, of course, need a lot of design. Previously, exactly as you said, it’s transmit everything to Taipower, and Taipower redistribute it back.

  • Now, they are working on peer-to-peer relationships. There is some social enterprises formed as a local association-controlled companies. There’s also some co-ops in this space. There’s different structures.

  • You need to put the policy in place to support them. Is there also some funding that the government gives for this?

  • Yes, of course. The regulations are already there. It’s just the interpretation and operation, because nobody have done this before. This is very new to everybody.

  • We need a lot of operational infrastructure to make this happen. For example, there are existing electricity lines that Taipower has left over in that area. Can they reuse those lines instead of setting up new lines, and how should the peak and non-peak costs be calculated?

  • The operation needs to be understood, administered, and governed by the indigenous people in their land, instead of far away, in a control center in a Taipower building, and things like that. It doesn’t really need regulatory change, but it does need an algorithmic change. That kind of code change, not the legal code change.

  • Have you had any interactions with the green movement in Germany on these issues?

  • With what kind of organizations?

  • The Green Party of Taiwan is part of the Global Green.

  • This is not the DPP? The Green Party is separate.

  • No, the Green Party is the Green Party. Taiwan has a Green Party, also the Tree Party, and so on, like the Global Green. Of course, marketing-wise, it’s difficult, because the DPP looks green. [laughs]

  • Yes, I think that’s right. That’s why I just want to make sure that I understand right.

  • That’s right. Maybe I should say "Green as in SDGs". [laughs] There’s quite a few concerted movements, as well as shared agenda, with the Global Greens in the local level. Again, the greens, or the Tree Party and related parties, they have captured recently the city councilors’ spots, but not at the legislative level yet.

  • Most of the political alliances are still on the local level, which is, I think, good. We’re now seeing a lot of the national development into what we call the Regional Revitalization, which is literally have these different precincts and districts, which 134 and them, totally a majority of the land area in Taiwan, but actually less than one-tenth of the population.

  • Because this registered household, and many people don’t actually live in these places. There is huge amounts of places that are currently suffering from dwindling population, aging population, different structure that makes a vicious cycle of a lack of employment, and a lack of infusion of population, and so on.

  • The main theme of this year is what we call Regional Revitalization, which is to make sure that the people here get to control their own agenda, of local development, with the end goal of basically reaching an equilibrium of population in two years.

  • They are starting to have a brain gain instead of brain drain in these areas...

  • Your role in this is also to organize the engagements with the local population, with this model that you have developed?

  • Yes, exactly. So far, we’ve used two methodologies. One is the regional tour. Maybe you have read about it, where I go to different places, and literally have the 12 ministries’ people see through two-way video conference what the local people’s need are.

  • Starting this year, we’re also expanding this model to the youth council. There’s a youth advisory council in the administration level. We’re also having the youth councilors, who many of them are actually local organizers for Regional Revitalization, to invite these people to actually visit their place.

  • Not just across the screen, but actually to the locality. The National Development Council is working on the enabling technologies. For example, many of these areas told us that autonomous vehicles, especially drone delivery, is critical.

  • Otherwise, just getting the necessary material is difficult for them. They have to drive a very long distance, for example. Autonomous delivery is a key. Another one is teleworking. A lot of work here is actually to enable the, I think more than 100 public servants have design up to the National Development Council’s call for them to relocate back to their homeland, and to work there.

  • Through teleworking initiatives...

  • You have fiber in the ground to reach all these communities, right?

  • That’s right, along with 4G LTE coverage.

  • For telework, you need quite good connections.

  • That’s right. Anywhere in Taiwan, even in the most remote island like Dongsha, if you don’t have 10 megabits per second, it’s our fault. Broadband is a human right. We’ve been laying out the basic infrastructure for the past couple years.

  • Now, we are reasonably sure the vast majority of these areas in need for revitalization have good bandwidth...

  • Some remote areas, it’s very costly. Your telecommunications company is probably private. Is that private infrastructure?

  • The Chunghwa Telecom, although a private company, is I think more than 30 percent owned by the administration. Actually, it’s not just the Ministry of Transportation. I think there’s other ministries who have shares in that company as well.

  • They’re one of the telecom providers, but they are more willing to absorb the necessary cost by, for example, during the 4G band bidding, as well as the 5G in the future... The idea is always that if you get a priority placement, you’re expected to work on the places also with less developed, or less economical to work.

  • They have a big debate in this, because we have an auction now in Germany on bandwidth that’s good for...It’s supposed to be used for 5G technology. Actually, the telecommunication companies are suing the government against the requirements to also, because they say it’s not economically for them to go into...

  • To serve the need for equality.

  • ...to serve areas that are not very densely-populated, because you wouldn’t have many customers there.

  • The point is that it’s not asking them to operate at a loss. It is asking them to put in the infrastructure so when we do Regional Revitalization, they will actually regain the infrastructure payments, assuming, of course, that some of these regions actually do get revitalized.

  • If you don’t couple it with this narrative, of course, it will seems as if the state is forcing the telecom to operate at a loss. I think it’s very important to couple the two narratives together. Well, we’re not asking them to operate at a loss indefinitely....

  • It is worth it to put in the upfront investment that enables teleworking in particular. If the government workforce, the public servants working on these projects, all get teleworking from within those precincts and districts, they can bring all those data to the locality.

  • Then tell the local organizers, what is it like to see that region from a government, whole picture kind of view? Then they can discover their own identity, take the stakeholders, and put on a proposal. Then, very different than the previous government projects, it is on an on-demand, agile workflow.

  • There’s no one-month window for proposing, two-month window for budget, or anything like that. It is basically all real-time service.

  • It’s one of the larger public administration infrastructure change that’s being engineered.

  • How did you get the ministries here in Taipei to buy into this? Maybe you can explain this puzzle to me. On the one hand, I’m very impressed, because even before you joined the government, Taiwan was already pretty active on open government and open data, and has a very strong record on this.

  • On the other side, you have traditionally pretty hierarchical, formalistic bureaucracies, and that also, like Germany, tend to, as you go to the senior level, they are older and more detached from the new technological developments. How do you explain that?

  • I think open government is embraced because, compared to the NGOs, compared to the social sector, the public sector actually have less legitimacy. I think that is the answer to your question. In Taiwan, we lifted the martial law in the late ’80s, but the first presidential election is only in the late ’90s.

  • There is a decade where the regional co-ops, the regional NGOs, and so on, very well-known names, have been building their legitimacy during that decade. Even today, when we go to, for example, disaster recovery or whatever, if the public sector publish a normal and the social sector publish a number, most people will believe the social sector number.

  • The public sector is working with a legitimacy deficient.

  • Because of that, open government is the only way forward, in the sense of...

  • The narrative that I’m often using in Germany is that it’s for them, they need to learn. It’s also for knowledge transfer, too. For them, they should embrace this, because it will make their policies stronger. The government has a strong legitimacy and a strong history in Germany.

  • Sure. It works because it has a high legitimacy.

  • Traditionally, they have had their own expertise, and they did everything in-house. To get them to understand that collaboration can actually be better for them, because they mostly, when they go outside, they have this problem.

  • They get criticized. They get pushback. They don’t have a very positive image of engaging with civil society.

  • There’s lots of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

  • Not all of them understand that this could be actually positive for them, and actually could make their work more effective. Do you also use this kind of narrative, where it’s really about legitimacy?

  • Not much. I usually say, “This is a safe space.” If you go to the Social Innovation Lab to have a conversation, the people, even if they are angry, they are not going to punch you across the screen.

  • (laughter)

  • I emphasize the safety of the engagement. Then the safety means actually less risk for everybody involved. That’s one. The second is that the credit is shared. Across the screen, in Mandarin, we say 見面三分情 — there’s a 30 percent of trust just by meeting alone.

  • Once you meet somebody in-person, it’s less likely for the people to start protesting, or with a more ad hominem angle, because they’ve already met you before.

  • Even across the screen, I think it enables maybe 20 percent [laughs] of trust. Once people get to know each other, actually, they can’t really be that vicious in their communications. That’s the risk of a risk-reducing part.

  • That’s probably also your experience, that you have to bring the people into the same room. The video screen can be a first step. It’s important, but really, the real relationship building is for people still to get physically present in the same room.

  • It’s two rooms, and each one facilitated by a facilitator. That is what we call connected rooms. Each one, as you said, it is a face-to-face meeting. We’ve been doing for more than a year now. Overwhelmingly, I think people in Taipei appreciate the fact that they don’t have to go to all those rural areas. It’s just me who travels. [laughs]

  • Just you. You travel a lot.

  • That’s right. They also appreciate to learn the actual story. Previously, they just get their stories as two pages of A4 papers, or a few slides of presentation. They can’t really reconstruct in their head, how is it like to be in that locality?

  • They really do appreciate that instead of the Minister of Interior passing two pages of A4 papers to the Ministry of Health or to the Ministry of Economy, they are actually all in the same room, and listening to the same story.

  • They do appreciate that, because there’s a lot of back and forth, and real communication. I think this is a more equalizing force between the professionalism of the public service and the local people, who now see them not as anonymous, but actually as a cohort of colleagues who can brainstorm and solve their longstanding problems.

  • Once they do solve the problem, and brainstorm in this atmosphere, there’s a lot of appreciation of the professional capacity of the public servants. It’s all on public record, right? Previously, the credit is absorbed by the minister. Now, the credit is back to anyone who actually contribute.

  • Do you prepare the government officials before you go into the engagement?

  • Oh, yeah, of course.

  • Do you do a workshop with them to get them ready, explain them, and answer their questions or concerns they have about this kind of format?

  • Very much so. As I said, the risk-reducing is really just the entry. Even more important, I think, is to actually prepare everyone so that they learn that these meetings are not there to make them overwork, or to make them commit on things that they’re not prepared to commit.

  • Rather so, it is mostly to prepare them to shift from a trade-off kind of thinking to a synergy kind of thinking. We do do workshops, and in each ministry, there is a team of participation officers whose whole work is to meet with strangers.

  • Every month, we look at what training topics are there in the previous month. We decide on one or two topics to collaborate. Even if a ministry doesn’t have any case, they can still join as co-facilitators, as creators, to the other ministry’s cases, and do capacity building before they actually get a burning issue on their hands.

  • I think this is all really valuable in terms of also just changing the culture in the ministry and the mindset, as you said, to go from combative to collaborative. What I’ve seen, and what often are the biggest problems of these processes, is how you make them sustainable, and let the people who participate see that there’s actually outcomes produced.

  • That there is actually policies implemented, so that this is not just having good conversations.

  • Like we say, the new tax filing system now has 96 percent approval rating. This is a boon to everybody participating.

  • How have you integrated this in the process that people can track the follow-up from what was discussed at the workshops? How do you do that?

  • We build an accountability trail, an account for the policymaking. The basic idea is that we go back to the Join platform to reply with the tracking updates.

  • That’s a website where people can check their update?

  • There is the e-participation website. The website actually has more than five million users. With Taiwan being 23 million, it’s actually like a quarter of population. The website, very interestingly, is not only used by the administration.

  • Actually, one of the most active users, apart from the cities, counties, and administration, is actually the auditing department, the Ministry of Auditing in the Corrective Yuan, which is another organ. It’s an independent accountability organ apart from the administration.

  • What they do is that whenever any government, like a city government, tries a new way of doing things, they’re in charge of auditing it. Previously, if they block that innovation, for example, the Taipei City used to use, for example, subsidy to have employment opportunities for the handicapped people.

  • For people with disabilities, there’s a fix set of staff where they can help exactly X number of people with disabilities to work in various duties every month. It’s very easy to audit. You just see whether those vacant positions are filled with people with disabilities.

  • A few years ago, the Taipei City shifted the experiment with what they call the Social Enterprise Building, the SE Square. It’s a building where they rented, at a normal price -- like one Taiwan dollar per month or something -- to social enterprises, but they have to recruit people with disabilities.

  • The idea is that the social enterprises will be motivated to recruit more people, because they have more fiscal control and freedom. The people with disability can even join the board as a co-op, or things like that.

  • It’s very hard to audit. It’s not very clear that, if they have not yet recruited X number of people with a disability, is it because it’s just ramping up, that it’s dwindling, or how does it even work, over the course of five years?

  • There’s fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the civil society, as well as in the city council. Now, the Corrective Yuan, of course, is charged in building a new auditing mechanism for this. Previously, if they blocked this innovation, then, of course, they will charged by the press, saying, “You’re blocking civic innovation.”

  • If they build an accountability mechanism that’s not really accountable, then of course, the civic councilors will say that they are not doing a very good job to address the concerns. Now, with the joint platform, what they do is that they just say, “OK, we see the city is now trying a new thing. What are your doubts and fears about it?”

  • Usually, we see hundreds of citizens just coming and sharing their fears, uncertainty, and doubt.

  • Do the people share anonymously, or do people share with...

  • People share pseudonymously.

  • Right. They have to authenticate with an SMS number and an email or a social media login, so we know that they are actually at least SMS-holding.

  • So that they are really here, resident in Taiwan, and so on?

  • You would be concerned how this could potentially be manipulated from outside, those kind of discussions.

  • Of course. I’m sure that it’s possible for people who really want to troll the forum to get an SMS number from Taiwan. It doesn’t really...

  • At least it makes it more difficult for people to do those kind of stuff.

  • It’s hard to get 5,000 SIM cards. [laughs] You’d probably get discovered if you did that. At least they won’t flood the forum.

  • You can get anonymous SIM cards here. This is a big issue in Germany, and privacy is a big concern. As you know, they have -- also in Taiwan -- there’s discussions about the problem of disinformation, and potentially foreign influence.

  • You have mainland China across the water. If they want to get involved into controversial discussions, that could undermine them, and potentially...

  • I think with the SMS number, it’s actually kind of difficult to flood the forum. We do get some personal attacks, and so on, but there is a well-known way to fix those, by only responding to the one that are constructive, and hide the part that are not constructive.

  • It’s not censorship... You can click to view the previous history if you have too much time on your hands.

  • (laughter)

  • What I mean is just not to have people’s attention be squandered. We do have pairwise voting, like one column being the pro argument, and another column being the con argument. We have people upvote the argument that they think are best when it comes to e-petition.

  • Just for me to get a sense of the scale and the resources, how big is the team working on this and supporting this?

  • My office is, at most, one person from each ministry. At most, I can have 34 colleagues, because we have 34 ministries. At the moment, I have 22.

  • They wouldn’t build the website and do moderation?

  • There’s a vendor, UDN Digital, building this website and keeping it running. I think it’s a team of 30 or so. In the National Development Council, there is also an operation strategy team that think about, for example, what kind of regulatory announcements, what kind of budget to highlight, and things like that.

  • That’s maybe five people or so. In each ministry, there’s a team of participation officers, as I said. I think on average, it’s three or four people per ministry. Altogether, it’s maybe 200 people, but not working full-time. Maybe 100 people or so full-time.

  • I think it’s important to have your own resources, to give out a contract when you need some website development, or some services to implement. Where you’re not doing this in public-private partnerships, or partner with companies that help you do this.

  • We’re building most of our supporting infrastructure publicly on GitHub. We do get contributions from the social sector, but we’re not relying on them. Just in PDIS, in my office alone, there is easily five people who can code, or five people who can design.

  • If they really want something to get done, I’m personally a programmer. We complement the work of the social sector, but we’re not relying on the social sector for this work.

  • If I can shift one more, I don’t know how much time you have. I’m very grateful for what you’re sharing with me.

  • Maybe we have another half an hour or so.

  • This is very, very interesting for me, and I actually find it very helpful that there will be a transcript, [laughs] so that I don’t have to take notes while we talk. I’m also a member of the German Parliament’s Expert Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI).

  • In Germany, generally like in all the countries, everybody’s talking about machine learning, artificial intelligence, all the data we have now, what we can do with it. Countries are developing national strategies.

  • I gave some comments on the German AI strategy.

  • I didn’t see that. Where did you...

  • Der Digitalrat circulated a copy, through what they call the hypothes.is system, which is a web annotation document.

  • You are in touch with the Digitalrat? That’s great, that they have reached out to you.

  • Yes. Beth Noveck, the person who brought about this open government initiative thing in the US, is now part of der Digitalrat.

  • We have some international people. I’m glad that they are bringing in that international expertise like ours.

  • Also, I think you know Julia Kloiber, who previously worked on Code for Germany...

  • Yes, right. Her interview with you...

  • I know her very well. She’s done a very... I don’t know if she told you about the Prototype Fund.

  • It’s really innovative what she’s doing, and also transforming how our ministries work, who are funding the Prototype Fund.

  • I think she directly inspired the g0v grant, which is again like the Prototype Fund. The g0v people, of course, in traditional g0v fashion, did not accept funding from the government, or from any political parties.

  • This is entirely in the social sector, and I think it’s been running really well.

  • I think to scale, you have to put public resources behind those things. I think you see a lot of great initiatives in civil society that don’t scale, or are not sustainable, because they run out of...A lot of foundations only want to give seed funding.

  • Obviously, you know this problem. There is no resources for followup. What is your comment on the German AI strategy, or what is your thinking on it?

  • First of all, I think of AI as "assistive intelligence", and machine learning as collaborative is part of my interview with Julia. I remember pointing out that machine learning, it’s not just an “industry” strategy.

  • It is actually a social strategy as well, if everybody, including schoolchildren, understand how machine learning works, then it is an empowering force of so-called personal computing, because people can feel that everybody can customize and relate to these ideas.

  • On the other hand, if few people understand it, then even if you build the best privacy by design, you build the best overcoming bias, or whatever into it, just by the lack of literacy, it is still as good as a top-down machinery.

  • I think the common awareness and education, and especially empowerment through regulatory co-creation, through the freedom to customize, the freedom to self-organize around machine learning apparatus and to make new norms, I think that really is the key.

  • I think the education strategy has a lot to say, at least equal with the industry. I think that’s the main idea.

  • The problem in Germany is that the education, we have a federal system. The education policy is made on the state level.

  • I’m aware of that.

  • The national government cannot mandate certain education policies. This is a big problem currently in Germany. Some states are better than others in terms of trying to integrate new approaches and new knowledge into the curriculum, and others are really not doing that.

  • The learning part, this is actually a topic that will be important for our work in the parliament commission. The national AI strategy was very much driven by economic and industrial concerns.

  • That’s exactly right. It’s quite clear.

  • It’s very clear. You’ve seen that. The first chapters are all about that, how you can have the best research, and how you can transmit that into industry and startups. That’s the core. Then towards the end, you find some...

  • You find something that, “OK, we won’t harm the European values. We’ll fill the AI with European characteristics.”

  • We actually need to start it. With the process I described to you, we actually in our organizations tried to start that conversation around an AI strategy. We were very much also thinking about how you democratize AI, and give as many people access to it.

  • This is obviously a question of the accessibility of the technology. Is it all going to be owned by corporate entities, or do we continue at the moment? A lot of this is open source available. How can we make sure...?

  • Like this is one of the open source examples of self-driving vehicles. If you go to the Social Innovation Lab, today, actually they have it running like this. They have visited the Social Innovation Lab three times from the MIT Media Lab.

  • All of this open hardware and open source. When the local people want to accommodate their flow -- for example, shopping in the flower market -- and have those tricycles follow you, and form a fleet. Basically, adjust their distance to people, and signal their internal state through a way that people can understand.

  • Like there’s people with feedback saying, “This is almost like a cyclops. It’s not very friendly.” The latest iteration -- because it’s open hardware, you can just tinker it -- now use two eyes. They make eye contact.

  • People come, it’s like students and people interested come to work with this technology and build things?

  • Yeah, I think that’s a very good idea of people seeing self-driving vehicles, and think of these things, instead of truck fleets.

  • These are full of sensors?

  • Yeah, they have a cheap LIDAR and optical sensors, which is why they can make eye contact.

  • (laughter)

  • I think Taiwan also has an AI strategy. Were you involved in...?

  • How would you describe how they address really the social? Really, what bothers me about the discussion in Germany, they always talk about the Chinese AI strategy, but they always talk about what’s done in Beijing. Nobody looks at innovative approaches towards AI that are coming out of Taiwan.

  • Again, we put a lot of emphasis on education.

  • Also, I need to look this up. This is even available in English?

  • Yeah, it’s called AI Taiwan. If you google for AI Taiwan, I think this is the first hit.

  • I will check this out. I will find that.

  • We did a domain name hack. It’s ai.taiwan.gov.tw. It can’t be this because of SEO.

  • Right. As you can see, even in our, education, I talk about. Regulatory co-creation is mostly, we allow the social innovators through those Regional Revitalization planning and touring, to basically declare their own hometown as in need of one particular intelligent technology, like the drone delivery, as I talk about.

  • Then they can get to break existing laws and regulations.

  • They can get some exemptions from national regulations?

  • Exactly, yes, to test out the parameters.

  • They will need to get the approval from the national government to do such a test bed, right?

  • That’s right. Basically, you need to have an application in what we call the sandbox system, which is not just for AI, of course. It’s also for fintech, for platform economy. It is a shared front end for anyone who want to break the law for a year. You go to here and file in your lawbreaking proposal.

  • (laughter)

  • Don’t think of it as lawbreaking. It’s like forking, having your own version of the law, and test it for a year. Everybody can apply, saying whether it is a good idea or not. By the end of the year, people may want to extend it to test in another to study that.

  • The main applicant would be a city, a local community, a city council, or something?

  • It could be anyone. It could be anyone.

  • It can also be a private company?

  • It could be a private company, and even with your own business plan. We don’t discriminate between the organization. Of course, the more multistakeholder you are, the better. The end result is to get the multistakeholder to decide collectively whether this experiment works for the local revitalization or not.

  • How do you determine that, if it works?

  • A consultation process. Usually, we use things like Pol.is, which can highlight the people’s divisive arguments, as well as the consensus statements. It is itself AI-powered. Anyone can go in and see their place among the different clusters of their neighbors.

  • Then they can propose their feelings for everybody to vote. People can vote agree or disagree. As they do, their position move toward the people who feel likely.

  • This is very interesting. This basically means that you need a lot of people familiar with this moderation and collaborative process, right?

  • Have you created some sort of academy, where you train people in these kind of competences? You not only need them on the national level, but you need them in the communities.

  • On the local level. You will need to be giving trainings all the time, right?

  • Actually, the 區公所, the District Office, is going to be the coordinating agency. Of course, there’s many district offices. In our public service academy, we have an e-academy. We recorded our collaborative workshops, our training materials.

  • I personally trained around a hundred. No, actually 900 or so people, even before joining the cabinet. Of course, after joining the cabinet, we trained even more people. We record that, and put it on the e-academy.

  • When do you sleep? [laughs]

  • Every night, for eight hours.

  • This methodology spreads by itself, because each collaborative meeting, which lasts for five to six hours, is by itself a training program.

  • That’s my experience. You cannot just tell people theoretically, “This is how it works.” They need to do it.

  • It’s training by doing, that’s right. Basically, this is what we call osmosis. The more you get into this participatory system, the more you can feel confident when it comes your turn to run it. That’s the basic idea.

  • If the stakeholders end up have a consensus around this particular technology, then we’re committed to merge it back into the regulation, so that every other region can use it as well. If the experiment end up being people’s consensus saying, “This is not actually a good fit,” again, nothing is lost.

  • We all learn something, and the new innovators can try something else. It is almost like monopoly, actually. If the legislation decides that this needs a legislative change, they can take three or four years to actually a pass a law that actually remedy the shortcoming they see from this experiment.

  • During those three or four years, the business model itself is still legit. The experiment extends to the point where the legislation is happy with it. You have a de facto monopoly for three years.

  • What’s also great is that you make the law based on real experience and testing. This is one of the problems, that we make a law, and then we look, “Oh, what happens?” Then we see, “Oh, it doesn’t work out like we wanted it to be.”

  • Policymakers cannot regulate something we don’t have first-hand experience. Unless we all ride the self-driving tricycle, how are going to suppose to make useful laws to govern them?

  • That’s exactly, this is really interesting.

  • Our AI strategy is regulatory co-creation. That is one of the five strategies here, the regulatory co-creation.

  • It’s one of the core pillars.

  • One of the five pillars.

  • The other one is talent?

  • Talent, democratization...

  • AI Pilot is similar to DARPA, and it’s IP, where we put out grant challenges for very difficult...

  • Have you created some agency like DARPA for this?

  • At the moment, it’s managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Board of Science and Technology. It’s not defense, [laughs] but it is science and technology. At the moment, they’re running a grant challenge.

  • We are discussing this in Germany, too. There we’ll be probably, too, not very comfortable with the military angle in Germany about this, too. We will create a civilian DARPA in Germany as well.

  • Finally, we work with the MSMEs of the innovative...The industries need innovation. The industry innovation, which is various upcoming industries in Taiwan, many of the MSMEs, they surface the main challenges that they’re facing, and that could be automated.

  • For example, the water company, the Water Corporate of Taiwan, said that the water leakage detection is one of the most time-consuming part of their work. Their experts, using a listening device, have to circulate Taiwan for a year and a half before new leakage is discovered.

  • They really need machine learning to help them to identify the one that are most likely. They use these as training material for AI academy and other talent training. It’s not just solving puzzles for practice, but actually to solve real challenges, as posed by the MSMEs.

  • What’s important is that this is not asking for a perfect solution. Even if your solution only improve the efficiency by five percent or so, it is still a real gain for a MSME. It also makes the talents much more likely to integrate back to the industry, instead of just going elsewhere.

  • I think this is a pretty good solution to do AI-driven by essentially training experienced designers that can redesign their workflows for full integration. We already have experience of working with people with diverse mental neurodiversity.

  • If we’re going to integrate people with Down syndrome or people with handicaps into the workflow, you have to redesign the workflow so that they can work on the part that they are good at, without burdening them with the part that they are not good.

  • Now, we are seeing AI as a kind of people, who need to be integrated into the workforce. It is the same experience design, service design work that need to be done. We integrate those kind of designers into the MSMEs.

  • Allow them to surface the part that are trivial, that really need automation, and then introduce the AI students as the solution givers to partner with the MSMEs. That’s the other part of the five pillars.

  • Wow. You’re really ahead of us. I knew it before, but now, talking to you, I can see really that. It’s very impressive. Also, how the things are connected. I really like that, how the thinking is very integrated. That’s really cool.

  • I’m glad you’ve heard about the German Digitalrat. One of the -- I don’t want to say problem, it’s always better to talk about challenges -- one of the challenges of the Digitalrat is that it’s not permanent. They are coming in from the outside.

  • It’s a more advisory role.

  • At some point, it’s going to be, advisory role. What we really need is somebody like you, who really is in day-to-day contact with the ministries, and driving innovation. Hopefully, the Digitalrat can get our government to adopt those kind of approaches, to make it permanent, and scalable across government.

  • The challenge has not been that there has not been a lack of...We’ve been talking about open data, open government, and things like that for a while in Germany. Our challenge is implementation. It’s not having ideas. It’s about implementation.

  • For implementation, you need to talk about collaboration. You need to talk about mind shift, culture shift, working differently, then changing things, how you used to work. Have you seen in your work, what would you describe as your personally, the biggest challenges?

  • A lot of people in the German government will tell me that the biggest challenges for them is, we have 50 years of bureaucracy, so there is lots of rules that determine how things need to be done. It’s very difficult for them to step outside of these rules and formal processes that have been designed over many decades, and do things differently.

  • We don’t think it’s a large problem here, mostly because even though we’re also a continental law jurisdiction, we explicitly carve out parts that are good for experiment. The sandbox laws are essentially the legislation saying, “It’s OK to break the law for a while.”

  • (laughter)

  • That’s very hard for Germans to adopt that kind of thinking.

  • That’s right, but I think it’s really worth it. If you don’t have a clear-cut sandbox, then of course, there is literally hundreds of obscure rules and interpretations that can block your way. You don’t discover them until you run into them.

  • I think a canvas, or a sandbox, with strictly-set geographic and/or time boundaries, I think that is really the main innovation vehicle that we’re working on. That also enables, like for 5G, everybody understand that 5G is good for something, but we’re not quite sure something. [laughs]

  • At the moment, we are encouraging dozens, if not hundreds, of different vertical experiments on 5G, but always test spectrum that’s good for maybe a couple years. Then if they found that 5G is really not the problem, we really need to have some fiber instead, then maybe it’s not a very good fit for 5G technology.

  • You have open spectrum?

  • We’ve been pushing for that in Germany, too, and it’s very, very difficult to get.

  • The tests need to be limited by geography.

  • I know. There’s interference problems. Because there was lots of spectrum opening up with the switch to digital TV and things, same here. Then we are auctioning everything off.

  • Yeah, and the telecoms are very keen to get it, of course, but we have said there should be some spaces for experimentation. Look at what Wi-Fi. We wouldn’t have that innovation, range of devices, and use cases, if we didn’t have an open spectrum that everybody could use.

  • At the end of the day, it’s good for telecoms as well. The experiments may fail, but at the end of the day, the telecoms are best equipped to scale out those innovations. They have to go back and talk to telecoms if they want to expand it everywhere.

  • You even have a good spectrum policy in-place. You got it. You got a really nice package. I would definitely look more into this. I’m actually thinking, if you don’t mind, is it possible for me also to use the transcript to send to people interested in Germany?

  • We relinquish the copyright. As soon as you’re done editing it, you just put it...

  • I saw you’re also using open licenses. What’s is it called, CC licenses?

  • CC0, actually, for our transcripts.

  • It would be a little bit difficult for you to check, because to reach more people in Germany, and especially people also in government, it might be worth translating it into German. I will talk with my colleague.

  • If they, after they look at it, think it’s interesting enough, whether we could translate it into German.

  • My interview with Julia Kloiber is available online and please feel free to translate it to German as well.

  • I think her magazine, if I remember, I think that was in English.

  • Yeah, but my part is open to translation.

  • You have an even more difficult change. German and English are more similar than English and Chinese. We always have this conversation in our organization about putting stuff out, whether in German or in English.

  • We have also a lot of international organizations, stakeholders interested in the work. We also want to, one of our core goals, really, is also to advance the conversation and in Berlin, and to reach certain communities. Even in Germany, there’s still a language barrier if you don’t have it.

  • Now, with technology and automated translation, I hope that we are just a couple of years away from having really, really good transcripts, even for, as you know, especially for our topics, where it gets very technical. The automated translation often still fails. It’s not good enough.

  • It’s already time-saving. It saves me at least 50 percent of time. I just need to correct a few words after automated translation. As I said, any improvement is a good improvement.

  • Have you been to Germany?

  • I lived in Germany for a year and few months when I was 10 years old, in Saarbrücken in Dudweiler. My dad was pursuing PhD in the Saarbrücken university. I stayed a year or so, and attending a primary school.

  • You speak some German?

  • (laughter)

  • If you translate, I am happy to read it aloud again.

  • (laughter)

  • I also wanted to invite you, you definitely have to come back. It has been so many years. If you are interested in coming, I would love to host you for a conversation with our community. I’ll definitely also talk to people in the environmental organizations and social innovation space.

  • There’s a lot of discussion in Germany around social innovation. I don’t know if Julia told you about this. I’ve been talking with her about this, too. There’s some discussion whether we should create something like NESTA in Germany, like an innovation agency, for social innovation, because Prototype Fund has some of that, but there’s obviously the question of whether you want to scale up something that you have, or whether we need something new. One of the problems in Germany is that we’re creating more and more and more things.

  • The challenge for it, it needs to be integrated, and it needs to have access to the government. If you have just a social innovation agency, and it’s not really integrated into government thinking and bureaucracy thinking, it will not reach its full impact.

  • I think you have a lot to say about these topics, and a lot of interesting examples also regarding the processes to give. If I can interest you to come to Germany, that would be really, really, really excellent. I also find it very important that people also learn that Chinese innovation, all these technologies, is more diverse than just what’s happening on the mainland.

  • There are other approaches on how to think about this. You have tons of great examples. I think that would be very stimulating for the conversation that we are currently having in Germany.

  • The cofounder of PDIS, of this office, Shu Yang Lin, as well as one of our main facilitator, Fang-Jui, they are both going to be based in the UK for most of this year. Fang-Jui is going to work closely with Dark Matter Labs, too.

  • They’re colleagues of yours from here that are going to UK?

  • You can also put me in touch with them. I can reach out.

  • It’s a shorter flight.

  • From London, it’s a shorter flight. If you, for other reasons, happen to come to Europe, and you want to add a stop-over in Berlin, please get in touch. It would be an honor for us to have you there, and to bring more of your experience and knowledge into the conversation in Germany.

  • Then I have a final request that my wife asked me. She asked me to take a picture with you.

  • OK, let’s take a picture.

  • She and I might use it for social media.