• All right, let’s do this. I’ll just make sure this is going.

  • OK. Audrey, nice to meet you.

  • How are you doing this morning?

  • OK, excellent. Just to give you a little background on myself, so you’re not talking to a stranger, I was born and raised here. My name’s Alex Lewis. I was born and raised here, and lived here for 13 years. Then I moved to Seoul, Korea, and then Beijing, China.

  • My dad worked for the US foreign government. He joined when I was in fourth grade or something.

  • Foreign Service. Yeah, he worked in the trade office. I don’t know if you know him -- Mark Lewis -- he just left. One of the only black that worked in here, I guess. Anyway, he moved around a lot, so I moved around with him.

  • I went to Korea and then Beijing. I went to Boston for college. I got into asset management, didn’t like it. Then I moved back here to Chinese, and I’m working here at ICRT now. Here, I’m interviewing you. That is my background, just so you feel comfortable talking to me.

  • Today, I’m going to just talk to you just a little bit about yourself, 2019, what’s coming up for your role as the Digital Minister, and government as a role, and then just personally, what’s going on. Let’s start with a review of 2018. What happened during the year, and your thoughts on it?

  • In 2018, we passed the Social Innovation Action Plan, which is a four-year plan that’s for the first time highlighting the sustainable goals, the 17 global goals, as the motivating common goals for all the different sectors.

  • Previously, although Taiwan already has a National Sustainability Council, it is mostly top-down, meaning that the government decides what it commits to, what we are going to put in the voluntary national review, things like that. It’s very much a public sector thing.

  • With the Social Innovation Action Plan, we’re now calling all the, for example, the CSRs for publicly-listed companies, the USRs for academics for universities, the social enterprises, the social sector, as well as the private.

  • Putting their work together, and into a common index, so that we can shape a system of the social/environmental challenges that was previously caused by, for example, capital with unknown impact and unaware actors, to make them gradually more aware into that avoids harm, capital that benefited stakeholders, all the way to capital that contribute to solutions.

  • This is what we call social financing. This is a four-year action plan that gets much more resources from the various sectors, not just the public sector, but for the common good.

  • This is just implementing big data, in terms of just effecting change, right?

  • Right. Well, in the sustainable goals we talk about not exactly big data, but reliable data. Big data only means that it’s a lot, it flows quickly, there’s a large variety, and so on. The core issue we’re tackling is that, for example, in terms of air quality, there is various different actors.

  • There’s citizen scientists. There’s the Environmental Protection Agency. There’s various other people monitoring various parts of the air. The most important thing is for them to respect and trust each other, and mutually use those different micro sensors and so on to get a more holistic pictures of what air quality is like.

  • And to correlate the human interventions with the air quality, and so that everybody gets the idea of what the air quality is, instead of everybody looking at just one part of the picture. Reliable data, I think, is the main theme of the previous year, of 2018.

  • We use distributed ledgers, also known as blockchains, to make sure that people trust each other to not modify the numbers that each party produced. We encouraged effective partnerships by way of uploading, aggregating all these data into the common, what we call civil IoT infrastructure.

  • You can find it on ci.taiwan.gov.tw. It offers in internationally compatible formats the air quality, meteorological data, disaster recovery, earthquake detection and prevention, as well as water quality data.

  • We see a lot of people using machine learning and other new technologies to take a look at these numbers, and work alongside humans in what we call assistive intelligence, or AI, to work with people who detect water leakage, for example.

  • Save them time by saying, "Maybe today, you would like to first look at those three spots, because they’re most likely to have water leakage, based on the pressure data, and other flow data, and so on." This, of course, relies on big data, but the most important thing is the data is multi-sourced

  • Everybody can be a data producer, and that it is on an apparatus that enables mutual trust.

  • That’s awesome. Basically, you’re just building a foundation for that mutual trust in most sectors. Not just for air quality, it’s for everything. Water pressure, and also just anything else in terms of governance.

  • What would you say, what kind of data is the most beneficial for, I guess, your role, that you’re looking at? The data that you’re looking at in terms of, for this, it’s the air pollution readings and then the water pressure stuff.

  • For your role, just as Digital Minister, what kind of data if you look at, metadata and all that stuff?

  • First, I look at the national budget, as well as the city level budget. It’s not just me who look at it, but rather, we invite everybody to look at it through the join.gov.tw system. In 2018, we invited all the different ministries to upload all their KPI, all their spending, procurement, and so on into this shared platform.

  • By 2018, there’s around 1,300 national projects, each one maybe one-year, two-year, four-year, or up to nine years. Everybody can see in join.gov.tw what all the different ministries is up to, what are their priorities.

  • You can actually drill down into any particular ministry, so that you can see how it’s doing, and what kind of spending, what kind of procurement, what kind of research they’ve got, and so on. It’s not just read-only, but the data is what we call a social object.

  • Meaning that it converts these data into topics for discussion, so we can see that the people are most interested in talking about, for example, water sanitation, long-term care, social housing, and things like that. The responsible authorities actually goes here every quarter.

  • It’s like project management with public feedback.

  • Exactly, and everybody can ask questions. Every quarter, people go back to a public reply of what people’s questions...

  • What kind of questions do you usually get? Is it mostly just like, help me understand something, or just, this is my specific need that I want addressed?

  • Both kinds. The clarification, the inform side, because there’s a lot of jargon and a lot of specific terminologies that are not necessarily everybody’s common knowledge. We see a lot of just asking for clarification.

  • We are also seeing people sharing their authentic experience and feedbacks of how this public project is personally affecting them, and asking for a directional change, or at least something that can better fit their specific need.

  • That is also very much treasured. Of course, there is also just simple questions, like there’s a Kinmen Bridge, for example, that people see the accumulated spending is actually going downward, but the accumulated spending should not actually go downward. [laughs]

  • People went here, and asked what really is going on. People responsible for that particular construction actually went here and did a specific reply, explaining why the accumulated spending actually goes down.

  • The original question is very simple. It just asks, is the picture wrong or what? In a very not, the authography, while not very standard, everybody understand what it mean. Then the administration just replies that a vendor, for example, has defaulted on a lot of construction targets, and they canceled contract.

  • They have to find a new vendor, and so on, and so there is a temporary stage where they returned the procurement money, and so on. After explaining this once, they don’t have to respond to 40 phone calls, because everybody can just go to a search engine and see the explanation.

  • People who ask followup questions are actually asking based on this understanding, so they don’t have to repeat this answer over and over.

  • It seems to be really streamlining and just make work more efficient. Do you have any numbers, or I guess anecdotes that you can tell me, that just quantify?

  • In terms of numbers, the Join platform has now, I think, more than 5 million users, out of 23 million people in Taiwan. Almost a quarter of the netizens understand that they can petition for a good idea, for a new idea.

  • Like last year, we see the first fruit of our co-creation, the new tax filing system for Mac, Linux, and tablet systems that was co-created by petitions who thought that the tax filing experience of 2017 is "explosively hostile." [laughs]

  • Basically, they just invited everybody who complained to the kitchen, so to speak, and co-created a tax filing system. That’s the e-petition. Then all the regulatory announcements are put on the talk section and the budget on the supervise section.

  • As you can see, in all the three sections, there are literally hundreds of topics currently actively debating.

  • Wow, that’s very cool. In my research, I noticed that you practice troll hugging. Can you tell me a little bit about that, how you got into it, and how do you go about it? How do you approach a troll, how do you de-escalate the situations, and things like that?

  • I got into troll hugging because I was troll hugged [laughs] when I first participated in the online...

  • I was a troll, actually. Not necessarily intentionally, though, because my English wasn’t that good. When I first participated in IRC and other online communities, there’s some utterances that I just didn’t know what the right way to put it.

  • It may come across as rude, attention-seeking, or whatever. It’s not really intentionally. The Perl community is very well-known of being very, not just tolerant, but actually very inclusive of its members.

  • People gradually let me know that the parts that I authentically reveal about my experience, they care very much about, but the rhetorics, or whatever part that come across as rude or whatever, they just pretend that they didn’t see it. [laughs]

  • This is very much a Perl community thing. I was educated in that environment. Nowadays, when people just "summon" me by mentioning my name on PTT or on other online forums, basically I just reply as soon as I saw it, usually within 60 minutes.

  • I only respond to the parts, again, that are authentic, that they share their own experience. The reason why is that most trolls just want attention. When you feed the troll, so to speak, is when you reply only to the part that are provoking.

  • Then that kind of response tend to be transactional, because it doesn’t sustain long-term relationships. The trolls wakes up still feeling empty, and troll somebody else instead. Only be responding to the part that are authentic can I gradually draw out more authentic experience from the troll.

  • Then invite them to my Wednesday office hour in the Social Innovation Lab, so I can give them a physical hug. Then they become co-creators, essentially. All this troll hugging is basically to make transactional relationships based on emotions into more long-term relationships based on authentic experiences.

  • Don’t feed the trolling part, feed the person that’s talking to you.

  • That’s right. Feed the person inside the troll.

  • Very cool. What’s coming up for 2019?

  • First of all, around the end of 2018, we passed quite a few laws that we are going to implement in 2019. For example, there is this autonomous vehicle act. Taiwan is the first jurisdiction to pass the law that allows for autonomous driving, sea, air, and land vehicles.

  • Hybrid vehicles, so to speak. Every day, actually, in the Social Innovation Lab, I work with those autonomous driving vehicles. It is not science fiction for me. [laughs] They are just going around in the Social Innovation Lab literally every day.

  • This is how they look like. They are self-driving tricycles from...

  • They kind of look like carriages.

  • They do look like carriages. They’re very easy to tweak, because they’re open hardware and open source. We have a lot of college students that are just tweaking them. For example, the eye of the first iteration looked like a cyclops, and people don’t find it very natural.

  • Now, they have two eyes. The eyes can blink, they can make eye contact with you, and can use all sorts of different non-verbal expressions to signify its intent, and things like that.

  • What we’re doing is essentially making experiment fields -- what we call sandboxes -- so that the AIs can co-evolve with the humanity, and respond to actual social needs, instead of like a top-down way.

  • Coming in 2019, in addition to the Social Innovation Lab and so on, we’re going to have the [?] Charlotte Morris Green City Sun City in the Tainan, just outside the high speed rail station. You will see a lot of those autonomous vehicles.

  • It could be flying. It could be part of a boat that becomes a car, and so on. Doing simulations, contests, and experiments within the SGSC, the Sun City.

  • What’s the end goal of all of this work?

  • So that by the end of the year, we can actually put some of the autonomous vehicles to work.

  • The Regional Revitalization Plan, which is again, another very important thing coming this year, is to make sure that the people who are living in the regions that are suffering from a declining population or a not-healthy aging structure, and things like that, to rediscover the good livelihood and the DNA of their local identity.

  • Many of these regions told us that autonomous drone delivery is actually one of the key things that will change their life, because they don’t have to drive a lot to get, for example, medication, essential supplies, or things like that.

  • In these areas, we’re considering to apply the experimental autonomous vehicle act to make sure that they can be the first one to benefit from self-driving vehicles, by enabling a much better and on-demand supply system for them.

  • Of course, some of them, as you can see, are on remote islands. Maybe self-piloting ships will actually be able to solve many of their transportation issues.

  • It sounds like it’s really addressing inequality.

  • Very cool. Can you tell me about the non-binary ID cards, that push?

  • Sure. What we’re considering now is a new e-ID system that combines the two existing IDs, the National Identity Card, as well as the Citizen Digital Certificate. These two, once combined together, become what we call the "New eID".

  • There’s a lot of people with ARC or other ways of staying in Taiwan who didn’t know that the Citizen Digital Certificate, is actually not limited to people with the ROC identity. Actually, people with other passports who happen to stay here can also get a digital certificate.

  • Not many people know about this, so we’re going to make a concerted push to enable the foreign people know that they can actually also get an e-ID that are both good as an IC card, as well as an NFC card.

  • Meaning that it’s touch-based. You can access a lot of government services based on this new ID. The best thing is that when you get this new e-ID, the second digit is going to be a digit, not a letter. Currently, it’s AC-something, AD-something for you.

  • Now, it could be A8-something, A9-something. It will be much easier, for example, to get a railway card using the Chinese language. The traditional Chinese system of the current railway system only admits the second digit, and not the second letter.

  • As well as movie tickets, many other online services, that are currently making almost a discrimination based on the format of the national ID. That’s going to be changed this year.

  • Excellent. Where in that plan are we?

  • Basically, we’re confirmed that we’re going to revise the second digit into a number, and we’re confirmed that the foreign people will be able to use the same format of the digital certificate card.

  • All that remains is to actually settle on what to display on this card, what to put into this card, what to store in cloud-based systems, and so on. That is still being hashed out. I think the rolling out will be gradual, meaning that will be opt-in at first.

  • The all-pervasive rollout, I think it’s scheduled next year, actually. This year is mostly about pilots and experiments. Maybe you will see some pilot or experiment call for service design, call for beta testing, or things like that this year.

  • Feel free to join, but once we get everybody’s input, and settle on the final version of the layout and so on, then it will be rolled out next year.

  • Very cool. It said that you code a lot. You made your own coding language, or you contributed to one. Do you still code every day?

  • Oh, yeah, I still code every day.

  • At the Social Innovation Lab?

  • That’s right, and I also automate a lot of the chores that I face personally as Digital Minister, or along with our colleagues. Some of them find that it’s very time-consuming, for example, to order lunchboxes individually, to collect what people are going to eat before each meeting, and things like that.

  • There is also an online system that helps collect those lunchbox ordering orders. Everything that are chores for the public servants, we automate it using digital systems.

  • Is that just in your office, or do you open that up to everybody?

  • It’s an open app market. All the app that we wrote is on the Sandstorm app market. Everybody can use it, not just the public servant. If your email address ends in something.gov.tw, meaning that you are a Taiwanese public servant, then you can do to .ey.pdis.tw, and for free, get your own hosting account, and start setting up those apps.

  • That lets you coordinate, for example, the to-do lists, the online chat. Just think of it like the Google apps, Slack, or Trello of today’s productivity tools, but we have a free software equivalent that are hosted on cyber security-hardened infrastructure.

  • All the public servants feel free to use it. If you are not a public servant, you can still use it, but you can find your other hosting provider somewhere else.

  • Winding down, I just have a couple more questions. What are some social issues that are near and dear to you, and what steps do you take to help?

  • We already talked about our contribution to the water and ecosystem, air, climate change, and things like that. That’s more of the environmental part. I also care very much about the equality of education.

  • At the end of 2018, the legislation body passed the National Languages Act. To me, I think that that is a very, very positive sign, not only that we’re going to have a public television in Taiwanese Hoklo for the first time, in Tâigí for the first time.

  • It also says that in the education system, if the school and the children want to get educated in, for example, calculus with, for example, Hakka or Amis, and the education authority must provide sufficient resources so that they can learn about any subject in any Taiwanese languages, including the indigenous and various Taiwanese languages.

  • I think it is a very, very new thing. Previously, people think about those language acquisitions as specific to what we call 母語教學, the modern tongue education classes, so maybe a few hours every week.

  • This is saying no, if you want, you can get the entire basic education using whatever mother tongue you would like that. That calls for a lot of investment in the teaching resources, in the basic databases of indigenous and Taiwanese languages, as well as a lot of artificial intelligence.

  • Actually, we had an agreement with the Mozilla Common Voice Project, as well as other AI researchers, to make sure that people can record and contribute their spoken languages, their vocabularies, and things and form a language circle.

  • Using machine translation and so on to automatically translate, for example, between the six tonalities of the Taiwanese Hakka languages. I think AI, again, as an assistive intelligence will very much accelerate the pace of which that people can speak comfortably in their local tongue, and not be treated as merely a dialect or an accent, but a fully recognized language and culture.

  • That is awesome, OK. Very cool. I had a question, sorry. I feel like that maybe was under the radar, because the English as a second language thing has been a really big push, to make it bilingual and stuff.

  • That’s taken all the headlines in the news and stuff. What you just said, I wasn’t aware if. That’s very cool.

  • The bilingual thing, again, starts in the education system, because previously the kindergartens, the first grade, and second grade, it’s not the norm to be immersively taught in English, as well as English plus mother tongue.

  • That’s, by far, not the norm. This kind of immersive education, previously, there was a lot of regulations that blocks or discourage this kind of education. Most of the bilingual nation plan is just to relax those regulations.

  • We’re not going to a top-down way. We’re not saying that all the public service need to start writing in our English for our letters, for our regulations, and so on. This is purely a responsive strategy. For people who do not consider Mandarin as the mother tongue, or Mandarin for them is harder to access than English.

  • For these people, for the foreign people, I think whatever regulations and whatever parts of public that they use the most, we will bilingualize that first. We’re not just in a top-down way doing everything, because it would be actually not very productive.

  • The public service will actually resist that kind of move. What we’re saying is that we’re putting the people first, and the foreign people are, of course, now also considered a part of our citizens, as evidenced by the new e-ID platform.

  • Last question. What are your thoughts on the November 24th election, just what happened there, the referendums? Just your reflection on that.

  • I think tallying really need to be sped up. We suggest a lot of automated tallying machines and so for the CC to consider. If you work in the tallying booth, it’s very hard work. Some people actually stayed well until midnight to finish their tallying work.

  • If this continues for a few more times, I’m not sure that we can recruit sufficient people to serve as the election staff. We really need to make their life easier. When we make their life easier, of course, using service design and other methodologies, you will also make the queue shorter.

  • I think reducing the queue, as well as making the tallying faster, I think these are the two things going forward that we’re going to improve in the next election, because the user experience, it’s not "explosively hostile," [laughs] but it is somewhat hostile.

  • I think we need to associate democracy with a good feeling, and not a very long, waiting feeling.

  • Is there anything that I didn’t touch on that you want to talk about?

  • Thanks, Audrey. Appreciate it.