• Would you like to begin to introduce yourself, by sharing with us your first time visiting in Paris?

  • When I was very young, when I was 11, I lived in Saarland, and it’s very close to French borders. Actually, in our schools we taught German, and then French, and then English, in that order. So I traveled with my parents through Luxembourg to Paris, to these nearby regions; we see a lot of different cultures intermingling each other.

    Because my father’s research subject was on the Tiananmen student protest, we also ran into a lot of people who were exiles because they demonstrated in Beijing, so they were exiled from their home. They cannot return anymore. They were just university, college students. They studied law, the physics, or the soft sciences, sociology, so they were themselves very much still learning.

    I saw that people in the Saar-Lor-Lux region received them very friendly, and taught them what they need to know from the European values. We debated all the time how to democratize an oppressive regime, because obviously the massive protests did not work, so what would work? That has influenced me ever since.

  • In ’87 is decided to create a triple liaison connection. The first one in Japan. There was one in Paris and one in the States. I think it was in New York. So, there was a connection. Our student from Japan sent a picture that took a very long time to arrive. It was a picture that want take time to download.

    So in ’87, it took a lot of time. When they received that, they were just amazed. They said, "Oh my God. We received a picture from Japan through the computer, and we exchange it, and we sent it to United States, to the other school."

    When I saw that, I said, "Oh, that’s incredible." I said, "No, I want to live as far as I can to see that as something normal, something that [inaudible 4:07] ." In ’87, I thought that it will take 20-30 years before...

  • 20-30 years before it happened. It didn’t take that much time. Here we are in 2015, listening to what was the first time we saw the connection of those two computers. Do you remember, Audrey, the first time when you see the two computers get together and connect around the world?

  • Certainly. When I was in Germany, I already practiced computer programming. But at that time, the way for computers to talk to each other was limited to the academia, to universities, the early pioneers of the Internet.

    It was called the ARPANet at the very beginning. But when I come back to Taiwan in ’93, there was a revolution of personal computers with modems, so people could use this box to translates data into sound in telephone lines, so one computer can call to the telephone of another computer and they can talk to each other, but with just two computers at a time.

    Then, people runned programs called bulletin board systems on the computers, so that one computer calling can leave a message for another computer, who later called the same computer. It’s like a answering machine. But then it grew into like a shared whiteboard, where people can post notes and communicate to each other.

    There were a lot of bulletin board system communities, grassroots, in Taiwan, but we could not afford — because we were not a rich family — to dial internationally to join other countries’ telephone communities.

    So in ’94 when the World Web arrived and the telecoms in Taiwan democratized Internet access, everybody just paid a flat rate, and you can connect to any website, anywhere in the world for the same fee, without paying the international dialing fee.

    It’s three different stages. First in the universities, just a few people, researchers, can do that; then I experienced the impact at my own home to talk with my neighbors’ computers; then the third stage was with the entire world. But it was very quick. It was just one year, one year, and then one year.

  • You were a girl, a teenager — did your parents and understood that you were doing and understand the progress from one year from the other? They’ve seen the revolution going on, your parents?

  • Yes, actually the Beijing protest in 1989 was the first year of a color camera was paired with satellite connections and photofax machines, so people can get colored footage out. Because back then, people thought that photos had to be in films.

    The police did not understand that photos can go in the telephone lines also, because the engineers did not publish that fact until after the protest; it was a secret that only a few people in the news media knew about at that time. Both of my parents worked in journalism, in media, and they knew about this revolution that’s coming, that is going to redefine journalism forever.

    I think they understood the impact that this will do, but they did not fully appreciate that everybody will be a writer, will be a journalist, will be a blogger, that it’s not just them anymore. Most people working in the media at that time did not anticipate that everybody would become a journalist in just 10 years’ time.

  • You say that you had understand that at that point?

  • The informatic code is the law. It’s been too hard to talk about it, and citizens don’t usually talk about it. But it’s important that, though cyberspace is called unreal, it’s very real now. We need to put this under the control of civil powers, and not in the hand of a few actors who won’t be as goodwilling or full of goodness as we are.

    The public opinion versus the economical activity — that’s what Eric Schmidt was saying in the newspaper, he said the state couldn’t make it, but Google is the one able to do it. When we read it, it’s very scary.

  • The person from the universities in France mentioned that the code is law. It reminded me very much of everything about your teenage years.

  • Well when Lawrence Lessig, the law professor and the creator of the Creative Commons movement — where authors relinquish part of our copyright so that we can work with the world on creations together — when he coined the idea that code is law, he doesn’t literally mean law as in courtroom, or for judges, or the jurisdiction.

    It’s more like physical law. It’s like Newton’s law. It’s like Einstein’s law. It means that it defines what is possible and what is impossible. It’s not what is right, what is wrong; or what is moral, what is immoral. It just defines the possibilities of the interactions that we can do online.

    When I first learned programming when I was eight years old, I looked at programming language books, but I did not have a computer. So I used pen and paper to draw a computer to write my program, to simulate how a computer will go from the program that I compose, because computers are predictable.

    If you can understand how it works, you don’t need the actual hardware. It’s like logic in that way. So when I practiced coding as a child, I was really like practicing a musical instrument, that has logic as its notes — and the possibility of interactions as its melodies.

    Its melody is defining the kind of space, how much we can see — of other people, other computers, other ideas — with how much capacity, and what kind of actions we can do with it. Maybe we can “like” it. Maybe we can “subscribe” to it.

    Maybe we can “follow” it. Maybe we can curate it. Maybe we can annotate it. All these acts are like in physical spaces, and they are built with architects obeying the law that is the code, just like the laws of gravity that defines architects’ work when they build buildings.

  • You have been sharing this code, and to give it to everybody — all the citizens — so they can become their own architects. When do you realize the importance of this idea ?

  • When I was 12, I decided that I don’t want to be schooled anymore in the school system. I started to leave the school system when I was 13, and when I was 14 I discovered the Web. But before when I was 14, there were two years where I had access to the Internet and when I’m not satisfied with the education system. So I discovered this Gutenberg Project on the Internet.

    The Gutenberg project has been running for more than 20 years at a time. It is a lot of voluntary people from the civic society taking the public domain books that has expired, the copyright, which means they were all done before the first World War. They’re the classics from Freud, from Darwin, from all the thinkers around the turn of the century, also literature, also poetry, Shakespeare.

    They type all those printed books that’s out of copyright and put them free online for anybody, including this teenager, to read. That is the basic of my education. Without those selfless people sharing this kind of knowledge, it wouldn’t be possible for me to go out of the school system and begin an education of my own.

  • And then you gave all your knowledge of the code to other people. How did you make that accessible?

  • On the Internet, by default — that means without doing anything — any computer can talk to any computer. When somebody has a better idea, they don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. They can just make it happen on their computer. When a nearby computer sees it and wants to adopt the same protocol, again, they don’t have to ask for anybody’s permission.

    This is what we call anarchy — this is the fundamental virtue of the Internet, what the Internet people called the “Internet Invariants”, meaning that this property does not change. So it’s not that I did something extra to share my work.

    It’s just that I did not do anything to prevent other people from using my work. It’s just me promising: I will not waste my time suing you in the court. This is all I said.

  • Along the street were some houses and stores. They used to live here and do business, or it was their family. You can see the barriers over there, the green barrier. Inside this land is going to be sold to big companies or hotels that may do a financial center or a tourist industry here.

    But these things actually have nothing to do with the people who used to live here. They are gone, and they got nothing. They got sued, in addition. Here used to be space with memories and interpersonal relationships. Some people who used to live here were very old. This could be their final places. This could be their only place in their life.

    I think it’s too cruel, and it’s unreasonable. Most of the time we simply accept the information and the picture made by the mainstream media, and the mainstream media always stands with, let’s say, the government and the people with power. It still has a long time and a long way to go to tell everything to everybody. That is the whole thing we are trying to do.

    You may say that we are doing something that is unrelated to us, but actually not, because the future is ours. [laughs] If the future is not changed, then that will be our future. It’s a problem.

  • (Music "Because" from Fan Xiao-Xuan)

  • That’s the music you choose? No?

  • No, the one I chose was “Lux Aurumque”.

  • You’re very nice. You’re explaining very clearly. [laughs] I was so scared of everything.

  • Well I’m a professional mediator. It’s my job to talk like this. [laughs]

  • And you do it perfectly.

  • This is very nostalgic Taiwanese pop music.

  • Yeah, it’s nostalgic.

  • Had you imagined your idea would take that long to get into all the houses and stuff like that in Taiwan? I thought it would have taken much more time. One year, one year, one year just seems like...

  • Yeah, it’s very, very fast. I think that’s because Taiwan was the main manufacturing place of personal computers at that time. All those personal computers were made in Taiwan.

  • Yeah, because I don’t have the feeling it was like that in France.

  • (music over)

  • For people outside Taiwan, how would you explain the revolution of Sunflower movement to them ?

  • This music you just played, it’s pretty nice to hear that. It describes this idea that when people are in love, they could just idle there, do nothing, but they still feel like they’re in love. The are content with their life, with a satisfaction in harmony with the environment.

    This is actually a very popular sentiment in Taiwan, where in the recent years we’ve been promoting the cultural understanding that the kind of satisfaction — with artisan crafts and connection with local farmer’s markets and so-on, with services provided by your neighbors, with your neighbors, for your neighbors. This is a kind of economy that we’re building forward to.

    However, in March 2014, the administration was talking with China, and China tried to have Taiwan sign a trade service agreement that will allow a lot of cross-strait service providers. China gave very good conditions, meaning that Taiwan people were being lured by the idea of earning a lot of money.

    China was able to make lots of provinces become a larger base for the Taiwan service providers, in exchange for them to provide the same kind of service in Taiwan. This is, obviously, a diplomatic policy debate that you’re supposed to have, when we’re signing a trade agreement with another place.

    For example, when Taiwan sign such agreements with New Zealand, Australia, or Japan, the Parliament is supposed to parley, to talk, to debate about the good and the bad part of such agreements, before we sign an agreement. However, the administration had the argument that says that Parliament has no say in this matter, because constitutionally, China is a part of Taiwan.

    So because “China belongs to Taiwan” in the Taiwan constitution, such pacts would be considered a domestic issue. It’s like our national government signing a pact with a local government in Beijing. Because of that, the Parliament said, “OK, maybe we have no way of talking about this,” so they just did not debate about this.

    This is, of course, unacceptable to most of the Taiwan people, because they would like to have a discussion before signing anything like that.

    The Parliament, after having a series of public hearing where a lot of people — the doctors, the lawyers, the farmers —who went on and voiced their worries. The Parliament then said, “It’s not our duty to respond to any of these worries,” so they just passed the trade service agreement in 30 seconds. On that night, I was at the legislative building to support the protest that was on the street.

    I was providing the Internet access so that everybody in their home can see what is going on in the protest. But what I did not know, was why the young person who lended me a laptop for the broadcast would said that he is not going to use the laptop anymore — it turns out that’s because he’s going to break the doors of the Parliament, and climb over the walls, and occupy the Parliament.

    There were just about a hundred people who occupied Parliament at the time, and nobody was expecting it. Because we were already broadcasting the protest on the street, people in the g0v “Gov-Zero” movement supported with professional filming equipment that captured the entire progress of negotiating with the police, have an occupied space, which was pretty peaceful.

    So in the next day when the mainstream media tried to paint the occupiers as mobsters, as violent people, as gangsters— as mainstream media always do — we have the footage, both the real-time footage and the recorded footage, to prove that that was not what happened. They would stay in the Parliament for 22 days to demonstrate to the Parliament people how do we deliberate trade service agreement like that.

    Professional facilitators — mediators with specialties in deliberative democracy — demonstrated this kind of debate, both in the Parliament and on the streets around the Parliament. Half a million people participated on the street, seeing the image — the debates, the transcripts — in real time, translated to different languages on their phone and on their computers.

    After 22 days, the society had a rough consensus about this trade service agreement, and the government agreed. The head of the legislative body said, “OK, we have heard your consensus. We will not pass this trade agreement until we bring this consensus into national law.”

    Having reached the goal of the protest, people peacefully left the occupied building. And around the occupied legislative Parliament, there was nobody missing. There was no serious injuries. It was very peaceful.

  • When you say "we," you mean the technical team to work on Internet connectivity during these days?

  • Yes. When I say “we,” I mean the Gov Zero, the g0v. We are a movement, just like the Internet, that anybody can join. The only requirement is that you must allow other people to reuse your work. That’s it. Anybody can start any project. The translation, the transcripting, the logistics, the video live streaming, everything was done by volunteers using our own space for coordination.

    During the occupy, we were one of the three neutral roles. There was lawyers who protected the right to due process. There was doctors who protected the right to health. There was the Gov Zero people who protected the right of communication. These three are fundamental human rights, and so we protected the rights — for the police, for the protestors — for anybody who happens to be in the place.

  • The word “neutrality” is something very new, and it was not an issue in the origins of Internet. It was the normal result of the architecture that’s been created on Internet. It’s agnostic to the way you use it. From this original point of view, you had the freedom to create.

    This idea is something that’s worked very well, but it may face problems today. There are now questions to this value. Some of them are technical, but many are economical. If you want to make it simple, the question is: the Internet did not need much investment in the infrastructure of its networks. It was not very difficult to do it.

    In today’s Internet, you have to invest a lot user-by-user. So it’s smart, fancy, but the revenues created are also weighted against what we are able to finance.

  • About the occupation of 22 days in Taiwan, you emphasized on Internet neutrality. How would you explain that?

  • Certainly. The term Internet neutrality means three very important things, and they intertwine with each other. First, it means that anybody can talk to anybody. There’s no discrimination based on who you are. Second, it means that when anybody sends a message, it is carried verbatim — that is to say without alteration — to its intended recipient. It means that no tampering with the message.

    Third, if we can make some kind of use of Internet better, that is great, but this must not prevent unimagined new uses of the Internet. If the Internet is currently primarily good for a photo, we may want to make it faster for photo. But if people switch to video or to virtual reality, the current work we do to make photo faster must not prevent the videos or virtual reality from happening. Those three ideas are what we mean by neutrality.

  • Would you use the same tools to put online everything from anyone, any part, any ideas they have, give all their content? Would the people in Taiwan have done this for their government, even for an administration that you didn’t agree with?

  • I said the three virtues were: end-to-end, anybody-to-anybody; freedom from tampering and from censorship; and freedom to invent new uses. These all pertain to things that we voluntarily put on the Internet. The Internet is a way to talk to each other.

    It is not, however, a way for people to coerce, to force other people to talk. It’s not an interrogation tool. So just as it is a bad thing to prevent somebody access to the Internet, so it is also wrong to force somebody to reveal something private, that they don’t want other people to know on the Internet.

    The Internet guarantees the message’s integrity, but the integrity of each person is a moral choice that is outside the domain of neutrality of Internet as a medium.

  • Yes, we can come back to the legal definition. It’s like the definition of a lawmaker, so I will trust it, because you know what it is. [laughs]

    But we have also seen another kind of people who want to make this a space of insecurity, to use this space to upload illegal stuff and downloading them, and also hacks into systems to reveal private information. You mentioned it yourself.

  • The word "hacker," when it was first used in the 17th century, it means people who hack on the wood and to make tools using wood. They also make their own woodworking tools, and most of the woodworking tools and the furniture at that time were made of wood themselves.

    It took on the meaning of people who make their own tools. They work with the environment in relation with their tools, and they share their kind of relationship with tools, making it available just like furniture, buildings, or spaces for other people to use. As you can see from this metaphor, hacker could be an independent idea from the Internet. You can be a hacker in any discipline.

    So the way that I think about these things, is that when I see there is a new situation and old tools, both the engineering tools and the tool of thought — ideas — are outdated, when they no longer describe the world we live in, then it is time to invent new tools, new ideas so it fits better with the world that we’re living in.

    This is, for me, the spirit of hackers. Now, people can use this spirit to only break rules but without making new rules, or they do make new rules, but the new rules work worse than the rules that happened before. This is true for any innovators. The society as a large organ, should allow people to try different ways of doing things — but without harming, without hurting each other — and just “may the best idea win.”

    This is my view of how a society can be tolerant or even encouraging hackers, but there is no such thing as a hacker’s government. There is no such thing as an anarchist dictatorship. These are just oxymorons that are impossible.

  • I noticed that when you introduced yourself, that you were retired?

  • You’re not very old. Why do you call yourself retired?

  • Well, I did work professionally for 20 years. When I say I retired, I mean that my time is spent primarily in the third sector. That means I work with people who volunteer, who work with me, who can join or leave at any time.

    Still, we make important contributions as a civil society with relationship to the public sector, which are the governments, and the private sector, which are the large or small companies. It is fine.

    The three sectors must coexist in peace for this society to move forward. When I say I’m retired, I just mean that I moved from the first two sectors to dedicate my time to the third sector.

  • When you were working for 20 years, did that give you enough money to live without being a problem for you?

  • It is true that I work with some Silicon Valley companies and as an entrepreneur, but I’m not particularly rich. It’s just that I decided that my skills or my time is valued enough so that people are willing to let me live, somewhat comfortably perhaps, in exchange of my time.

    I still do consulting work. It’s not that I stopped working altogether. It’s just I only work on the things that are also of benefit to the civil society, that I can share my fruit of my labor with the public. It’s not like I stopped programming altogether, it’s just that I can be very, very picky about my clients, and I insist that they must share the fruit of labor with all other clients.

    I’m happy to do pro-bono work for people in the civil society who needed the work, but without the money to pay for it. That is to say: If you have money, then you pay with money. If you don’t, you can pay with your time, your attention, or any kind of organization skills you have, or just your goodwill. That works too.

  • But your knowledge may also enable big groups in the private sector. For instance, would you work with Facebook, or with Google?

  • The thing with open source, with giving my copyright away, is that I cannot control who use it. For example, I invented a way of making a spreadsheet faster over the Web. But when I was working on it, first I’m working on somebody else’s prior work. Second, I cannot control who will be the next person using my work.

    I was surprised, when one week later Uber took this code to make their dispatch faster. They did not have to ask for my permission — this is what we mean by collaboration. When I say that I’m picky, it doesn’t mean that I don’t share knowledge with these people.

    It means only that: When I work on a problem, I don’t have their primary interest in mind. I consider the factors, when I make creations, principally with the civic society in mind. But if people in the public or the private sector also find the ideas useful, as they often do, they’re welcome to take it. They are, after all, a part of society.

  • (Music: "Lux Aurumque" from Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir)

  • We are listening to the first Virtual Choir, curated by Eric Whitacre, the composer of this music, with 185 singers from 12 countries. These people did the recordings at their homes, wearing headphones, some people singing some parts, some singing other parts, and they were singing by looking at the conductor-composer himself in a silent film, who conducts everybody’s singing in an asynchronous way.

    What we mean by “asynchronous,” is that they were not actually singing at the same time. They were singing in their spare time. Some people sing a few sentences, go to work, then back to home to record another two sentences.

    They uploaded all their singing records to YouTube. And then Eric composed all these images, overlaid everybody’s voices on top of each other, and then formed a wall of everybody looking at their camera, singing together in perfect harmony.

    After this one, the next one is 2,000 people, followed by “3.0”, “4.0” — they sung a lot more songs, in a way like this. In his most recent work, Eric also gave the permission of using the master tracks of all the voice tracks, so people can remix and use this music, compose and overlay them on other songs.

    All this work are people contributing, sharing their time, to a commons on the Internet. It’s something everyone can draw from, can get inspiration from, and it’s something that’s bigger than any one of us.

  • So it is a grand movement, involving each and every participants, on the internet. Do you think this kind of collaboration gives us hope for the future?

  • I have a lot of hope, because I was also a conductor of this type of work, but with the government and the private sector. When Uber comes to Taiwan, they did not ask for anybody’s permission.

    Uber charged, initially, higher fees than taxis, so taxi people were okay with it. But then they also had UberX, which is private, non-professionally-licensed, without insurance protection for passengers, and they did not have to pay taxes, so they were able to offer at a lower price point than the taxis.

    They started in Taipei city, the city with most taxis already, so it interfered with taxi drivers’ livelihood, who also surrounded the Ministry of Transport, demanding governments to declare UberX illegal.

    There were no laws about Uber, because there were no such things before. The lawmakers had no idea of how to do with this. Sometimes, the Ministry of Transport says it’s a transport issue, but Uber says they are just a platform, so it’s an issue for Ministry of Economic Affairs. But the Ministry of Finance also had a different idea.

    Even within the government, there is no consensus of what this is about. So what we did, was that we crowdsourced — meaning we listened to thousands of people online, asking them “what do you feel about UberX?”

    We asked all the stakeholders — the Uber company, the Taxi companies, the Association of taxi drivers, and all the passengers. They were using this virtual space, which they say see with their own eyes, were do other people stand — where do their Twitter friends, their Facebook friends, stand on this matter.

    The algorithm paints those groups in a way that everybody can see in a very simple way, how their positions relate to each other’s positions, just by saying they agree or disagree with some of the positions.

    The result of this, is that after three weeks of deliberation, people who were very antagonistic, who initially hated each other, were able to deliberate on a space where they cannot hurt each other, forming a consensus where everybody can accept.

    Then we used these consensus to run a meeting, with all the stakeholders — Uber representatives, the Associations, the scholars, the Ministries — for two hours, using these consensus as our agenda. We then extracted promises from all the stakeholders, until we can reach a way forward.

    The same way was used for Airbnb. People from Airbnb said because the Uber deliberations were transparent and public and published as web transcripts, they saw all of them, they knew how we are doing it, so they participated in collaboration with the government before any boycotting or protesting happened.

    This is how policymaking should be like in the future. Now after the problems, but when innovations first occur. We can listen to everybody’s feelings, everybody’s ideas, until they convince each other to reach a rough consensus.

    The capacity of the social media, and the Internet as a space of mediation, gives me hope of its future.

  • (Music playing)

  • So at the end, what was the decision about Uber?

  • The consensus was that they had to pay taxes, they had to display prominently their registration, and that they had to provide the insurance statements. We also compared these concerns with other countries, who had similar contentions not only with Uber, but also with Airbnb.

    With Airbnb, we now have a finer agreement, but UberX did not yet meet these promises. Maybe in the future, with an experimental local city government — with a relative shortage of taxi supplies — their local independent drivers may be willing with work with UberTAXI on mutually agreeable terms.

    It might be more convenient, because in the rural cities were less served by taxis, it would also give existing taxi drivers a chance to reach more clients.

  • So Uber can also become a dispatch system for existing taxis?

  • Yes, that’s how it works in London.

  • Yeah, you have the mini cab and the black cab there.

  • At which time will you have the meeting of the night of ideas?

  • At midnight, with Blaise from Google.

  • (Music: "Bird on a wire", from Rosemary Standley and Dom de la Nena)

  • Thank you so much for spending the time with us. We look forward seeing you tonight at the Nuit des Idées.