• When we see an internet of things

         let’s make it an internet of beings

  • When we see virtual reality

         let’s make it a shared reality

  • When we see machine learning

         let’s make it collaborative learning

  • When we see user experience

         let’s make it about human experience

  • And whenever we hear that a singularity is near

         let’s always remember, that plurality is here.

  • I love this poem, it is such a great summary of your values. What is it inspired by?

  • I wrote the poem when I was in New Zealand. I was attending a conference on open source and open society. I drew inspiration from the Maori people. Their chants link to the Taiwanese Austronesian people who sailed the seas four thousand years ago and spread their culture.

  • The indigenous nations of Taiwan are of a great inspiration to me. New tech enables all living beings to speak through data and numbers — people can empathize not just with other humans, but with the wider ecosystem with which our lives are deeply intertwined.

  • We are exploring different futures in this magazine. What is your most radical vision for the future of democracy and society?

  • My vision for the future is a plurality-based ecological democracy. But before reaching for that far future, I would like to say that we first need to solve for the near term. Like by year 2030, we need to use the resources on earth sustainably. We can’t burn through more than one earth year per earth year. This is very important.

  • As the minister in charge of social innovation, I want to make sure everybody knows about the importance of sustainability across all the sectors. We can list what every organisation in our society is doing in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals index.

  • That way people can discover each other, work towards common goals and form spontaneous partnerships. Partnership is how we’re going to reach those goals.

  • A plurality-based ecological democracy sounds great! Can you tell us a little about how you’re working towards this future. Are there any specific challenges to overcome?

  • Our main challenge is that we are a very new democracy. Although we have perhaps the most open and innovative society in all of Asia, our first presidential election was only 30 years ago. We’ve had to figure out democracy after three decades of military law and dictatorship. Democracy in Taiwan is as old as the World Wide Web.

  • People younger than me can’t remember the martial law—they think of things naturally in the collaborative way of open access. But people who are my age or older, who are digital and democracy migrants, have to reshape our thinking.

  • We have to reconcile a highly hierarchical authoritarian culture and language with of a reality that is a horizontal, people-powered democracy. We have to move beyond the authoritarian way.

  • This is the reason why social innovation is innovation with people, not for people.

  • Democracy in Taiwan is young, yet very vibrant. The challenge with hierarchical structures sounds very familiar—we can see that in governments around the world. How are you breaking the silos and paving the way for an innovation with the people?

  • My theory of change has three pillars:

  • 1. Location independence — I can choose when and where to work;

    2. Voluntary association — I don’t give or take orders;

    3. Radical transparency — I don’t touch state secrets and I publish full transcripts or videos of meetings on the internet.

  • Taken together, these tools are a kind of virtual reality that enable people to understand what it’s like to be a digital minister.

  • My office, which is part of the location independence plan, is a social innovation lab. We placed twelve different ministries into this shared workplace. It creates a social infrastructure that breaks silos, and that’s where new thoughts and ideas emerge. It’s a co-created social infrastructure with a cafe, a kitchen and a chef that opens until late every night. I sit there and listen to people every Wednesday for twelve hours.

  • This infrastructure and social fabric makes innovation not just possible but also fun. Optimize for fun!

  • That sounds like a very welcoming environment. 🙂

  • You’ve been working on many progressive deliberation and participation projects. What tools or methodologies are you using for the co-creation processes in your work with the social innovation lab? Is there anything you are particularly excited about?

  • At the moment, I am most excited about this idea of a sandbox. It allows innovators to test their suggested improvements for a law or regulation in a real place, like a playground, a municipal space, a rural space an indigenous space.

  • Once people have experienced social innovation first hand, they are much more likely to get involved. If the idea is not a good fit, everybody learns from the data sharing ideas and open innovation ethics. If it works, then there are new ethics and norms.

  • For example, how can the parameters of an AI be made more humane and privacy enhancing? We test and then turn those insights into our legislations. Then we don’t regulate something we don’t have first hand experience with. And we can collaborate with social innovators in a way to the benefit of the common good.

  • I know that you are an optimist – that is something that resonates in all of your answers. But is there anything you are worried about when you think of the future of democracy?

  • I would worry if people stopped visiting me during my office hours in social innovation lab. I would worry if I toured around Taiwan every week and the social innovators refused to talk to one another. I would worry if people distrusted the internet so much so that they would not be willing to participate in any communication, even if it had end-to-end encryption.

  • In short, I would worry if plurality disintegrated into small filter bubbles. I think that this is our main threat now. It is not a single person; it is not an ideology. It is just the lack of care—and the lack of being deeply listened to—that threatens plurality and the current democracy.

  • You’ve been working with indigenous language communities, you advocate for animal rights, you went through two different puberties – you say an overarching theme of your personal journey is intersectionality.

  • What do you think needs to happen to get more diverse groups involved in decision making processes? How can society benefit from intersectionality?

  • Intersectionality reminds us that we all have some part of us that is vulnerable, that has suffered from social injustice, and that is in the minority. Through these painful experiences, we can emerge with an authentic voice and listen to people who are suffering for a different reason yet feel the same pain.

  • When individual voices can represent themselves authentically, that helps us rethink our own experiences of vulnerability. As far as I know, empowering people who are suffering is the best way to to scale listening among disintegrating pluralities and to safeguard democracy.

  • Beautifully said! Here’s my last question:

  • When you think of the long term future, what topics do you perceive as important related to society? If you were free to choose, what would you be spending your time working on?

  • Well, I joined the cabinet to work with, and not for, the government, by my own choosing. So if given the choice again, I would still work on what I am now: Knowledge sharing and cooperation for access to science, technology and innovation.

  • Early open innovation can decolonise the technological regimes that people are currently using. It’s through open innovation that we can ensure public access to information and protect our fundamental freedoms— not just offline but also online and in mixed reality.

  • And it’s through open innovation that we can ensure responsive, inclusive and also representational decision making so that the government truly is with the people not for the people.