• Great. This is going to be an, I hope, an in depth interview in order to write a portrait. There are going to be some also anecdotal and maybe even personal questions.

  • Just so that it’s clear. You’re not frustrated with why am I talking about this.

  • For example, something like you just mentioned your daily rhythm, your routine. It’s also very interesting to understand who you are and how you are working. What did you do yesterday working until one o’clock?

  • I was invited to the keynote speech slot, which is not confirmed yet, of the international conference on functional programming, which is a branch of programming that does not take a…the jargon is imperative, but what it really means is that you order the computer to do a sequence of command.

  • Functional programming doesn’t do that. It doesn’t command the computer to do any particular thing, just describe the world to the computer as a set of functions. The computer figures out how to evaluate them. It’s a very different philosophy, if you will, of computer programming.

  • I attended previous ICFPs. I was on a program committee of its sub-conference, the commercial use of functional programming, a few years ago, so I have some ties to that academic community.

  • The program chair of this year wrote me saying that they realize, in the program committee, that I’m one of very few people, if not the only person, who both is a expert on functional programming and also on COVID response. These two has never been joined before in a talk.

  • They will like me to somehow figure out a way to connect those two threads together, which is not trivial, because they are almost incommensurable areas.

  • I wrote at 00:39 to the program chair saying that below is a very rough sketch of the intuition, and not the actual abstract.

  • I wrote the title could be “Referential Transparency for Pandemic Resilience.” The intuition is that we explore the Taiwan model of pandemic resilience as a viable alternative to imperative style measures, such as lockdowns and forced shutdown of businesses.

  • Instead of mandating a state of emergency, we in Taiwan focus on parallelizable, meaning it can be done in parallel, R0-reducing social scripts – R0 is the basic transmission rate – that can be applied in any order. Meaning that people can pick and apply from a wide recipe, rather than a single set of instructions.

  • This minimize the side effects on constitutional democracy and maximize compositionality of collective intelligence, meaning that people’s idea more readily work together, rather than work against each other.

  • This is a very brief sketch, but it does quote this core idea of functional programming for referential transparency and the core idea of that big analogy for pandemic resilience in the same canvas, so to speak.

  • We’re still developing that idea. That’s what I worked this midnight.

  • That sounds impressive. Do you have it on your laptop, here?

  • When is this supposed to happen, this conference? I guess it’s online, right?

  • Usually it’s late August in New York City, or near to New York City, but knowing New York City it would probably become a virtual event. We’ll see.

  • I’m a bit surprised, I have to say. Yesterday, of course, was a big day for you as part of the government.

  • Really? What happened yesterday, again? [laughs]

  • You’re telling me how you write the conference abstract. This is quite interesting and quite telling about the way you work.

  • Maybe you can tell me your whole day yesterday…

  • Not just spent the night.

  • …so I get an idea of how you spend your time and what are your priorities.

  • At the morning I went to the Presidential inauguration ceremony. Nothing special there. I sang along, not very audibly, with the singers, the National Choir, the experimental choir.

  • They sang, first, a indigenous song, and then a Hakka, and one in Taiwanese Holo. I happen to know some of those songs, and I really enjoy singing with them.

  • One of them described that she’s standing on top, like the second floor, looking at the audience. She noticed I was singing along, observed that on Facebook, and said that whether describing this would be possible to summon me. This is the person here, singer.

  • I said that, “Yes, I was singing along, and you did very well.” People went quite happy with the response. She asked if I can add her as a Facebook friend, so I add her as a Facebook friend. Some networking there.

  • (laughter)

  • That’s the inauguration ceremony.

  • You were singing along with her?

  • With the whole choir.

  • Also the indigenous one?

  • Yeah, also the indigenous. I’ve heard of the indigenous one before. I don’t know the verse by heart, but I have this habit of following whatever people are singing. I can, within 100 milliseconds or so, catch up to what they’re singing, so I can sing in a supporting role, but not the leading role, when there’s a choir going.

  • I was in the choir when I was young.

  • There are 14 officially recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan?

  • And many more languages.

  • And many more languages? Which language was it, even?

  • It is actually very interesting, because it’s called “Bulai naniyam kalalumayan”, meaining beautiful grains of rice. It’s one of the more famous indigenous songs by the singer BaLiwakes. It is that language. It’s in Pinuyumayan language.

  • Let’s see if I remember that line, because it’s important to get it right. Yes, it is in Pinuyumayan language in 1958.

  • He created this song because at that time many indigenous soldiers were in the small battle, well not really small, of August 23rd that year. The PRC PLA attacked Kinmen, and trying to take over Kinmen.

  • This is, so-called, the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. Because of that, many soldiers were on the frontline, and the people in the village was very worried about them.

  • BaLiwakes wrote this song to calm the villagers. To describe how the harvest was really good, and once the battle was over you can go back to your indigenous lands, enjoy the beautiful harvest, and so on.

  • This is a harvest song with, I would say, battle and war backdrop to it, which is very appropriate for the inauguration ceremony. That’s the idea.

  • Very interesting. I’m telling myself I don’t have to take notes because you’re going to publish everything anyway.

  • That’s right. A transcript is going to be made.

  • That’s cool. That’s very practical.

  • It frees your imagination. [laughs]

  • Very practical for me, and I can more easily listen to you. You speak very quickly, lots of ideas coming out.

  • I speak so quickly precisely because I know there’s multiple recorders going on. If needed, you can always play it back slowly, and the person making the transcription, thank you very much, by the way…

  • (laughter)

  • …will help us figure out the nuances.

  • After the inauguration ceremony, I swore in to a portrait of young Sun Yat-sen, along with the vice premier and pretty much everybody else in the cabinet, and so that took some time. At 1:00 PM, I was back here. I talked to people in the ministry of economy affairs about economy revitalization plans.

  • At 3:00 PM, we had a temporary cabinet meeting, which the entire point is to listen to the premier’s thought about the next few years, and his directions. He emphasized that we need to not be only effective or efficient, but also warm, meaning that the credit should go to the frontline workers.

  • We even changed the national regulation for that, so that when a major public infrastructure opens, we need to invite the people who actually worked on it to be honored, instead of their bosses’ bosses.

  • It falls to the cabinet members and the leadership to assume great risk and blame, but it falls to the frontline workers to get credit, basically. That is the philosophy that he outlined last afternoon. We took a photo together, and that’s that, and then I went back to the dorm where I live along with many other cabinet members and had two very long interviews.

  • One is with Tricia De Bosch Graaf, for someone in the UK with a very interesting, deep ecological view on democratic participation, and so we talked for an hour from that angle, and then it’s one hour and a half with the Taichung City’s team.

  • They want to develop, not a smart city, but smart citizens. Which is of course a good thing to do, and so we talked for an hour and a half on how to navigate the political culture to facilitate this kind of structure across the silos, across the existing budget and procurement acts, how to access them, so to speak.

  • Because the municipality of course has its own internal politics, so what I did was, I put a recorder, like this in a video conference, and so it records only my point of speech. It records no speech from their side.

  • I paraphrase their sometime quite revealing questions into more generalized questions, and answer those questions. My part remains completely transparent, but they can freely speak their mind. Like with our interview, my answer wouldn’t make sense without the questions, so we co-edit and publish the entirety.

  • Sometimes, people in the public service, which is not subject to the visitation protocol, want this kind of one-sided transparency because I always answer in the general, but they want to ask in very specific and of course they wouldn’t want to hurt their internal morale like this, so that’s the kind of compromise we make.

  • That’s that, and then I went, start replying to emails and just look at social media a little bit. Let’s look at my social media activities from last evening.

  • How much time do you spend on social media every day?

  • Do you have a more or less fixed time slot?

  • Yeah. I work for 25 hours…Sorry, 25 minutes…

  • 24 hours a day. Literally 25 hours yesterday, because it was one in the morning. The day ends on the 25th hour.

  • 25 minutes’ time is called Pomodoro method, and I take a 5-minute break between the two half-hour slots for social media and work, just catching up.

  • Usually, I take maybe three Pomodoros’ worth of five minutes’ time for social media, so that’s that.

  • Sorry, your time structure is, basically you work 25 minutes, then 5 minutes break, 25 minutes?

  • Why 25 minutes? I know many people, they say like 45 minutes, an hour, or something?

  • I do 24 minutes, too.

  • Yeah, it’s flexible.

  • (laughter)

  • Very flexible. Anywhere between 24 and 25 minutes, and so like the whole 60 seconds of flexibility.

  • It’s easier because I internalized that work clock rhythm, so I don’t even have to check the clock.

  • My gut feeling tells me that we’re about like the 20th minute in this session, so then after 5 minutes, of course we’re still in the interview, but I’ll just vary a little bit. That’s just the internal rhythm that I’m used to for the past 10 years or so.

  • That means if you’re right, and I’m not going to tell you now, we might have another coffee in five minutes or so?

  • Sure, of course. Why not?

  • Good. There are many things you already mentioned just in this one answer, basically. I want to come back to many topics, and of course I want to talk about COVID-19. Of course I want to talk about transparency. I want to talk about smart cities, smart citizens, many things like that.

  • Just to keep some structure and order maybe, just one thing that you said in the very beginning about yesterday struck my mind. You said, “Oh, it was nothing special there.” Of course President Tsai Ing-wen said yesterday, it was, I think she said in her speech, the most special inauguration in the history of the Republic of China.

  • I remember that, yes. [laughs]

  • Yeah, you’re right, because of the special COVID-19 situation and all that. Are you just, basically, how do we say, being very cool, doing an understatement, or is this really what you think?

  • No, there’s nothing ironic about it.

  • Nothing ironic about it.

  • There’s nothing ironic about it. Nothing special there means both that there’s no surprises, meaning that it went very smoothly.

  • There are some very cute designs, such as, the presidential gift box is a hand spray, and a Taiwan-shaped soap, and a towel, and also a wet napkin and so on, a hand sanitation kit. That’s a presidential gift. It’s very creative, now I think about it, but then again, it’s what I would expect, also. [laughs]

  • This entire thing is very epidemiologically informed, and so because I’ve been working with the CECC for the past few months, this is just their modus operandi, so I’m not very surprised.

  • I’m not at all surprised of all the measures they’re taking, and the fact that even though after sitting down, we’re all one meters apart and it’s an outdoor place, so theoretically we do not have to wear a mask, I’m not surprised that everybody kept their mask on until when the president is about to show up, the staff tells us to remove the mask.

  • Again, this is normal. This is what Taiwanese people do. Even though the CECC says keep social distance or wear a mask, everybody keeps social distance and wear a mask.

  • That’s a very interesting aspect. Just one minor aspect, but very interesting. Why is that, actually? Why is that, according to you?

  • I think that the mask, especially medical mask in Taiwan is billed as something that protects you, that protects the person who wear it because, A, it reminds you not to touch your mouth, and B, it reminds you to wash your hands properly, which pretty much everybody do nowadays.

  • We know that this benefit is just a small part of its true effect, which is protecting other people from you, which is a sign of respect or whatever.

  • In Taiwan, the peer pressure works such that if you’re in a large gathering for like maybe 50 people, and only 5 people wear a facial mask, the design of it, primarily selfish branding, allows those 5 people to remind the other 45 to protect their own health, which is easier to sell if you’re a minority.

  • The peer pressure works even if there’s only a small amount of population wearing a mask in a public gathering, because everybody can take care of each other’s health by reminding them to protect themselves wearing this PPE. Once a sufficient people do their bit, of course they protect each other.

  • I think this is, in Taiwan, a much more interesting way of building a mask-wearing culture because it will appeal to the altruistic part of the motivation that usually only works if already more than half people…Like a majority of people in a room start wearing a mask, then of course you can say the minority is not being altruistic enough and do more pressure.

  • We don’t usually do that. [laughs] We do appeal to a selfish interest by design, and so that allows even a small number of people to influence a large amount of people.

  • How do you mean by design? You said something like about the special design of Taiwanese masks? What do you mean?

  • No, I mean public communication.

  • From the very beginning, the premier said, “Don’t panic. Wash your hands. Wear a mask,” and so on. All the public communication that we push out doesn’t say that, “This is a sign of respect. This is a sign of solidarity, collectivist, Confucian,” whatever. We don’t say that.

  • We say, “It’s for you.” It reminds you to wash your hands well.

  • That’s very interesting, but then when I speak with Taiwanese people, they say just what you mention, like, “Oh, this is a sign, we are Asians. We care about the collective. Europeans are so individualistic. You don’t mind. You don’t care.”

  • If you pit Taiwanese people with random culture that doesn’t have a mask-wearing culture, then of course people will say, “Oh, they don’t care about each other’s health.” Yes, they do that, too.

  • I felt that a lot, and maybe it’s true, right?

  • I don’t know. I think mostly this is just a availability thing. Like in Czech Republic, they do a very public mask for all campaign, and literally changed the norm over the course of a week. They do that by showing how to sew their own mask, and how to fold and make their own mask.

  • It doesn’t really quite matter whether there’s a norm to begin with. It does matter whether this norm-building is conscious, or intentional or not, because otherwise, the incentives cancel each other out. If you do something out of intrinsic motivation and there is a intrinsic order or reward, they tend to cancel each other.

  • That’s what happened in many European countries. In the beginning, they were very reluctant. They said you don’t have to wear a mask. It’s even better not to wear one. There might be false incentives and all that. Basically I think it was because they didn’t have masks, and then later on, we all saw them adopting…

  • It’s trivial to make one. Even before we ramped up the production, I just use usual mask that are not medical grade, and which has a breathing hole, a small filter, and these are plenty. Even in Europe, you can get this one quite easily.

  • Probably they were even struggling for those ones, but OK.

  • No, you can make those ones quite easily, as the Czech people show.

  • Yeah, and other countries did that too. My newspaper ran a big story as well, like how to make your own mask.

  • Of course nothing beats soap, and everything we just talked about builds upon the foundation of the core technology that is soap.

  • Absolutely. First break, or if you want to.

  • No, I’m already taken care of. [laughs]

  • Sorry, does that mean, am I boring you? [laughs]

  • Are you bored yourself?

  • You want another coffee now?

  • Yeah, why not? Yeah, just, thank you very much.

  • (background conversations)

  • …environment, if you could just quickly show me around your office. It’s small, and show me the…

  • This is not my usual office. Usually, I work in the Social Innovation Lab.

  • I know. I was surprised you actually…

  • (background conversations)

  • This is for the two political staff, and the rest of them are for career public service.

  • Right, within service.

  • I’m just going to write that down for my notes. That might be important later in the interview. You said Ministry of Justice?

  • Right. Let me repeat. In the office, we can see that, in addition to the two seats of my executive secretaries who are also a fellow occupier, in charge of social innovation issues, and Zach Huang, who is our political and press officer.

  • The other members of this small office are delegates from various different ministries. We have in the front door counter-clockwise, Joel from the Foreign Service and Bin-Bin from the Ministry of Interior. Then Yu-Chi from the Ministry of Justice.

  • In this larger room, Ye-Ning from the National Communication Commission. It’s also a coworking space from other delegates who part-time here, including delegates from the Ministry of Culture, and the National Development Council, and the Ministry of Education.

  • These are the current delegates to this office. There is about equal number of professional designers and technologists, but they are in the third floor.

  • In total, how many people? OK, 21 people.

  • Yeah. Permanent staff. Every year, we hire 30 interns, usually graduate level designers, and technologists, and culture managers. We temporarily have a staff of 50 for a couple of months.

  • Wow, so many. Why so many interns?

  • Because they work on whatever government service they want to improve experience. For example, this year it’s the hiking year. Last year…

  • Yeah, right. Mountaineering for tourism. Anyway… [laughs]

  • Why not? Because of the…

  • Because of that we that we open up and simplified the application flow specifically for foreign people who are in Taiwan for the first time to climb the higher mountains. They probably are watching a virtual reality film or something.

  • We did do that, too. I guess it really makes sense for the young people to look at the application for mountaineering process and wonder why I have to go to four websites for that. They designed a single-entry workflow and we work with the technologists to really make it happen without taking down any particular ministry’s website. We just do the single entry point that can navigate much more easily.

  • With 30 interns, we usually group them into three-people teams that do season surveys, and journey, and design, and things like this. On average, every year, we can make maybe 10 government services much more human-centric and share the know-how as example so that other municipalities and sections can do it by their own.

  • Wow, interesting. Give me some examples of what kind of government services in the last year you made more human-centric with this method?

  • Sure. As I mentioned, of course, the hiking portal. There is also the National Palace Museum experience of ticketing, of all things, because it turns out that many people still want the paper ticket for memory value. Even though they did QR-code-based ticketing system for a very long time, it’s not very popular.

  • The young people helped finding an alternative design where the elderly still use the QR code. It’s not like they don’t know how to use the QR code. It’s not like they don’t know how to use a QR code. Most of them do because of the widespread use of the Line system. They swipe a QR code, avoid queuing. The elderly doesn’t like queuing anyway.

  • Once they get into the Palace Museum, they can redeem using the QR code a receipt that is finely printed and even customized by putting their names on it or something. That solves the queuing problem because they do get a piece of paper that they can take home and share it as a social object. Of course, it’s not just that, but a part of it.

  • People also work with the Minister of Finance on the taxpaying, everybody’s favorite experience that they do. [laughs] Based on their research, starting this May and ongoing, as we speak, you can take your citizen’s digital certificate or your National Health Insurance card to the local convenience store, which is nearby – and I can say that anywhere it Taiwan…

  • (laughter)

  • …and swipe your card. If your personal income tax is less than 20k NT$, then you take that receipt to the counter of the convenience store and pay your tax, and that’s done. If it’s above that range, you get a piece of paper with two numbers on it.

  • You enter those two numbers into your phone, and the phone can walk you through the tax-filing process. Again, you can pay through credit card or whatever online payment system. You don’t need a card-reader because the kiosk does that for you. You don’t need a special counter because convenience stores are everywhere.

  • It really changed how people perceive the tax-filing system. Previously, people would not be able to use their mobile phone. They would instead go to the counter of the tax bureau, which during this coronavirus, we don’t want too many people to line up.

  • Even previous that that, in 2006, people would have to first borrow a Windows computer and download some software. What I’m trying to get at is that we design the services to respond to real citizen needs. When a citizen said, “I would much rather if I could just go to a convenience store,” we just make it happen. That’s another well-used service.

  • I can go on, but you can read all about it in our RAY, Rescue Action by Youth, website, which is ray.pdis

  • I think you started by allowing tax filing with Mac computers as well, right?

  • Not me, a designer who sign started a e-petition saying tax-filing is explosively hostile and carried on the design by himself. We did a few collaboration meetings, but the original design came from the designers and bloggers that participated in the live-streamed meetings with a lot of input from people watching the live stream.

  • Cho Chih-Yuan did most of the work along with our designer, Fang-Jui Chang. I didn’t do anything really. I just made a space.

  • You’re saying 21 staff in total? Is that your staff? Because I’ve talked to some people..

  • No, they do what they want.

  • Of course. As an anarchist, you don’t want to say…

  • I don’t give orders.

  • I know, but you have a budget, right? You have, in this budget…

  • No, they have a budget. I don’t have it.

  • You have no budget at all?

  • No. Even my travel budget is sponsored by the Foreign Service. Each delegate brings their own budget. Some of them, like the Foreign Service delegate, is a section chief-level. The National Communication Commission delegate was, and still is, a director general.

  • Each of them has their own budget, and their salary is still being paid by their originating ministries. What I’m doing is essentially coaching them to work out loud. I don’t have a budget, and I don’t give them commands.

  • Absolute, but still you have people who have more practical technology, people you’re saying…

  • The interns, their salaries are paid by the Ministry of Education. [laughs] The Board of Science and Technology also sponsors the Presidential Hackathon and some of us are running it. The Ministry of Economy sponsors the Social Innovation Action Plan, which contains most of the staff in the Social Innovation Lab, which are not the permanent staff of this office, but rather its own NPO, the Taiwan Digital Culture Association.

  • It’s not your traditional HR system.

  • I’ve talked to some people in preparation for this. Those who are more critical – everybody likes you, that’s very obvious…

  • If they criticize me, they care about me.

  • Those who are more critical about rather not you as a person but your role, they say…

  • I don’t have a role. [laughs]

  • I don’t do role-playing. Maybe D&D, but not in this ministerial position. I said very clear that I am just facilitating communication across various different positions. Each ministry has its own value, its own position. What I’m doing is essentially applied philosophy to find common values out of different values. Of course, there are people who prefer me doing things that are not applied philosophy.

  • Like those people. They are basically like, “But it’s still politics. She’s on the government. She doesn’t really have a budget. She doesn’t really have staff. That’s what you need if you really want to change things.” Of course, you don’t agree.

  • I agree. I don’t change things.

  • You don’t change things?

  • Yeah. Most people change things. I said very explicitly that Cho Chih-Yuan came up with the tax-filing system redesign. Those interns, I wouldn’t say perfected, but drew down to the details and improved it. The mask-pharmacy map is a design by Howard Wu, and it’s refined by the National Health interns folks and developers in the g0v community.

  • These are very active people. During the mask pharmacy map, there’s easily hundreds of civic hackers and hundreds of govtech hackers working together. I personally didn’t do anything.

  • Of course, but you’re here for something. You have a reason?

  • Yeah, I’m here for fun.

  • Even if you say you don’t change things – maybe I’m not precise enough – you want to change the culture, right?

  • No, I’m just enjoying myself. If people enjoy working on public issues more, it’s not because I tell them. They look at me and they see that it’s so much fun to be had, and so this is by osmosis. That’s the work. I’m not, strictly saying, a change-maker. It is more like a culture osmosis, radiation, amplification channel.

  • Of course, on that part, maybe it’s better if I don’t have a budget. If I have a budget, I’ll be limited by that budget because with a budget, comes the KPI. Then I’ll be constrained by the yearly KPIs that those budgets are associated with.

  • I want to go back to one thing you mentioned here at this meeting yesterday, about digital development I think you said.

  • With Taichung City?

  • The peak ecology thing, the interview on culture with the person in London? Or even before, the Minister of Economy?

  • The ministry meeting, the Ministry of Economy.

  • They visited to prepare for the 10:00 AM meeting today, which is economy revitalization plans, how people can participate, and how we can work on a cross-sectoral plan, [snaps] to put it nicely, to incentivize people to consume more, to make more use of their purchasing powers, responsibly and sustainable I must stress, during the recovery month of July and August.

  • Honestly speaking, there’s only part of the economy that need to be recovered because Taiwan did not have a lockdown. Our strategy is quite different from other jurisdictions which is suffering from a negative growth across all sectors.

  • What is your role exactly in that kind of meeting?

  • Did they come to you? Why? What do they want to have from you?

  • They have sometimes conflicting values. For example, yesterday the main contention was whether to require people to pre-decide the kind of mobile or electronic payment and reimbursement methods a month ahead of the actual plan kicks in, or whether people do whatever they want, and regain the benefits.

  • The first choice privileges digital payment systems more than paper-based ones, and also has a very interesting ranking, like which option do we show first.

  • The second option prioritizes flexibility, but it will lead to more use of paper-based payment systems, and that’s it. They’re here to bring in advocates for both sides for me to listen. Then I say whatever comes to my mind.

  • What did you suggest yesterday?

  • I said if you want to prioritize paper-based things and flexibility is of utmost importance, it makes more sense to have a map of sorts, just like the mask pharmacy stock map.

  • If people find out their nearby convenience store doesn’t have those papers in stock, maybe they just switch to digital payment on the spot instead of waiting for another day for those paper-based things to arrive to their nearby convenience store.

  • If you want to encourage more use of paper-based payments, it makes sense for the digital to be the flexible back-up instead of fixing them one month before. If you want to prioritize digital, which means that they can spend first and collect the benefits later, then it makes sense to have a single portal a month before.

  • It all depends on your sense of fairness, how it apply. The digital is a back-up for people who cannot get a paper the day want. Or the other way around, people use paper if they don’t prefer digital payment. I just listed the implicit values behind their choices. Then they’ll make their own choice.

  • That doesn’t sound necessarily like what you would imagine if somebody thinks of you as a digital minister.

  • I’m a lower-case minister.

  • I’m a lower-case minister.

  • I preach, I advocate for digital transformation. If you go to your local minister, I mean in a Catholic sense, [laughs] that’s exactly what you would expect them to do, to listen to your confession – sorry, maybe not confessions – [laughs] to whatever you’re thinking about and gives them sage advice.

  • You’re a lower-case minister. Still then, normally, you would preach something, which would, in this case as digital minister, I would suspect would be, “Hey guys, we should use this occasion to push for a digital payment system.”

  • No, I don’t have a agenda, and digital is here to serve the social norm, to help us find the social norm, discover the social norm. If the norm is that people in the National Palace Museum queues really want a piece of paper for memory value, for souvenir value, then digital should make that happen.

  • I’m not the information technology minister, which would be advocating for specific technologies. Digital means possibilities, inclusion, and things like that. I would probably say whatever on my mind and use digital technologies to further the social norms.

  • That’s very interesting. I think the way many governments and also experts understand digital and digitalization is basically to put everything on the Internet and computers…

  • That’s a very dangerous view.

  • First of all, having a digital twin doesn’t mean that you murder or eradicate the analog one. The digital twin only means that you can reason about what’s going on in the society, but it doesn’t replace the society. Otherwise, you get into the realm of simulacra, and we all know how that goes.

  • I think it’s important to say that we’re bringing digital to the people, amplifying whatever they’re doing, but we’re not replacing face-to-face communication. We’re augmenting but not substituting most of the human communications and so on.

  • Of course, people are feeling the constraints of space and time, and there are some digital technologies that can help bridging those constraints. It doesn’t mean that the original is somehow less cherished or less effective. Rather, it’s even more effective. This is at the core of the smart cities, smart citizens distinction.

  • That’s very interesting. I guess you don’t like the term smart city at all, right?

  • If the smart city can enable smarter citizens, then go for it. If the smart city makes dumb citizens, then not the same.

  • Maybe we can forget my structure and continue with the flow of the conversation.

  • Still, like the smart city, this label is very much used in Taiwan as well, for example, right?

  • The actual word that’s being used is wise city.

  • Wise city in Chinese? How do you say that in Chinese?

  • Is that different from the smart city?

  • It’s really different.

  • It’s really different?

  • Yeah. If we want to say smart, we would say 聰明, which is individual brilliance and individual intelligence. When we say 智慧, it always means wisdom. It basically says that you can work with the social norm, have a good emotional resilience, and things like that. It’s a different concept.

  • Usually, the translation for smart city in Chinese…

  • …is the wise city. That’s very interesting.

  • In Taiwan. It’s not like that in the other Mandarin-speaking jurisdictions.

  • Do you know how they say it in China in Chinese.

  • Let’s see, consult the computer, which always has the perfect answer, I’m sure.

  • For artificial intelligence, they say 人工智能. The 智能 part is intelligence. It’s still more encompassing than just 聰明. Here, we say 智慧, which is wisdom. I think in smart city, the people in PRC also say wisdom. I just checked.

  • Is this concept really very much different in practice as well from the Western concept of smart city?

  • Yeah, I think a few things. First of all, if you concentrate on wisdom, then interpersonal mechanism designed for participation, I think is right term, is preferred over a individual interaction with digital services. It would be digital services that enable the kind of social structure that are more pro-social.

  • That we do share with the PRC. That’s the same concept. What’s different is that we emphasize participatory mechanism design, meaning that everybody can change the rules a little bit and propose new innovations as ordinary citizens. Whereas in PRC, there’s less of that. There’s places where we’re similar and places where we are not.

  • I was more talking to you about the difference between the Taiwanese concept of the wise city versus the Western concept of smart cities, which are often just technology-driven cities.

  • I’m sure you may have heard of my job description, which is the comparison table. “When we see 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. Whenever anyone tells us the singularity is near, let us remember that plurality is here.” This is the left-right column of this Western…I don’t think it’s Western, a mechanistic smart city versus the city of wisdom.

  • I’ll get a drink.

  • Yeah. Do you have a cup of water maybe?

  • Oh, I see. You have the…

  • I know they came in last year.

  • (background conversation)

  • (background sounds only)

  • Just Mondays and Thursdays.

  • Because you have meetings?

  • And not even the whole day. Thursday till noon.

  • (background noise)

  • Because you had meetings with Doug Atsel.

  • That’s Monday. Thursday is the cabinet meeting, so I’m still attending the cabinet meeting. That’s the same morning. In the afternoon, I will go to weekly meeting of the Board of Science and Technology, which is another regular meeting. Thursday is more official. Wednesday, I’m of course in the Search Innovation Lab.

  • That leaves Tuesday and Friday, I can freely roam among the islands. Well, not so freely nowadays…

  • …but anyway [laughs] right. I’m on the islands that comprise the republic of citizens.

  • You just said, “I’m still attending the cabinet meeting.” What does that mean, “still”?

  • It means that I just swore in. I resigned…

  • … [laughs] with the cabinet.

  • It sounds like, “I would rather not, but I have to.”

  • I put in my resignation papers last week, along with everybody, but I’m still attending. I wonder why. Maybe I got kept in the new cabinet.

  • I have no idea. The premier said, “Let’s keep working together.” I said sure, and that’s it. There’s no formal consultation process. It’s a given that I would stay.

  • You wanted to stay, absolutely? Or were you thinking about…

  • I don’t really care.

  • Really? How can you not care about being a minister or not?

  • I’m always a lower-case minister, whether I’m working with the public service or not. I’ve been interning in this office for a couple years before…

  • …being the official minister anyway since 2014, so I frequently visit here. This was the office of Minister Jaclyn Tsai.

  • It doesn’t really matter. If I’m not longer in a upper-case minister position, I can still visit the Social Innovation Lab and talk to people every Wednesday. It really doesn’t change anything. The upper-case one, I see it as a honorary title.

  • You don’t care about honorary titles?

  • Interesting. You’re basically saying, if you weren’t Taiwan’s digital minister, your life wouldn’t be that different?

  • It’s the same life.

  • Maybe you would get fewer invitations because you don’t have that cool-sounding title.

  • [laughs] I really doubt it.

  • By now, you have quite a reputation.

  • [laughs] Even before I become the upper-case minister, ever since the Sunflower Occupy, I’ve been working very closely with the career public service. The initial co-founders of this office were all people that I’ve worked already during ‘14 and ‘15.

  • That’s my condition entering the cabinet. It’s well-documented. It’s by voluntary association. I talked to Premier Tseng-chang.

  • I’m saying, “It’s good that you can give me and office, but I will not frequently enter the office. And it’s good that there’s a salary, although it’s one-third of what I used to earn, but whatever.

  • “The most important thing is that the public service trust me because I’m a advisor who never forced them to do anything, and this relationship need to continue if you make me a upper-case minister.” Premier Lin Chuan agreed with that, and so did every premier after him.

  • It was, I think, Jaclyn Tsai who, can I say, brought you into government or who established the first contact?

  • She went to our hackathon and pitched an idea just like any ordinary citizen. I was part of the team that realized that idea to build a e-rule-making system. Because of the e-rule-making system, and later on the Join system, touches upon all the ministries’ business other than defense, PRC relationship, and foreign affairs, traditionally.

  • Other than these three ministries, which I still have very little clue about, other than public diplomacy, which I know something about, the other ministries send delegates to Jaclyn Tsai’s office and her meetings as well. By chairing, essentially, these meetings, as the civil society co-chair at the time, a co-facilitator, I get to know the career public service and how innovative they are, very.

  • Interesting. Maybe you can compare. What are you doing differently than your former boss, Jaclyn Tsai?

  • My former collaborator.

  • Or former collaborator. You’re not a boss. You don’t have bosses, I guess.

  • She never gave me orders.

  • Three very different things. First, Jaclyn Tsai was the horizontal minister for law. She actually takes part of all the bills that requires a legal interpretation or legal counsel from each ministry. I don’t do that because I’m not a expert in law. Well, Jaclyn is an expert in law, but I am not.

  • I’m more like a counsel on algorithms, instead. People come to me and seek advice, not because they need a novel interpretation of our legal system. We have a Minister Lo for that.

  • People come to me because they are trying to reconcile the algorithmic norm and the existing social norm. I am playing a very different role because my training is different from Minister Jaclyn Tsai, in a advisory cabinet counsel position. That’s the first thing.

  • The second thing is, although Jaclyn Tsai did have ministerial delegates, she did not have this participation officer network, which all the ministries joined. That replicates our kind of horizontal liaison-based leadership in each and every ministry.

  • When there is a e-petition, a regulatory announcement, or any intention that require deliberative design of deliberation, there’s no network for that back in Jaclyn Tsai’s days. We already saw that this needs to happen.

  • She did help boost tracking. For example, the joint platform with the National Development Council. She incubated this idea, but it came to national regulation level only during this term, this cabinet. That’s the second thing. It’s about institutionalization.

  • Once we did institutionalization, anyone can be the digital minister in charge of social innovation and that this system would still run because the public service see the value in it and the current public service is willing to maintain this apparatus.

  • That’s the second thing. It’s career service public service buy-in.

  • The third thing is this whole notion of remixes of this kind of popular icon status of me licensing my photos, my speech, my interviews, and my videos as, essentially, material for everybody else to work with creates a wider international reach because I speak in English, I do most of my interviews in in English. Even if it’s in Mandarin we take care to translate the key parts of it in English.

  • We see many of our bits and pieces of our idea, like the participation officer, as seriously considered and adopted in some form in the Italian cabinet with their ministry of direct democracy. The crowd law methodologies that we use form the first chapter of the US Library of Congress crowd law training materials.

  • We host workshops in Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, in Tokyo with the Code for Japan people, as part of g0v collaboration in Canada. In all sort of different places.

  • We work with Taiwan, while Jaclyn Tsai’s ministry worked for Taiwan. That’s a difference.

  • That’s interesting. That was one of my questions, actually. Why do you have this huge international focus and outreach?

  • Because I am working with Taiwan, not working for Taiwan.

  • One would think if you’re in a government you’re working for Taiwan, for its people.

  • No, because I’m working with government. I’m not working for the government. The entire point is to work “with.”

  • Then at least you can say you’re working for the people.

  • No, I’m working with the people. People are working for the people.

  • I provide service to public servants. The public servants sometime work for the people, but I try to encourage them to work with the people because people have better ideas. This whole notion of not “working for” is one of the main thing that I’m seeking to [snaps fingers] I’m trying to find a neutral word for it, deconstruct. [laughs] Not destroy, not disrupt, but deconstruct.

  • This rings very true to many similar Occupy-based or Occupy-inspired movements around the world, where people have a short taste of working together in a horizontal non-coercive fashion, which may or may not stably work. Sometimes they get caught, sometimes they get evicted, and so on.

  • It’s quite rare that we now have this kind of bubble of Occupy in the Social Innovation Lab, and certainly this office on the third floor, where people just doesn’t represent anyone, and just present whatever they’re working on. This is a very different culture, this is deeply of a g0v culture, but realized within the institutional bubble that is protected by a national regulation.

  • The third floor, what is there?

  • That’s where our designers and technologists are.

  • Do they only work for you actually?

  • No, they work on whatever.

  • All I require is that weekly we have a lunch together, and everybody share this onboard and talk to everybody else and answer all the questions about what they’re trying to work on in depth.

  • What I wanted to say actually, sorry, it was can other ministers, ministries go and see…

  • Of course. They all have their own personal connections and get invited to conferences all the time, and we poach them from…The designers, the initial co-founder is still working us, but the same person was from CIID, the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

  • The next one was from UK Policy Lab, an RCA graduate still working with us, but she’s in London now, and the current design leader we poached her from IDEAL Shanghai. This is very much like any start with co-founders and design leads and HR coaches and whatever. It just so happens the topics they’re working on is whatever people are caring about nowadays.

  • It’s rather surprising knowing – we all know your ideas in politics – but still for someone in the government to say you’re not working for the people.

  • I’m a poetician. In poetics, it doesn’t really make sense for a poet to work for the people. I’m not sure if there’s any poet that says that. If someone’s a people’s poet, it means that they work with people to write what people’s feeling, but they don’t work for the people. It’s a very aiding concept.

  • That the government is working for the people is a basic democratic concept, right?

  • Yeah, of course, of course. It’s all in relation to people.

  • How do you reconcile that with your views?

  • I don’t. I would create the space in which people work with each other more effectively or at least more fun, almost always more effectively.

  • That’s the extent that my work is about, which is why I’m working with the government and with the people in a kind of a Lagrange Point between movements on one part and government on the other. A Lagrange Point doesn’t belong to the gravity well of either sector.

  • I guess you’ll never, never ever run for elected office, right?

  • I would say that unless, of course, this is just to bootstrap a new system, a new mechanism where people only vote for issues and after that never for candidates, then that I would entertain, because it’s essentially a reboot of a representative democracy.

  • That could work, but if I join the representative democracy with the goal of continuing representative democracy, I don’t see that happen. Lawrence Lessig tried to do that, run for President and only do one single thing, which is pass a executive order to end the Super PACs in the US, and then he would immediately resign.

  • That rings a bell. Can you say that name again?

  • Lawrence Lessig. When was that?

  • I think it was the two previous presidential election in the US. I’m not quite sure. He’s the creator of Creative Commons, an important constitutional scholar.

  • Do you think something like this, rebooting the system, as you said, could happen in our lifetime?

  • In Taiwan the President just said that we’ll do that, the Constitutional Reform Committee.

  • Sorry, but reforming the constitution is something else than really rebooting a system, right?

  • Well it’s either reform the constitution or do a revolution, if you want to change something as fundamental as mayoral elections.

  • It’s not only about elections. It’s about Taiwan as a country, relations with China as well, right?

  • No, I think what she promised during a constitutional reform, part of her inauguration address yesterday, was just to get people who are 18 years old to run to vote.

  • Absolutely. That’s one major thing.

  • That’s the only thing she said. Of course, because constitutional modifications is very difficult, it’s a very high threshold after a series of amendments that people did. Amendments seal the constitutions.

  • Of course the other thing is to make constitution easier to change, and that would then pave the way for further modifications. That ensures the possibility of a constitutional reboot, if you will. I’m not saying that this need to happen in my lifetime. In Taiwan, there are many people who want to see a constitutional reboot in their lifetime. I sympathize with them.

  • What kind of reboot…Maybe you can draw a picture which you like to see, maybe very precisely in practice what would happen.

  • Certainly giving the fundamental constitutional rights to animals and maybe nature personhood in future generations. That’s maybe the thing I care the most, because the current representative democracy almost by definition allows collective decisions to sacrifice parts of the world that does not have animals, the externalities.

  • That includes the nonhuman sentient beings as well as future generations of humans as well as nature personhoods. That would be the part that I care the most about. It may not require constitutional change, although it will help, like in the German Constitution where they put animal rights directly into the constitution. That’s one part.

  • The New Zealand – not quite – Constitution puts nature personhood possible, because they assume a Maori worldview of personhood not only for corporations but also for nature and things like – there’s many precedent in the world for that sort of thinking.

  • Would you say you’re an ecologist?

  • It’s not something I have largely read about you before. Is it something that is lesser known about you, would you say, or is it something that automatically it’s implied in your worldview?

  • Right. If you search for deep ecology in my SayIt website, you’ll find the interview with the “Christian Science Monitor” [laughs] this January, where I talked a little bit about these things. I’ve been quite consistent about giving democratic power to nonhuman beings, but I didn’t quite label that as ecology. I did use that label three times in the past dialogues.

  • Yes, it is. It’s from the website. Three times.

  • Yeah, just search for deep ecology, and then there are three.

  • Do you use that website actually for yourself as an archive as well to…

  • Of course, of course. If it’s just ecology, then there’s much more.

  • I have to say I haven’t looked that up before. I didn’t think we would talk about that. Interesting.

  • Talking about the inauguration speech yesterday, there are some points that might be very interesting for you, the Digital Minister, in what President Tsai laid out. She said, for example, regarding the six core strategic industries, first, we will continue to develop our information and digital industries including IoT and AI applications. You think that’s great?

  • She also talked about making the governance systems more effective through digital transformation and a dedicated cabinet unit for digital affairs.

  • The Digital Development Agency.

  • Yeah, the Digital Development…I don’t know Commission, Council, Agency, or whatever.

  • In English it’s agency.

  • Yeah, so unit. Agency is good. She also talked about cybersecurity, also very important. It hit the right notes, and shows very clearly that it is not about a single ministry’s business. This is a whole-of-society approach, and correspondingly the whole-of-government approach.

  • A specialized digital development agency within the government, I thought it’s what you were already doing.

  • Sure. This is about institutionalizing this kind of rule in the law. When we had the Participation Officers or Presidential Hackathon or whatever, these are all in the level of regulations.

  • Did you just say “role”? I thought you weren’t playing a role.

  • Yeah. This is the national administrative rule of policies. They maybe changed at the whim of a premier or a minister, because it’s not required by law. It is not written into the formative law of the cabinet itself.

  • What President Tsai is saying essentially is that we’re looking at – I wouldn’t say best – better practices in the past few years, and put it into a amendment to the act that defines the extent of the cabinet and how the administration, the executive branches constitute it and put digital to it.

  • Instead of just a horizontal ministers’ network which, although we institutionalized most of that at a regulation level, she would like the Parliament to have a deliberation on how to put it into law level, which is even more commitment.

  • Absolutely, and it’s a recognition of your work that it works entirely?

  • I guess. Or of people’s work then. I didn’t really do much. Of connecting good governance, effective governance, social sector-laid innovation with digital transformation, which was not a obvious link four years ago.

  • You aren’t very much involved, I guess, in this kind of industrial policy. We have to strengthen our semiconductor industry, we have to strengthen our ICT companies and stuff like that, right?

  • If TSMC wants to share their renewable energy designs, participate more in the circular economy talent pool, and offer their designs so that SMEs can make a greener and more circular economy recovery, then I’m very interested, in the sense of zero waste, zero carbon, and things like that.

  • I focus on the part that has a environmental, ecological – thank you – and societal public benefit. If there’s only linear economy and they focus mostly only on reducing external harm, then I’m far less interested.

  • One thing that was criticized these days is that there is only one woman as a head of a ministry.

  • Depending on how you count, one to four, but yes.

  • What do you think about that?

  • Compared to the more than 40 percent in the parliament it’s a stark contrast.

  • Could you be more critical maybe? Why is that happening? Many people think internationally, because you are here, you have this role, you have a very special biography, “Oh, Taiwan is such a progressive country,” or at least the government is so progressive.

  • The over 40 percent of the parliament women representation is very good except by Nordic standards.

  • I know, but then when you look at the government you’re like, “Oh, they are nearly all men.”

  • There’s a few reasons of that. It’s all very well documented. Because we’re twice removed from election politics. The population votes for the president, who appoint the premier, who appoint the cabinet.

  • Not only we’re not constrained by party politics, the horizontal ministers, vast majority, are non-partisan. We work with any party’s premier. Even the cabinet members, themselves, there’s more independent members than members of any party.

  • That creates a very different political culture. The new promotions to ministerial positions, a lot of them are from the senior career public servants, which, again, is very different from other cabinet composition who are mostly answering to their electorate in any European countries.

  • This is then asking why are career public service, why is the women not promoted enough? That’s a core question for our gender dashboard and the Council for Gender Equality to answer.

  • There’s many things. For example, the average age of cabinet members, if you take me out, it’s 63, or something. I contribute, so it’s now 62-point-something. [laughs]

  • You’ll have to ask what kind of culture during their formative years take women out from the career ladder and whether the societal expectation for them to spend more time with their family, if they’re pregnant, or if they bring children to work, and so on, whether the career public service is flexible enough to make that happen.

  • All this contributed to the fact that if you look at the very senior, like deputy minister level or director general level, there is a gender imbalance which contributes to what you’re seeing in the cabinet level.

  • What I’m trying to say is that this is symptom. This is not the root of the issue, itself. The root of the issue is in the career public service work culture that somehow is still – I’m trying to think of a nicer term – making women homemakers by default.

  • That really needs to change, and we are changing that. The effect could only be seen maybe 20 years later at the cabinet level.

  • This is lowest participation of women in Taiwanese government since ‘96, if I’m not mistaken.

  • It was consistently very low. [laughs]

  • It got from low to even lower, maybe.

  • It’s good to talk about it, but it’s consistently very low.

  • Yet, if you look at the numbers you’re like, “There must be more competent women, even with this kind of public career service,” which apparently doesn’t really favor women.

  • For a senior leadership position?

  • For senior leadership, yeah.

  • I agree. Dr. Tsai Ing-wen set a really good example because she’s president by merit. Everybody know that she get into this position by merit and not because she’s anybody’s wife or a daughter or any powerful politician. This shows a positive role model.

  • Before her there’s VP Lü Hsiu-lien, Annette Lu, who is a role model, too, but she is not part of this public service career path.

  • For people in the public service the glass ceiling was truly broken by Dr. Tsai Ing-wen. We see more people who want to commit to a career public service path in senior leadership positions.

  • They can cite Tsai Ing-wen, saying that she’s also a homemaker for her cats and dogs. That’s our first family. She can be a homemaker for nonhuman beings and still assume apolitical leadership position.

  • With Dr. Tsai Ing-wen continued example we’re already seeing a little bit of growth on the deputy minister level. That slowly continues, but to get to gender parity, it takes another generation.

  • Within the government, to understand your role even better, there’s also another minister without portfolio, Mr. Wu. He was minister without portfolio, he’s now a Minister of Science and Technology.

  • Now he has a portfolio.

  • He has a portfolio now. His portfolio’s the Ministry of Science and Technology. The minister of MOST.

  • Great acronym. How did that play out, exactly? Were there overlapping areas in your work?

  • We co-chair the weekly meeting ever since I joined the cabinet, the BOST weekly meeting. I look at the algorithmic interaction with law, or the Internet code and the civil code coincides, and provide advice to Minister Wu.

  • That’s always our working relationship. He would work on a science or technology development plan and I will essentially provide cyberspace impact assessment. That’s our working relationship.

  • We have a very close working relationship, not only meeting every week, but also meeting for projects, such as the science and technology counter-coronavirus workforce, and things like that.

  • You’re co-chairing this Thursday afternoon meeting, I guess?

  • For three and a half years now.

  • Can you tell me more about the coronavirus science and technology workforce? Who’s a member of it, how does it work, and what do you do?

  • There’s two branches. One is the medical branch that works on vaccines, rapid testing, remedy sphere, and things like that. Our branch work on the Cohack, the coronavirus hackathon, or collaboration hackathon, social innovation, mask rationing.

  • Mask rationing, as well?

  • Yeah, because it’s a digital system. Also, the Department of Cyber Security is in it, so also the very privacy-invasive, narrow and deep, but time-limited digital fence is part of it. Basically, any measure that concerns digital technology to reduce the R0 value is in our branch.

  • Is that also a national team? President Tsai mentioned that yesterday. Do you consider yourself to be the coronavirus national team, or something?

  • Everybody is on the national team if you’re wearing a mask.

  • In this team, what exactly is your role? Once again, are you a facilitator, a member?

  • Working various different values. There are people who are very worried that the National Health Insurance Card would be abused and the privacy budget that we have for it may be lower than we imagine.

  • I need to work out, for example, exactly how to make a connection directly to the NHI Agency so the intermediaries, including pharmacies, convenience stores, and vending machines, cannot read the pharmacy, pharmaceutical, and medical record of the person wielding the card.

  • Which is now possible soon?

  • It is not possible.

  • It was never possible?

  • It was never possible. You need a medical practitioner’s card to read that.

  • The interface design is also important. If the kiosk shows your name or the entirety of your national ID card, then the person standing behind you knows a lot about you, and so we need to change the interface, as well.

  • Lots of things, including legal design. The NHIA can only use NHI card for services that they do themselves or they do in conjunction with other public sector entities, and certainly not convenience stores.

  • The convenience store is, essentially, just providing a terminal. We need to make sure that they have the right cyber security and privacy policies in place so that they cannot retain anything about you, other than the last four digits of the national ID, which they require to collect your mask. Other than that, they don’t know anything about you, and things like that.

  • There’s a lot of very delicate balances because the NHI card is the only IC card that we have at our disposal. To do a real name informational system using a citizen digital certificate which has less than 25 percent active usage is unimaginable. This is like saying only one quarter of population have mask. Go figure. [laughs]

  • We really need to get a NHI card going, but we also need to be very careful to use our privacy budget well and responsibly.

  • Privacy budget? Does it mean you really have a financial budget, or are you talking as a matter for…?

  • No, it’s a way of saying.

  • It’s a trust budget with the population?

  • No, no, this is a mathematical term. For each transaction, assuming the other party already knows a lot about you, whether they can know more of you. That’s the privacy budget.

  • By showing up to collect mask they already know that you are one of 23 million, and not the other part of the population in the other place on Earth. Because you have NHI card you are part of the Health Insurance system, so you must probably be a resident or something, if not a citizen.

  • Already they learn about you just by you showing up with this card. Then, by inserting this card, they may also learn about your national ID. If we make sure that they do not store the national ID, and delete immediately the last four digits after each collection, then they know a little bit about you, but not too much.

  • Or if on the kiosk where we only display the first couple digits, by the first two digits the person who are behind you, if they look closely through kiosk, learns your household registration city, which is the first letter, and your gender, which is your second letter, but they don’t learn much more about you. That erodes your privacy a little bit. Not too much. That’s what I mean by privacy budget.

  • Are you still working on these issues right now?

  • Are you doing adjustments? Because most of the systems are in place. They have been introduced, etc. Are you doing improvements on that?

  • No. Basically, I try out those services myself. I point out the privacy breaches, the overextension of privacy budget. I make sure that I point these out. I wonder why, but they listen. They change their ways.

  • When we actually roll out the service for real it ameliorates many people’s concerns about convenience stores magically being able to read medical reports, which is not true and cannot do so.

  • In any case, the point here is that there’s many people who are now designing new services based on the newfound fact that there’s now four million, five million people with the NHI application which can serve as a de facto mobile app ID. I.e. the 健保快易通, the app.

  • Also, the fact that the convenience store is so convenient people will naturally want the NHI card to be used for more, not just for medical mask, which is still medical use. For pretty much everything, medical use or not.

  • I am still working on that to lay out the regulatory and also norm impact that this kind of ID use will entail.

  • You’re preparing NHI cards to be usable as well for regular purchases out of convenience stores?

  • No, I am preparing arguments internally to other ministries who are very gung ho on this idea, and trying to get them to realize that we can, instead, use Citizen Digital Certificates, which is not a very strong argument because of the non-popularity of CDC cards, but we’ll try.

  • Because of the non-…? Sorry.

  • I’m a bit surprised hearing you talking about privacy like that. People I talked to before, they were like, “Oh, I haven’t really heard her on privacy.”

  • You mentioned in one interview, very shortly, “Oh, everything is fine. This is just temporarily. We have to use…”

  • You mean the digital fence?

  • Surveillance in general, but the digital fence, for example.

  • The digital fence is a huge encroachment on privacy, and not just privacy, but also freedom of movement, and of things like that, fundamental freedoms, and for 14 days. It’s a lot.

  • The CECC is looking to reduce it, like if you fly over from New Zealand, maybe you just do 5 days, instead of 14 days, of home quarantine. That, theoretically, shortens the breach of privacy, and also make it more convenient.

  • The point is that we realize it’s a deep privacy intrusion. It’s the alternative would be worse, which is physical barricading and mass panic.

  • Maybe you don’t trust people?

  • Well there’s two things. If we really don’t trust people we would have gone with bracelets that send out notifications when you try to take it off. That would show ultimate distrust.

  • The choice of mobile phone and not GPS signal, but rather triangulation, which has a coarse resolution, which shows that there’s a certain respect of people, and shows that people, if they’re addicted to their phones, it’s their choice.

  • A phone is a communication device. The chatbots, for example, ask for their temperatures, ask if they want anything, and maybe chat with people. It’s also the primary screening, where people can have videoconferences to voice their concerns during the quarantine.

  • Of course, it’s a surveillance device, but we choose that form factor because it is also a connecting device, unlike a bracelet, which would be a pure surveillance device. It’s dual use in that sense. It’s dual use.

  • At the end of the day, we accept that this is a constitutionally approved. Certainly, better than barricading entire hospital alternative. We pay stipends for people who work with the home quarantine, but we do so because we had a constitutional debate right after SARS on what are the acceptable perimeters.

  • That builds a different social norm. I’m not saying that this social norm is good. This is the least bad so far. [laughs] With rapid testing, with more medical advances hopefully we can reduce the harm, and certainly the time extent, of people suffering from home quarantine and surveillance.

  • My last article happens to be about the lack of a bigger debate on privacy in Taiwan regarding these surveillance measures that have been introduced.

  • That’s because the norm building. The eID is a great choice, to have this debate, because the abuse of the paper-based ID card.

  • Like if you go to buildings, sometimes they ask you to leave your ID card there in exchange for the right to enter. Or if you go to give a lecture, sometimes people ask for photocopies of your ID card.

  • They ask you to get your ID card to them. You don’t know whether they make color copies. Now, with the current forgery technology, it’s actually very easy to make a very convincing color photocopy of your physical ID card.

  • With the abuse of the paper-based ID card on one side and the not quite abuse, but almost a wish to abuse the National Health Insurance Card, the design of the new e-ID is trying to change the norm back into a more privacy preserving and privacy respecting kind of use. That was its original intent.

  • For people who don’t want an ID card at all, they want to end this whole branch of abuse, then of course they would also want to constrain, by law, the NHI Card use to purely medical needs, but then this changes the entire social norm so much that there’s many businesses that will have to massively restructure how they do authentication.

  • If they cannot do either of these two branches, then maybe we’ll have to use a CDC card pervasively. Next time when there’s mask rationing maybe we say the people who don’t have a CDC card don’t have mask at all. Maybe we cannot say that. We will have to work toward popularizing that.

  • This delicate choice of norm building is now a central topic in the new e-ID debate. It’s long past time that we have a good public deliberation on this.

  • Coupled with the GDPR adequacy work, as well as the work on the digital agency you just mentioned and the National Human Rights Council on the Control Yuan that is going to be set up very, very soon as our national human right overseeing branch of the government, that will all shape together to have a due process on privacy not as a afterthought, but privacy as a inherent design value. I very much look forward for that to happen.

  • Sorry, you just mentioned GDPR. What did you say?

  • The GDPR adequacy work, which will necessitate a data protection authority.

  • Are you currently working on that, too?

  • Of course, I’ve been working on that for three-and-a-half years.

  • Where is it at right now in Taiwan?

  • At the moment it’s a office within the NDC, the National Development Council, but because it doesn’t have independent budget and independent personnel it is not quite up to GDPR standards. There needs to be a proposal bill to our Personal Data Protection Act, as well as a formative act to enable this kind of independent entity.

  • There’s already a draft. It’s not public yet. The hope is that we can get all of this mechanism going before actually issuing e-ID. Certainly, before issuing it mandatorily to people, because otherwise there’s no way we can get GDPR adequacy.

  • Let’s stick to the privacy issue when it comes to the fight against COVID-19 and all the new measures that have been introduced. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, they asked the government for answers about these different surveillance measures. Their request is seven pages.

  • No, when they asked through MPs the Department of Cyber Security gave responses, but when they ask without going through MPs the DoC gave very vague answers. We know that.

  • There’s a few public hearings by the MPs, in which case the Department of Cyber Security did give more details.

  • You think that’s enough? The Taiwanese people are informed enough?

  • No, it’s never informed enough. There’s two things going on here. One is people accepting, or even endorsing, the digital fence as the acceptable norm.

  • More than 90 percent of people do, which is very dangerous from a civil society perspective, because that means that they have only 6 or 9 percent of natural allies if they want to think of better alternatives and demand the government to be accountable. I am part of that six percent, by the way.

  • I do think there need to be better alternatives, and we need to work on those.

  • We’re evaluated a lot of technological solutions. There’s no one technology so far that I can safely and with good conscience say it’s a better alternative than the digital fence for home quarantine use. There’s many things to balance.

  • You don’t know how many bracelet manufacturers come to me. [laughs]

  • What else did you evaluate? What kind of technology solutions?

  • Bluetooth, and also the home…

  • How would the Bluetooth work? Sorry.

  • Home monitoring devices, like a home bot, like a voice assistant speaker. You put it to the place where you’re quarantined. It maintains the Bluetooth connection to your phone or your watch, and so it knows in even finer detail, like which room you’re in, which is suboptimal.

  • Many other things. Nowadays there’s the quarantining hotel, which you don’t need the digital fence because there’s virtual fence. I really couldn’t say that it’s always preferred.

  • There’s many alternatives. If it’s a opt-in basis, like if people prefer a quarantining hotel, now there’s plenty of quarantining hotel that could subsidize for the digital fence because you really cannot escape the hotel. It’s a physical barricade.

  • What I’m trying to get at is that there’s many alternatives, each with its own drawbacks, pros and cons. If we can honestly say that for some people it’s preferable, then we introduced that as an alternative, like the quarantining hotel.

  • In cases where it may look more secure or effective, but it’s actually net privacy loss for everybody involved, like the bracelet or the watch, we don’t recommend it. That’s the evaluation matrix we’re having.

  • When was that evaluation done?

  • Every day, literally.

  • Before the digital fence system was introduced?

  • That was during SARS in 2004, all the way to the Constitutional…

  • At the time, there was no fence, right?

  • No, but the Constitutional Court charged the legislature to…

  • I’m asking about your evaluation right now.

  • Of that, yeah. The digital fence was created by Chunghwa Telecom and the Department of Cybersecurity, and immediately have, because of false positives and whatever, many…and also the integration of other telecom signals that came gradually – many systemic issues that needs work.

  • The improvement is ongoing. There’s no single day where we say, “OK, this is good enough. We don’t change it.” In fact, one of the main thing asked to people under quarantine is, “Is there anything that the system is bothering you?” and then tracking how we can fix that.

  • For example, the initial inform, which talks about the phone that we give people, did not include their private phones. Certainly, if we warned them about that, it’s not in English, so it committed [laughs] a lot of miscommunications in this matter. That, of course, is our fault, and we did change that afterwards.

  • Just like the mask pharmacy map, the initial versions of the digital interventions leave many thing to be desired and is a continuing improvement process.

  • You would say you’re clearly a privacy advocate?

  • I would say that the freedom of independent thought, of thinking unpopular ideas, of amplifying the thoughts of less than six percent of people, is important in a democracy because it keeps the administrative power in check. It shows the government need to trust the citizens without requiring the citizens to trust back, which is the precondition of social innovation.

  • If the government has 100 percent citizen trust then there’s not much room for digital innovation, anyway.

  • (phone rings)

  • Do you want to answer the phone?

  • Yeah, I have another meeting to attend. Anything else? Any final questions you would like to ask?

  • Absolutely, lots of things. Maybe quickly ask Zach if we could meet a second time, as well, because this is going to be a bigger…

  • I don’t manage my schedule, so if he says yes, yes.

  • I don’t mind. I don’t mind.

  • Maybe you have a say in that, too, I hope.

  • I actually don’t.

  • Yeah, I tell Zach from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM it’s yours.

  • Basically, he is your boss?

  • Also ST, and also Joel. These three people have access to my calendar.

  • That’s interesting. I hope we can meet again. Let’s go quickly through some questions towards the end, maybe.

  • Quickly, on this privacy issue, because that’s a very interesting topic to many people in Europe especially, have you read that study by Vice Premier Chen Chi-mai and others, Howard Jyan, recently on contract tracing?

  • The abstract. I talked to Howard and the Vice Premier a little bit about it, but I did not read it in detail.

  • What did you ask them?

  • I asked about the anonymization technique they used. The whole system predicates itself on, essentially, working with SMS numbers and nothing else.

  • The system knows, for example, how many numbers are there and how many numbers are in vicinity or proximity of each other, and knows to notice those numbers, but the whole point is not to link those numbers with real people. The whole point was to delete such linkages once the occasion is over and you already sent out the SMS messages.

  • I asked Howard, first, whether that’s true, and also what kind of aggregation or anonymization measures that they have taken to ensure the proper deletion of additionally collected data.

  • The basic philosophy, what I gather from Howard, is that they don’t actually collect more data. This is what the telecoms are already collecting anyway to improve their roaming service, I’m sure.

  • This is a out of purpose use, and it operates purely on SMS level. That’s what he told me.

  • That’s good enough for you?

  • No, it’s not, but that’s some accountability.

  • Because I was surprised, reading that study, how they managed to know who out of these more than 600,000 traced people went to see a doctor later for respiratory syndrome.

  • I also asked, I can’t say who, two people directly involved how they did it. They couldn’t really explain it to me, or they wouldn’t explain it to me. It was weird answers.

  • If they have a clinical visit and they leave their primary mobile phone that is the same as the phone that received the SMS to the NHI system, because the insurance pays for that visit, then conceivably you can link that through the database.

  • It’s very inaccurate because, first of all, it’s not required that you give your phone to your clinic doctor. Second, it may not be the same phone. Also, third, maybe that phone was used by somebody else and the person who visit is not the person who received the SMS. Take that with a grain of salt.

  • My guess is that that’s how it’s going to go.

  • NHI Cards, they don’t contain mobile phone numbers?

  • No, they don’t contain mobile phone numbers, but in each individual clinic’s registration system for the clinic to reach you.

  • The government didn’t check each individual clinic’s registration system to know? Apparently they did.

  • No, it’s the other way around. It’s like the travel history thing. It’s not like we upload each individual visit to the NHIA, but rather the NHIA makes this information available so that soon as you insert this card to the clinic’s system the system knows whether it’s a match or not on the list of person who, for example, stayed in Wuhan.

  • It happens at the clinic side, is what I’m saying.

  • How can you centralize this data for more than 600,000 people?

  • If there is a match they say that there is a match and they tell the NHIA that. The NHIA can count the number of the clinic, because the NHIA pays for that visit. When they ask for money for that visit they can additionally say, “By the way, this is from a person who was in contact.”

  • Or who was traced after the Princess Diamond.

  • Or whatever, like a colored coin, additional meta data. If they say so, then the NHIA can make a tally soon as they ask for a reimbursement for that visit.

  • What I think is interesting, you’re saying it’s very inaccurate, which I agree with.

  • In this study they use this data. The study showed – I’m not sure if it was in the abstract. I guess it was – that out of these more than 600,000 people who went, and then those who went to see a doctor, their proportion was lower then in the general Taiwanese population.

  • Sorry, what proportion?

  • Sorry. The people who went to see a doctor for respiratory syndrome out of the 600,000, their proportion was lower than the proportion seeing a doctor among the general Taiwanese population.

  • Meaning that they took protective measures?

  • Absolutely, that’s what I’m saying, but in the study they’re saying this shows the success of big data analytics, of contact tracing, which to me is completely not logical because either they’re already infected by the Diamond Princess passengers at the time, and then they have syndromes, etc., or not. It’s not because of contact tracing that they have…

  • No, what this can draw, and only in a correlation sense, not causation sense, is that people who have received that SMS take care of themselves more – there’s no dispute about that – and then that’s it. That’s pretty much what the data can say.

  • Like a control a group who did not receive any SMS and a experimental group who did, regardless of the methodology, the group which received the SMS obviously wore their mask more, or whatever. Then, of course, because of that they get less respiratory diseases, which is very logical.

  • To bill this as a triumph of contact tracing is, I guess, in a very roundabout way.

  • Audrey Tang, thank you so much. I very much hope seeing you again. I’d like to continue this conversation very soon, to do really a big, in-depth portrait. I hope you’re OK with that.

  • I hope we can find a time for that.

  • All right. [claps] That means I’m good to go?