• …you’ve been giving, like eight interviews a day. I’m sure it’s really exhausting for you. [laughs]

  • What’s on your desk for today? Are you going to be at the lab all day?

  • Yeah, I’m going to be at the social innovation lab all day.

  • Are you doing interviews? Tomorrow is the day where you have visitors, right?

  • It overflows to Tuesday now, because too many people registered online. It’s booked all the way to September. Currently, as of this week, we’re doing both Tuesdays and Wednesdays as office hours.

  • That’s exciting. Do you have a sense of what the people want to talk about before they get there?

  • Yes, of course. They often send outlines and so on.

  • Kind of the same procedure that we’re going to do over here.

  • I had read that the lab, you guys renovated it to bring down a lot of the walls.

  • Tell me about what the structure of it looks like now, if you were to walk off the street into the space. I’ve never been to Taipei.

  • It’s literally a park now. It’s near the Ren’ai Road. If you go through the Da’an Park, you will go to the Jianguo Flower Market. Right after the Jianguo Flower Market is another park. Just walk into it. You can look at the name of our office from the Jianguo Flower Market.

  • It’s about a five-minute’s walk from the Jianguo Flower Market and about 15-minutes walk, overall, starting from the Da’an Park. That’s the route I take every morning, walking here to work. I’m just finishing that walk before we started the meeting.

  • That’s your workout routine for the day?

  • That’s right. I work, for today, till half past six in the PM. Then I’ll walk back.

  • You have the structure you haven’t renovated, but inside the structure, you guys have taken down a lot of the walls?

  • No, the outside wall has been taken down. This room, of course, still have walls around it. Previously, it was all guarded, very much looking like a military place, which it was. Just taking down the walls enable people to, for example, play basketballs or hold any event, large gathering, music festivals, and so on within the C-LAB, the Contemporary Culture Lab.

  • The Social Innovation Lab is one of the buildings within the C-LAB. The outer wall is gone, but not the inner buildings.

  • Cool. I hope to visit some day. I want to start by asking you, I was curious about the original history of the digital ministry. Could you say a little bit about that? I know you took over from Jaclyn Tsai, but I wasn’t sure…

  • There’s no digital ministry. We’re still planning on a digital ministry.

  • When you talk about having taken over from Jaclyn Tsai’s position…

  • She was a horizontal minister in the Executive Yuan, that is to say, in the cabinet building proper. In the ground floor, there is nine positions, currently eight horizontal ministers. I literally took over her office in a sense, because she was working in the same office that I work within the cabinet building, but that’s not the office of the digital ministry.

  • There is no ministry. Rather, my office is made out of about 20 people, permanent staff, and 30 interns at the moment. The 20 is half from career public servants and half from outside.

  • When did the digital minister without the portfolio position get instituted then?

  • Without portfolio refers to the fact that there is no digital ministry.

  • The horizontal minister in charge of digital. The title starts with my term, which is October 2016, but a lot of the groundwork, for example, the fact that career public servants can act as secondments for their own ministry, as well as a lot of like the Join platform, vTaiwan platform, and so on. Those were done in Minister Jaclyn Tsai’s term. I, of course, was advisor to her back then.

  • It was with your entry into the floating minister job that…

  • Right. She was not known as the digital minister then. She is known as the minister in charge of regulatory reform.

  • Given her background in the tech industry.

  • That makes sense. Thanks. I’ve been listening to all of your interviews and reading all of your interviews recently. I have a sense of how things have gone with coronavirus. Obviously, you’ve gotten a lot of great attention and well deserved attention through this pandemic.

  • Just looking back, now that Taiwan is sort of post-pandemic, I’m here in the US where we are very much not.

  • (laughter)

  • I was just so impressed with, and I report on the Koreas as well, just thinking about how South Korea had learned the lessons from Taiwan as well.

  • If you had just a couple extra reflections on the characterization of the debate being one of contact tracing, but you lose privacy. There was these dichotomies that were thrown about, especially in Anglophone media.

  • Looking back on the response, how would you make sense of the way that you guys were able to balance a public health informed “surveillance” with respect for privacy?

  • People generally understand that the quarantine is a must. There’s a choice though: You either, when flying back, go to the quarantine hotel for 14 days, or you can choose the digital fence. First of all, it’s your choice. It’s not like that we force the digital fence upon you.

  • People also see the digital fence as, strictly speaking, a less infringing version of the quarantine hotel, where you’re physically barred from leaving. It’s not your home. It’s actually harder to stay for the full 14 days. People generally see it as a more mild version of the quarantine hotel alternative.

  • Because it’s more mild, people also know that there’s no constitutional basis upon which we can keep using the cellphone tower signals out of purpose after the 14 days. There is this basic accountability. Also, we do not collect new data. It’s not a new app. It’s not GPS. People understand it’s proportional. Someone described it as a deep, but very narrow and time-limited privacy infringement.

  • That’s the trade-off we made in every other aspects of the counter-coronavirus. For example, the CECC resisted lots of pressure in publishing the whereabouts that would lead to identification of confirmed cases. The reason being, if they do that, less people would want to report themselves to local clinics. I think we held that line pretty well.

  • I was reading how you explained during the mask distribution and this network that there was limited…You would like not put your entire registration number, you would just put a couple of digits, things to reassure people.

  • That’s right. Exactly.

  • Those very small things. I think that all added together, it conveys the idea that we don’t have to sacrifice privacy. Rather, we enhance both privacy-enhancing technology development, as well as democracy during the counter-pandemic.

  • I know during my interviews with South Koreans, a lot of them, their conception of it was very different than like in the US, for instance, because there’s a national health program.

  • I was curious if you thought that people’s comfort with the way that all of the programs were set up was also because people are used to having nationalized healthcare and services provided from the government in regards to their health.

  • There’s a saying, “Anything I’m born with is human nature. Anything invented after I’m born is technology.”

  • (laughter)

  • I guess we can riff on it a little bit. Any measure that the government is already doing before the pandemic is natural. Anything that government invents after the pandemic is technology. There’s far more natural treatments. For example, the mask thing was already “natural” before the pandemic. We didn’t have to invent new things.

  • All we have to do is to say, unlike in SARS where there’s no social media to speak of, so people believed the rumor that N95 is the only mask effective against SARS. If you wear N95 for a whole day, that’s very uncomfortable. Not many people can do that in entire day. People would take it off once in a while or for extended period, in which case, it renders it meaningless. [laughs]

  • We have to establish a few communications, but they’re all building on the things that people are already doing. That’s less trouble. I would say, yeah, the MERS and SARS have inoculated our societies, both us, Korea and Taiwan. That’s for sure.

  • I’ve been fascinated about the way that you’ve talked about your anarchistic point of view and relating your analysis of Taiwanese civil society and the trust in civil society to the development of the state after martial law, but really in that 10-year lead-up period.

  • I had read the interview you did with Florian Schneider recently, where you were talking about trust of the state versus trust of corporations.

  • I was curious if you could say a little bit more about that, because here in the US, or elsewhere, basically, because of the growth of companies like Amazon taking over so many different versions of our lives, there’s just a lot of feeling that, in a way, corporations are more of a threat than the state.

  • I was curious if you wanted to say a little bit about what a very wise state-mistrusting anarchism looks like and under conditions where there are such massive corporations.

  • The idea of conservative anarchism is that we can make voluntary associations out of existing social organizations. Any top-down coercive, whether it’s from the capitalists or from the state, is equally bad. [laughs]

  • It’s not like choosing between the two bad alternatives. It’s that we can innovate into a social sector.

  • I would say two things. First is that, in Taiwan, many people who grow wary of the capitalist instinct also see that there are genuine social enterprises and large corporations very much aligning their values on impact investment principles.

  • It’s not like “market” is a dirty word for the social sector. Many social sectors started doing, for example, consumer co-ops, labor co-ops, which are the two fundamental collaborative structures that emerged in a non-capitalistic, definitely non-exploitative organization out of democratic principles. I understand that that’s something found in South Korea as well.

  • In the US, of course, there are, I guess, credit unions that more or less work on similar principles, maybe some agricultural co-ops.

  • A small co-op program. Exactly.

  • The co-op instinct, I’m not talking about organization on the letter per se. I’m talking about when you’re starting a new business, are you going to democratically govern it with all your stakeholders, or are you going to let the person with the most share control, maximize their value? That’s very different instinct. I will say that, in Taiwan, there’s a strong cooperative instinct.

  • Once you have that, then you can grow the social sector while pursuing market goals. The market serves their social purpose. Its full purpose was profit, and not for profit with purpose.

  • In the US, that’s difficult. The norm is for profit. The purpose is good to have, nice to have. In Taiwan, when you say “the bottom line,” we think, of course, that’s ecology, and then maybe social equality and…

  • But is that just you? [laughs]

  • No. The idea is, in Taiwan, we say 同舟一命 (동조일명) — the people in the same boat share the same life. That’s a strong idea, though I wouldn’t say “collectivist” because that sounds wrong… it would sound like a Stalin-Leninist thing. [laughs] I would say it’s definitely not individualistic.

  • I would say it’s built upon the idea of empathy, in the sense that if you externalize the adverse effect on the environment, we don’t have that much large a land. People will feel the negative externalities very quickly. That calls people to act in a way that are more empathetic toward the ecology and toward each other than a purely for-profit bottom line would.

  • I think that’s an amazing model. As a development model moving forward, it makes so much sense, but I wonder what you do with the legacy companies like Foxconn and Amazon, companies whose structures tend toward the anti-democratic. What kind of regulations do you need?

  • The flip side, of course, of the same-boat idea is that if the externalities happen outside of the boat, there’s less social sanction… The manufacturing companies, they learned, of course, not to do adverse effects within Taiwan proper. They also learned to export some of the externalities. That’s certainly true.

  • I would have two responses. First is that the digital transformation, in particular the use of industrial robots, that really changed the equation. It doesn’t pay any more to exploit people to the degree that they did previously, because the most exploitative scenarios, they’re all automated. That’s the first thing.

  • The second thing is that in the regions that they, nevertheless, are still doing a lot of labor-intensive work, the idea of workers associations, the ideas of a strong labor law, and so on, these are social innovations that are also being exported. I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m certainly not seeing a deteriorating norm in the legacy companies that you just mentioned.

  • Some of them actually, once the second generation takes over, some of the second generations make a point by speeding up the digital transformation and the social responsibility.

  • I’ll try to stay hopeful or soak up some of your optimism in this regard. [laughs]

  • I’m curious about, if you could say in that context, what your experience was working with Apple and Socialtext, because it seems like you’ve had generally positive experiences from that.

  • Socialtext is special because I’m telecommuting 99 percent of the time.

  • You stayed in Taiwan, right?

  • Right. I visited Palo Alto maybe three times or something. The point here is that I’m contributing to what we call enterprise social, which is just like nowadays, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or whatever. We’re at that time making the enterprise social tools that integrated within the flow of work.

  • It’s all the time drinking our own champagne, meaning that if we innovate something that works well, then my working condition improves immediately because of the Socialtext use, the Socialtext suite for collaboration. It’s very empowering, I guess. It feels more like a co-op than a traditional company.

  • When the CEO, I think it was Eugene Lee, who became the CEO shortly before I joined Socialtext in 2008, he traditionally would do a lot of one-on-one with the higher-ranking people. He found out that all his outlines are being radically transparently published by every person that he interviews with. He couldn’t do management, he could only do leadership.

  • That’s very interesting, because there’s already a strong, as I said, cooperative spirit within the company. For a new CEO, they also have to switch their mindset of leadership. It’s quite telling, actually.

  • Interesting. At Apple, you were working on Siri?

  • Yeah, I was working on cloud service localization, not particularly for Siri but anything pertaining to multilingualization. Siri is, of course, one of the main projects that makes use of our work.

  • Were you working in Taiwan?

  • No, I’m working, again, through FaceTime, at the time freshly introduced.

  • (laughter)

  • It seems prescient, given the COVID work-from-home era.

  • I know. That actually is a good observation, because at the time, I refused to fly in to Silicon Valley for those companies, precisely because I feel that it’s actually more effective this way. If I stay in Taiwan with the time zone, I can only stay up for one hour for my midnight and their early morning.

  • All the artifacts, all the work that I produce and they produce tend to be self-describing. It doesn’t need endless meetings, because we don’t have time for endless meetings. It makes for a much more effective communication. Everybody need to learn, I guess, essentially poetry, meaning that we need to communicate a lot within a very limited time frame.

  • The synchronous time is still there, as a stand-up meeting is still there, but it’s just for a very brief amount of time. It’s not necessarily prescient, but it really is by necessity at the time because of time zone differences, what we would later learn that it also works even if everybody is in the time zone now as everybody learns around the world because of coronavirus.

  • I appreciate that. Sometimes you don’t fly out in person. You’ve articulated that also as part of your environment commitment.

  • I was curious to hear a little bit about how you do relate to the environment. I’ve read a couple of very sweet anecdotes about your childhood. There was one where you saw a boy torturing an animal, and that was touching to you and also that you had spent some time in a forest.

  • That’s from my mom’s book.

  • Great. I was just curious if you wanted to say a little bit about the way that you’ve related to nature in your life and how you see that connecting to your interest in engineering and technology.

  • It’s natural to me to think about non-human, any being that can suffer really, because when I was a child, it’s not like that I’m particularly athletic or that I can go out a lot. I can only walk, basically. My sports of choice is between walking slowly and walking fastly.

  • (laughter)

  • There’s no other choice.

  • That’s me still now, actually.

  • That’s right… That’s true even today. I add hiking to that, which is I guess walking slowly. The point here being that if you’re slow in your motion, you tend to notice other non-human beings.

  • But if you’re moving fast, like being athletic or just driving all the time, then, of course, you get into this habit of thinking that this habitat is made for human beings. If you are slow, then you take more time to notice the ecology around you, so I think it’s a speed thing.

  • Wow. Interesting. Do you want to just say a little bit more about that, connecting to non-human things? What does the animal world have to do with the tech world or the world of coding?

  • There’s two main ideas. One is that a lot of the communication between human beings are just an extension of communication between animals, better brains, for sure. I’ve learned to not be dominated by the idea that we are only what we write or we are only what we reason, which tend to be a fallacy often assumed by people who ascribe too much dominating value to logic.

  • That’s really beneficial, I guess. When I was really young, like 12 or something, I was really attracted to early Wittgensteinian ideas. Because of my own experience, I made a transition within a couple years to late Wittgenstein with no fanfare and there was no difficulty.

  • I’m basically saying that it’s not the language determining the picture. It’s rather our lived experience determining the language, the use determine the language, not the other way around. When you take the late Wittgensteinian view, then you have much more common ground with other non-human beings because they, too, are engaging in their own use, even if it’s not human logic.

  • Both of your parents worked as writers, right?

  • I read that you were in Europe for a bit with your mother. Is that where you got exposed to more languages?

  • In Germany, you said?

  • I just read that you were in Europe and that you speak French and German, so I wasn’t sure where you were.

  • I was in Zweibrücken. I was with my whole family. My dad was there a couple years before we arrived, studying his PhD. I lived in Zweibrücken, technically, Ottweiler, a small town near Zweibrücken, for a year or so. That’s where I learned a little bit of Deutsch, which I have almost forgotten by now, and je ne parle pas français by now, just a year after.

  • (laughter)

  • English, you taught yourself or?

  • Kind of. I got into this game called “Magic: The Gathering,” which formed my whole vocabulary, but that was ‘96 or something.

  • Obviously, you just have a facility with a lot of things, but languages in particular, you seem to have a real sensitivity and love for languages. Is that something that’s also just natural to someone who codes? Given, language is, obviously, literal and a metaphor in this context.

  • I would say so. My two main contributions, the Raku/Perl 6 thing, that’s computer language design. In doing computer language design, I guess there’s a lot to draw from human languages, and in particular, around different configurations in human languages.

  • It also helps that Larry Wall, the inventor of the Perl language, who was my mentor when doing Raku work, he is a professional, trained linguist and missionary, too. He take a lot from human linguistics into computer language design.

  • The other contribution that I made, which is including the Moe Dictionary, but also other language or education-related projects within the g0v movement. That, again, is also primarily, I would say, a linguistic work, which, I mean not only, of course, crowd-sourcing a dictionary is linguistic work, but I also mean changing the social norm about language and something that’s defined by educational facility into languages, this flexible thing like Urban Dictionary that everybody can participate and contribute.

  • I would say that my two main projects before joining the cabinet, both draw a lot from this fascination about languages and about this intersectionality that people can feel once they break out of their existing mother tongue thinking frame, but rather understand their original configuration from the viewpoint of a new language that they acquire. It’s a very transcultural way on languages.

  • I’ve heard you talk also about just your love of literature and poetry. Obviously, your job description and…

  • Sure, that’s a poem.

  • …other things you say are very poetic. Do you want to say a little bit about the books you read? I had heard that you like Ted Chiang. You talked about Cixin Liu, I think, on the same podcast. You like Leonard Cohen, so I see some overlaps. Who are you reading and what do you like to read?

  • “Finnegans Wake,” but it’s very time-consuming.

  • You’re working on “Finnegans Wake”? [laughs]

  • I translated the last few sentences and that took me a lot of time. It’s basically a notebook, a book of musical notes. It just happens that they use the Latin alphabet as the notation. It’s actually a song book. I like James Joyce, of course, and do translations for fun.

  • Translation is actually one of my main hobby. Whenever I think of something fun, I try to translate it into different languages. That’s how you get “fast, fair, fun” or “humor over rumor.” That’s all short limerick-style poetic work.

  • Those two examples, did those originate in Chinese or did you think of them in English first?

  • The thing is that that’s like impossible translations. In Mandarin, for example, I would say 迷因闢謠, which is, I guess, “memetic counter-rumor.” That’s not something that will roll off the tongue, certainly not for an English-speaking audience, so I had to come up with “humor over rumor”, which is the same effect, but not necessarily a translation anymore. It’s more like a transcultural interpretation. The more difficult the translation is, I guess the more fun I derive from it. That’s this pocket of hedonism in this large sea of eudaimonia.

  • (laughter)

  • Your work with comedians, that’s a little bit of fun.

  • How would you say that the anti-disinformation work is going? I was curious also about that organization. Is it Taiwan Fact-Check?

  • There’s more. They’re doing good work, won an international award recently, but also joined by many other groups. MyGoPen also received the membership of the International Fact-Checking Network. There’s more and more fact-checkers in Taiwan. Also, people are seeing the synergy between counter-disinformation, anti-spam, counter-scam, and many other lines of work.

  • Trend Micro, which is a large antivirus company from Taiwan, originating from Taiwan, they also had a new department, a new section working on the Dr. Message, which is just like Cofacts, but also with anti-scam, anti-spam capability, and also picture and video detection capability as well. It’s an improvement over the text-only Cofacts project.

  • Whoscall, which is a startup originating from Taiwan, also works very well on these domains. There’s new breeds of startups that are, I would say, scaling out these ideas and making a business model out of counter-disinformation work.

  • Do you have an independent budget where you can say, “I’m going to allocate money to support startups of XYZ type, or do you make recommendations to ministries to do that”?

  • There’s a large amount of startups of all sorts. We tend to not treat startups, that is to say anything started in last five years, in the same bucket. Rather, each ministry has their own strategy when working with startup. The Minister of Culture, for example, would work very differently from the case of agriculture, although they’re both cultural things.

  • In any case, the point is that, what I’m basically saying is that we need to work in a cross-silo fashion. My main suggestion is that they tie their awards or subsidization to the Sustainable Development Goal targets so that we can have meaningful theory of change across the board. The SDG indexing, that’s my contribution, I guess.

  • Also, the second thing is that we award more to the innovative partnerships between organizations, not just to a specific organization. If a startup works with a traditional, large NPO that’s worth awarding, too, not their individual ROI or SROI, but the ROI or SROI driven by this noble way of partnerships, because innovative partnership models are much more exportable than particular products or processes.

  • You yourself do not have a large budget to be doing this sort of allocation?

  • I can advise how the budget is made and the KPIs, the indexes upon which it is measured. Of course, it’s not like I’m sitting on a bunch of money. It’s not like that.

  • You don’t have a huge fund. I was curious if you could say a little bit about the regional visits you make. I know that you go to the four other big cities. You’ve mentioned your work in indigenous and minority communities as well. I was really curious to hear about what kinds of concerns they bring to you and what those dialogues would have been looking like recently.

  • Of course, it’s all online and it’s in English, too. You can find about all that in the topics that we curate. I’m pasting you the link right now. Here, there’s two points, aside from the things around telemedicine, plastic reduction, or educational innovation, long-term healthcare, circular economy, digital capacity building that is already written about quite a bit on the websites.

  • These are the main things. I would add two observations. One is that the people closest to the suffering, closest to the pain, most of the time, they have ready innovations with appropriate technologies already. It’s only that it’s hard to get their voices heard by the central government. It’s mostly a communication thing. It’s almost never a lack of innovation capability.

  • I mostly work on the communication, making sure that the other municipalities, as well as central government, which by the way, I tour in other municipalities, is that I bring public service in the large municipalities on the same video call when I visit the non-municipal, the more rural places. That’s just a clarification.

  • When the larger municipalities understand that these innovations also works to their benefit, many large municipalities would want to then develop a collaboration and, not prescribing but rather amplifying, relationship with the rural area people’s innovations. That’s the first observation.

  • The second observation is that when people are thinking of innovation, often, people are thinking of technological innovation. Many of the innovations are social in the sense that, for example, a landline calling 1922 saying, “You should wear pink medical mask to support a boy,” and television people wear medical mask.

  • None of this is what we would call a technological innovation. Landline, broadcast TV, medical mask, these are the things that are around already when I was born, so these are natural. These are not technologies. The innovation is on how you put these together. It’s how to appropriate these technologies appropriately and not on technologies per se.

  • There need to be more emphasis on that. That’s what, for example, our presidential hackathon mostly highlights as well.

  • Can you give me an example of those meetings you’ve had recently where there was…Maybe we can talk about a minority group or an indigenous group that had some innovation they wanted to pursue.

  • Sure. For example, the indigenous, many of them prefer to have labor co-ops. Labor co-ops are a curious bunch, because there’s no employer or employee.

  • In many government programs which, for example, if you say that they need to have a majority shareholder, or that it does say “investment,” or if you put the language in a traditional company language, then it automatically doesn’t apply to co-op, because it doesn’t have a idea of a shareholding class versus a working class.

  • Everybody, in a sense, are shareholders, and it’s not one vote per share. It’s one vote per person. It also doesn’t make sense to say that once you control the majority of shares, you control the majority of both, because that’s not how it works in a labor co-op. There’s an innovation from an indigenous young leader of labor co-ops of actually information technology.

  • The name is, I guess, Fuonchi. That’s his Atayal name. He proposed that for the labor co-ops that are indigenous, why wouldn’t the indigenous council, the cabinet in charge of indigenous affairs, simply pass a ruling just as in Taiwan when we do marriage equality.

  • We created a hyperlink act that when two people of the same sex marry, they automatically qualify for the same treatments in these lines in the civil code, that pertains to the bylaws, the rights and duties, but we do not hyperlink to the in-laws, so their families don’t wed, it’s the individuals that wed. By the way, that’s a very good social innovation.

  • It’s a social innovation that convinced both generations that the values that they cherish are not disrupted when we pass marriage equality. It’s marriage equality with intergenerational solidarity, not against intergenerational solidarity. In the same spirit, Fuonchi argues why couldn’t the indigenous council simply say that the labor co-ops of the indigenous people qualify as a business.

  • You just have to add that line, and it automatically qualifies for all the programs, awards, and subsidies that the government would apply to business owners, without requiring all the 12 ministries to take systemic look into all their regulations, which was what I advised them to do for the past year.

  • They’re making a lot of progress, but Fuonchi is like, “Yeah, but the progress is slow. Why don’t we just say a simple line in the law of the indigenous labor co-op act section that says, ‘If you qualify for this, then you automatically count as a business?’”

  • It’s not technology. It’s not legal tech. It’s just a shift in way of how people think. If you are doing this, then you’re also a business. You can do this. If you’re people of the same sex, if you perform a wedding, then you qualify also as married couple. That’s a really innovative line of thinking. We’re bringing it to the Premier’s meeting in a month or something. It’s a really good innovation.

  • What region is that and which industries were they mostly thinking of?

  • Atayal. Atayal is many regions, but I think Fuonchi came from the Xinxian region in the New Taipei City, coincidentally the place I went to when I decided to quit junior high school.

  • That was the place?

  • Yeah. That’s right. That’s also where my mom and her friends did this experimental primary school. They also had teachers from the Atayal Nation.

  • It’s interesting how a lot of people there now see co-ops as a way to regain their identity of their First Nations. Anyway, it’s a good story to tell, I guess.

  • The point is that it would apply to all the labor co-ops around Taiwan. It’s not just for information technology or to moving or whatever other labors that they do. A lot of people would benefit from that if they’re working on long-term healthcare. That’s also a rapidly rising labor co-op industry.

  • I love the idea of the hyperlinked legal code.

  • I should stop saying industry, business. A labor co-op business just to prime myself for the upcoming change.

  • Exactly, instead of having to amend 14 sections. For those relationships that you’re building around the country, who generally are you interfacing with? Do you have direct contact with citizens in those communities, or is it mostly local governments?

  • I do, of course, have direct contact. There’s a lot of existing networks around placemaking in Taiwan. My teachers, mentors, and parents were at the core of it. I guess I have no problem linking to the community colleges or to placemaking organizations and so on.

  • My dad was one of the early founders of the Community College Movement along with Professor 黃武雄 and so on. He was also principal of one of the earliest community colleges in Taiwan.

  • My mom also, when I was seven or eight, was part of the first consumer co-op, the Homemakers Union. When she was co-founding it, they were still just an NPO, but quickly a consumer cooperative grew out of it. I guess I’m still considering myself primarily in the social sector, liaising with the public sector.

  • It’s in your bones, I guess.

  • I heard you talk a little about the overlaps transnationally with other civil society organizations and movements like the way that Sunflower played into the Umbrella Movement, and the connections between Taiwan and Hong Kong, generally.

  • I’m curious what your relationship has been to the last year of the Hong Kong movement, and also if you have thoughts on, here in the US, we have, obviously, an uprising that has spread around the world to some extent as well. How are you seeing movement connections?

  • I wrote a little bit about that in a recent blog, which also doubles as my introductory text to Manuel Castells’ “Social Networks of Outrage and Hope,” which is still a very useful book when one want one to understand such new movements, even though it was written before the Sunflower. That is the go-to book along with “Communication Power” also by Castells when I was helping the occupy movement in Taiwan in 2014.

  • I guess I’ve said what I wanted to say in that blog already. I’ll just pass you the blog, I guess. The main thing is a quote from Castells, which is, “The legacy of network social movements will have been to raise the possibility of relearning how to live together in real democracy.” Whenever social movement ends, that’s where it truly begins, because when people have the experience of the occupy, of other large networks, social movements, what was previously unknown is explored a little bit.

  • People will be able then to break out of their original helplessness about participatory democracy. I would say a little bit of future arrives to the present because of those numerous social movements, but they’re not evenly distributed.

  • The main thing of my daily work, as you can see, is just distributing that future that we glimpsed during the 2014 occupy, and many more I already wrote in the blog, so you might as well just read the blog.

  • I’ve got to read it. Do you think that’s still practicable, given China’s behavior towards Hong Kong? Recently, it’s been quite scary. I know a lot of Hong Kongers are wondering about their future there, probably some with an eye towards a future, perhaps in Taiwan instead.

  • Many of them are in Taiwan now. Some of them visited me, because we now have a dedicated office to work on humanitarian principles. All this feels rather familiar because my dad’s PhD was on the dynamic of the Tiananmen protests.

  • When I was in Zweibrücken, my household living room is full of his research subjects, who are people in their early 20s, freshly frustrated from Tiananmen, and continuing their education in Europe. This has this oddly déjà vu feeling to me, personally.

  • Do you think Taiwan for now is insulated?

  • It’s really a good thing in Taiwan that we’re now officially post-coronavirus with a reinvigorated civil society precisely because what’s happening in Hong Kong.

  • We feel that we have a duty, originally, to show that no matter if you call Taiwan a liberal democracy, which is true, or social democracy, which is also true, we have a responsibility to show that democracy works, and not just lock down or top down or take down works. We can rise up rather than down during the time of the pandemic.

  • If we are not post-pandemic, I would say that Taiwan wouldn’t feel this strongly, a Taiwan Can Help mandate from the geopolitical configuration. Precisely because we’re post-pandemic and we’re really helping out a lot of dozens of epicenters, concurrently, there’s this very strong idea of Taiwan Can Help. It’s not just a Ministry of Foreign Affairs thing. It’s literally everybody.

  • It’s embedded in the culture. But do you think that Taiwan for now is insulated from the crackdown that Hong Kong has experienced from China?

  • What I was trying to say is that when you say “insulated,” it puts a defensive ring to it. When I’m saying Taiwan Can Help, I’m taking a very proactive ring to it in the sense that we can further democracy and showing a working democratic model.

  • The crackdown of Hong Kong is hinged on the premise that if you have too much democracy, it will hurt, I guess, stability, harmony, economy, whatever. That’s the grand narrative. We are here saying that this grand narrative is, I wouldn’t say a fiction, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like that only if you allow no other possibilities.

  • Just on the international grand-narrative line, there’s far more people around the world now willing to listen to Taiwan’s voice about how furthering democracy is in the best interest of not only counter-pandemic or infodemic, but also whenever you detect a social destabilization, maybe the best thing is to invite people who are on the street to co-creation.

  • It’s such an alien idea, I guess, to many people. In my TED Talk, I said that the people who complain about tax filing, we invite them to co-creation workshops to design, ostensibly, of course, to make people feel better, but they actually, in reality, they actually made a new tax-filing experience, which is widely approved.

  • In the TED Talk, because of time, I just said I invite them to the co-creation workshops. Then a comment below said, “Nice euphemism.”

  • (laughter)

  • It’s like, “Forced labor camps are now called co-creation workshops.” Of course, it’s not like that, but it’s evident how many people feel that it’s alien concept that the people who complain immediately get put into a co-creational mindset, so much so that people would leave comments like that.

  • I don’t think it’s a malicious comment, by the way. It shows that it’s not a normal part of public sector working in many parts of the world, and that means that Taiwan can help even more.

  • For me, places like Taiwan, I mean, Taiwan is very unique, but are also charting a path to think about a world that can exist without reference always to the two hegemons.

  • I’m curious, is that what you’re getting at as well? You’re creating your own island idyll in my view. [laughs]

  • The Taiwan model, yeah. I think a real thing you’d say is a path for the civilization in general to think of, that is to say, the social sector. In many parts of the world, even the word social sector is a new word. People would say that, “Oh, it’s just the NPOs, the NGOs,” and so on.

  • People would not naturally link labor co-ops, credit unions, and community colleges together with the NPOs and NGOs into a sector that can own, control data use, for example. I think, it’s a viable model and it’s what we’ve been doing for generations, at least since the lifting of martial law or even before a decade or so before that.

  • In Taiwan, what does the labor union structure look like for tech workers? Is there any sort of tech worker organizing?

  • There is the usual labor unions of tech workers, of people working in IT or information technology.

  • We don’t have that. [laughing]

  • Oh, you don’t have that. And I don’t think you have indigenous IT labor co-ops either, so it’s a different social configuration.

  • But I think with Ethereum and other distributed-ledger technology, the idea of platform cooperativism is on the rise again. Although it’s not mandated by law, you can mandate it by code and kind of build a cooperative infrasturcture out of the distributed-ledger technology. So I’m cautiously optimistic in the sense that I think that’s what people would naturally want. People don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, I want to be surveilled by capitalists.’ [laughing]

  • Speak for yourself. Just kidding.

  • So that’s what you guys have been using for the water and air measuring, right?

  • Do you bring that up because you see that as a parallel to traditional labor formations? Sort of participatory, voluntarist community?

  • Right, so I think the co-op movement, although it’s quite a lot of history now, it’s in our constitution, which is written many, mnay decades ago, which means it was an idea back when Sun Yat-sen did his research work, more than 100 years ago. But I still think the co-op idea the principle, the main principles are still very instructive in the sense that when people collaboratively own the modes of production, and I mean the production of data, including collection and curation and processing, then people tend to think in a human-relation kind of way, and data collection becomes the beginning of a trustworthy relationship.

  • But if you don’t talk about it this way and instead talk about it as barrels of oil, which is the farthest away from what I can imagine – I don’t know why people confuse these two; maybe because extraction is a pun that works with both things, but they mean very differently. Anyway, if you treat it as a barrel of oil, then you’d talk about aggregation and once you talk about aggregation then of course surveillance capitalism, it follows from that metaphor. When you talk about incentivizing corporations to motivate their human resource, that is to say to equate humans to resources and corporations into persons with incentives with passions this configuration this category confusion creates a lot of difficulties in reasons about data relationships. And the main ideas about dignity, which is the main thing about the original cooperative movement. It’s really good if we can anchor our discussion back to dignity and the co-op principles without necessarily relying on the organizational structure, the legal structure of coops.

  • I know we’re running long. I have one last silly question for you which is, I really like your clothes, and I was wondering if you think about your… I like the big oversized smocks you’ve been wearing. Are these clothes you choose? Are they meaningful to you?

  • I choose Issey Miyake clothes purely for utilitarian reasons, in the sense that they can’t wrinkle, right? They’re very portable, when I travel overseas, they’re very easy to wash. Lightweight, easy to carry. On top of that, I guess, I always wear black or white because I guess the Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 colors is already a lot of colors. I really don’t want to take away from those 17 colors. If I show up on SDG 9, which is all the bright colors, wearing light blue, which would be water sanitation, people would wonder why does the minister caring about water sanitation in a industry innovation forum, so [laughing] I guess I can wear black or white, because these are not SDG colors. I can wear deep dark blue, because that’s partnership, the 17th goal, which works with any other goal. But I don’t have many other palettes to choose from.

  • [laughing] That’s great.

  • I literally told that to the Issey Miyake people.

  • Has this been a long time that you’ve been wearing your clothes?

  • Yeah, a very long time. I guess more than a decade.

  • Oh, I wanted to ask about your siblings. I read that you have a brother. Do you have other siblings?

  • No, just one brother; he's the person who prompted my mom to found that primary school in the Atayal mountains. So I used to refer to him as kind of the pioneer of the experimental education because when he was 8, my mother did a primary school, and when he was 7th grade, my mom did an alternative experimental school on the junior high and when he was in the 10th grade, my mom did a senior high, extending the junior high principle. So he basically led, just by growing up, the alternative school movement in Taiwan.

  • He’s now of course having his own child, raising his own child, also with a lot of help from the alternative school communities and then because, it’s all legal now, it’s not civil disobedience anymore, he also works with families and teachers how to empower homeschooling and group schooling for their children. I would say he’s an educator and by and large continuing my parents’ work in education.