Lunch with Taiwan's "Digital Minister"
The ECCT's Technology and Telecommunications, Media & Content (TMC) committees jointly hosted a lunch on the subject "Creating a digital Taiwan" with guest speaker Audrey Tang, Minister Without Portfolio responsible for digital matters. The event was streamed live on Facebook. It began with a short introduction by Minister Tang to the government's digital policies. After this she engaged in a panel discussion with co-chairpersons of the two committees (Hakan Cervell from the TMC committee and Giuseppe Izzo from the Technology committee). During the discussion, she answered questions from the co-chairs as well as questions posted by viewers online. The discussion was moderated by Timothy Berge, General Manager of ICRT.
Tang was appointed as Minister Without Portfolio responsible for digital matters in October 2016. In this position she has been tasked with making the government more transparent and making data about how it works available to all as well helping to set up Taiwan's "Asian Silicon Valley," a new technology zone devoted to the "Internet of Things" industry.
In her introduction, Tang stressed the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders in discussing and devising policies. In this way, it is possible to work out what society needs and the best way to achieve the desired results.
Her approach encourages breaking with tradition and taking risks within safe spaces to try out new ideas. She cited the example of the "financial technology sandbox", which has already been trialled in several countries, and which allows FinTech concepts to be tested for a trial period in a limited space with safeguards in place. In this way, there is no harm done if concepts fail while appropriate regulations can be drafted and put in place for those concepts which prove viable before they are allowed in the open market.
In addition to adopting a collaborative approach, the minister also emphasised the need for transparency, such as publishing meeting information and making regulatory announcements available online.
On a question about block chain technology, Tang said that it has its advantages and may be useful for certain types of activities, although for many government functions, other technologies would be more suitable.
On a question as to how to shift to a paperless administration, Tang noted that the government is moving in this direction but that sometimes it takes some coaxing to get people to change their habits. She added that many documents are being shared online already. Not only is this helping to cut down on the use of paper, but since documents are being accessed by people in different ministries, this is also encouraging cross-ministry collaboration.
Later on she added that she holds regular meetings aimed at resolving cross-ministerial issues, which are attended by senior officials from various ministries. Given that her ministry takes responsibility for solutions proposed at these cross-ministerial meetings, officials are more willing and even encouraged to suggest innovative solutions, which they might not have risked suggesting otherwise.
She cited the example of various ministries and other stakeholders working together to find the best way to deal with a famous private ride-sharing service provider. By gathering opinions from all and focusing only on the areas where there was broad consensus, they came up with a model that acceptable to all parties.
In answer to a question on privacy, the minister said that Taiwan has some of the world's strictest privacy regulations to protect the privacy of individual data. At the same time, the government wants to make it easier for individuals to access their own useful information (such as health records) in government databases as well as make data available in an anonymous and disaggregated form for analysis. On this point she stressed that there had been misleading reports that the government's intention to make data available would violate privacy rights. She emphasised that no personal information would be disclosed in any open data initiative.
Besides opening up anonymous health data for analysis, Tang also sees great potential benefits from opening up for analysis data on disasters (such as earthquakes and floods), weather, air pollution and marine data.
On a question about how to deal with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), she said that the adoption of AI should be gradual in order to allow people and systems to adapt. The main challenge in this regard she said is in the education system. This is subject Tang has been actively involved in. In 2015 she worked as a member of the K-12 National Curriculum Development Committee under the National Academy for Education Research. What she hopes the new 12-year curriculum will do is teach children to develop "autonomous capacity", that is, to be critical thinkers with the ability to proactively acquire useful knowledge and learn new skills.
On a question about the potential for electronic voting, Tang said that while technology has the potential for much more timely and accurate gauging of public opinions on a variety of subjects and even electing representatives, the biggest obstacle is the lack of public acceptance. No matter how good any kind of technology is at acquiring and verifying the accuracy of information, it will not be accepted unless people trust the system, which is why she believes traditional voting systems will remain in place for some time to come.