“AI&I” vTalk with Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang

“AI&I” vTalk with Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang

In the “AI&I” vTalk premiere Alexander Görlach and Audrey Tang spoke about challenges and opportunities for digital democracy in the face of COVID-19.

On Monday, the 30th of March 2020, Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang and “AI&I” moderator Alexander Görlach discussed current challenges and opportunities for democracy. Through three different time zones, they spoke about mobile applications and digital strategies, that have assisted Taiwan in combating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the virtual talk format partly inspired by questions of the online community, the Taiwanese Digital Minister also elaborated on modern concepts of democracy such as Radical Transparency.  

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From High School Dropout to Digital Minister   

Audrey Tang is a software developer and entrepreneur: At the age of 12 she dropped out of school to focus on programming. Before reaching age 15 she proceeded to found a search engine company. In October of 2016, she became Digital Minister of Taiwan and was commissioned by the government to support the communication of political goals and to manage governmental information. Today she is developing and implementing a strategy to create a “digital Taiwan”. 

The “AI&I” vTalk  

“Indeed during the COVID-19 outbreak Taiwan has been doing particularly well because we have a robust civil society that builds upon this idea of Radical Transparency,” says Audrey Tang. However, this has not always been the case. In the vTalk she reports that in Taiwan, an open and digital democracy was unimaginable a few years ago, “if you ask any random person in 2013, do you think that cross-sectoral collaboration is possible . . . people would probably say you’re crazy.” 

Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang (Public Domain)

Today the Taiwanese cross-sectoral collaboration builds upon the idea of a Data Collaborative. Accordingly, “everybody including the private sector which is for-profit but with purpose and the social sector which is for purpose but with profit can work together to deliver a data service platform where everybody can see what’s really going on using ledger technology. A technology that counters universal governmental control, as it allows for decentralized recording of data and transactions. Nonetheless, Audrey Tang accounts that digital democracy in Taiwan is still partly improvised, as “it’s not like we’ve had a very long time of doing digital democracy. In Taiwan, everybody is just inventing it as we go.” 

Next to the many negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Audrey Tang believes that there are opportunities for the development of digital democracy and innovation to be found: „With the COVID outbreak people start to mobilize everything they can against a common enemy, that is the spread of the virus, and in this movement of mobilization everybody who previously had different ideas of how the society should move, at least now has one common understanding.” shared direction can help open innovation, effective partnerships and cross-sectoral cooperation in the future. 

According to Audrey Tang, two steps could help us to maintain this course. 

  1. The government should disclose what is effectively done to help people. 
  2. People from all areas of society should be able to participate in this process. 

In Taiwan, Audrey Tang has begun to walk these steps and in the vTalk she moved a few steps in our direction: “I think one particular thing Taiwan can help with, is to share the tools that we translate these scientific ideas into what people can readily understand.” Two of these tools:  

eMask – an online pre-ordering system for surgical face masks 

StopCovid19 – a website of the Tokyo city government that focally provides the latest information on COVID-19. 

Watch other discussions from the “AI&I” event series 

The Vodafone Institute launched the “AI&I” series of events in Berlin in 2018 to create a platform for a constructive, interdisciplinary dialogue on the effects of artificial intelligence on our society and economy. To stimulate a diverse debate and inform decision-makers, we have already discussed with renowned researchers such as Vinton G. Cerf, Pascal Finette, Luciano Floridi, Nuria Oliver, Sir Martin Rees, and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

For more information about the role, governments play in the age of digitization see our study “The Tech Divide“.