(This text is created based on the video published on YouTube as part of Plurality Research Network Conference Livestream (organized by Plurality Institute in 2023). I am willing to remove this post from this server. The text is edited and published here only as a byproduct of reviewing the talk by Audrey Tang in the hope that I could find a new kind of background information to translate “Introducing and soliciting collaboration on Plurality: Technology for Collaborative Diversity and Democracy” into Japanese.)
Segment: 4:34:40 to 4:53:50
Good local time, everyone. I’m Audrey Tong, Taiwan’s digital minister. It is a pleasure to speak with you all today in verse at the Plurality Research Network Conference.
The internet is a jamboree of light, connecting every part of daily life, a place where everyone can share and be, no matter race, gender, status, or degree. But with this freedom, the challenges are great, as billions are spent on AI to automate. Antisocial tech and surveillance thrive. Centralized powers grow. Autocracies revive. Authoritarians redefine the internet’s rules, twisting digital tech to control and to fool. But it is not too late. We can still change course and make the internet a source of discourse. Now, plurality — it is quite a find. Computational systems that are truly kind. The Taiwan model is a breath of fresh air, with tech that foster collaboration, not despair. [Screen caption: # https://data.gov.tw/en/] In 2012, Taiwan’s cabinet did state. To promote open data, it was fate. Since then, we’ve worked to relate, showing the people with open data efficiency can surely grow. For 10 years, Taiwan’s open data door has shared 50,000 plus sets and more. High value data on air, real estate, and trade, electricity supply, all available to be made. For citizens and industries to use and co-create, data.gov.tw really encourages debate. Our cross-domain collaboration facilitates apps for data activation. [Screen caption: # https://ci.taiwan.gov.tw/en/ ] Like the “Water Refill Map” app, it’s easy to find where to get free drinking water, it’s one of a kind. The CO2 update platform reduces carbon too, and the LASS platform manages river basins, true. Collaboration brings these benefits, it’s plain to see, thanks to the open data policy. Last year, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau announced a project to help citizens apply for high accuracy data and resources, that’s a feat. To facilitate the use of these resources, that’s neat. The private sector uses creativity and tech to develop cross-disciplinary applications for the best in fields like disaster mitigation, offshore wind power, and more. Thanks to Weather Open Data, that’s for sure.
Held once a year since 2018, Presidential Hackathon is a public innovation. This year’s international track theme is “Practicing Net Zero” in Climate Action. BRSDM@Er-Lin (Taiwan) is one of the top teams from Erlin Township and Chung Chou University. They’ve established a sustainable model for agricultural waste using biochar pyrolysis and cloud data match platform. They’ve made haste. Another champ is Team B.E.N.Z. from India. Their solution analyzes soil and weather data. Reducing labor costs with sensors too. Sustainable urban forests, it’s what we do. Inclusive co-creation is a core value full of cheer. Emerging tech tools spark debate, but there’s no fear, because the most important thing is to start with the people is key. Crowdsourced agenda-setting works, you’ll see. [Screen caption: # https://moda.gov.tw/en/] Now, web3 is a concept of this new era of plurality, and that’s why in July this year, W3C standardized the DID. Taiwan has joined W3C, connecting us to the world, helping us to achieve this vision of plurality together. To expand the vision of co-creation, that’s great. Our ministry was launched in August, it’s a date. Fostering resilience too — that’s what the moda aims to do.
Ideathon is a way to think outside the box. Inspired by the hackathon, it’s something that unlocks. A smorgasboard of entries is a powerful activity. Ideathon spurs innovative thinking. This year’s Ideathon theme is “WeWeFutures: 2040 Plurality.” It’s an immersive roadmap that shapes the future together. We invite design concept for 2040, tangible or intangible, space, goods, service mechanisms, [and] life forms. [Screen caption: # https://100.adi.gov.tw] Through those innovative communication technology platform, we take those good ideas and aim to create social value of more than 300 million US dollars with a focus on universal service, that’s our goal. We encourage innovative communication for a better overall. Public welfare, time-saving service, and streamlining old existing process with social value, that’s what we hold. For those with speech hurdles, tech can save the day with sign language via video relay. In stage one, we’ll gather proposals for innovative communication services from the non-governmental and private sectors, it’s a chance to express. The 100 selected proposals will receive financial aid, it’s true. Incentives and guidance measures, technical and application guidance, too. One to one mentor is all part of our bigger view. Our financing mechanism, that’s something fresh and new.
Plural funding considers the square root of each soul. Then it’s squared again. It’s an exciting concept, not in any way droll. Participants are willing to contribute, it’s part of the deal. The number of participants just as important as the funds they reveal. The government provides funds proportionally. Plural funding verifies public support, it builds legitimacy.
[Screen caption: https://www.state.gov/declaration-for-the-future-of-the-internet] This April I have signed a pledge, and that’s clear. With 16 nations reps, all free from fear. A declaration for the future, it’s true, for the internet’s future, for me and you. The declaration looks at the net’s connections, its distributed structures, with no exceptions. We promise to uphold human rights and foster trust and freedom in online life. The moda uses Interplanetary File System, we know, a decentralized solution, don’t you know? So share your computers, lend some connectivity and help defeat censorship easily. All other agencies can use our website’s design, saving money and strengthening resilience in no time. The moda leads by example, that is clear, showing our approach is practical and, all can hear. We encourage all to adopt our way you see. CC0 waives copyright, our materials are free. “Free the Future” is the moda’s call to all. For Taiwan’s fellow democracies, we stand tall. This is what plurality looks like, you can see. Not just for politics or government, that’s not to be. The internet wasn’t just for military and research, no, but it’s a new tech paradigm, [let] it grow. It can transform every sector, every life. If we learn to harness it, let’s end the strife. The web, just like Sir Tim Berners-Lee said, connects people, not just machines, [let] it spread. This is the Taiwan Model we wish to share with the world that shows them, let’s be aware. I’d like to end with a poem, you see. It’s the vision we’re heading to, don’t you agree? When we see “internet of things” how to make an internet of beings. When we see “virtual reality” how to make a shared reality. When we see “machine learning” how to make collaborative learning. When we see “user experience” how to make a human experience. When we hear “the singularity is near” let us always remember the plurality is here & don’t surrender — live long and prosper.
All right, and we’re going to jump straight into Audrey’s Q&A.
I’m really happy to have received the follow-up questions after the initial video. So without further ado, let’s answer the questions from you.
Q: The first question, a very good one, asks, how can we facilitate more engaged plural governance of the sort that we have fostered in Taiwan?
A: Well, I think in Taiwan, the Pol.is style conversations is just part of this supply chain, if you would, of crowdsourced agenda setting. It makes it possible and even easy and fun for the citizens to set collectively the agenda for public conversation, but it does not replace the public conversation that goes afterwards. So the question asks, what are the necessary ingredients and what are the limiting reagents? So two necessary ingredients. One, broadband as human rights, or since I’m in Lithuania recording this, I’ve heard people referring to broadband as tap water. And the second is that emphasis on competence, not just literacy in the basic education, because literacy is when you consume and competence is when you co-create. Now the limiting reagent, of course, would be the polarization. Now, the next question, beyond those tools, what’s one small change you have implemented that has yielded surprisingly large results? To overcome polarization, the offline space is also important. What we have implemented in the past six years is a team embedded in each and every ministry called participation officers. The POs, they are once career public servants, but also facilitators at collaborative meetings. The POs use tools such as “Pol.is” and “join” and so on, of course, but the one single change is that they are also the petitioners. They are also the facilitators that leads the petitioners for the online e-petition to have conversations. So we choose POs as facilitators for the issues unrelated to their ministry. If it’s about tax filing, maybe the Coast Guard PO will lead the discussion on the table. If it’s about surfing rules, then maybe the tax agency. So that’s increased the intrinsic award motivation for each and every PO participating. Now the next question, what are the research questions I would like to see answered to support our work? Well, here’s a research question for you. How can we use ideas from narrative therapy, from group dynamics to ensure that there is good quality facilitation going on embedded as part of the space for dialogue? Now, of course, with the advent of [generative AI], we can see that people with very different communication styles now can be mediated through the various generative AI that keeps the substance but change the style to the style that are more preferred by people in that communication mode. I’m very excited about the potential use and of course the limiting factors that we prevent an abuse of such technologies. But this, I think, goes one step beyond Pol.is, which only quotes the type ideas verbatim without translation. So think of it as a machine translation layer on top of Pol.is.
Q: The next question asks, is it best to impose POs-like conversations top-down like a city government or better harnessed by the grassroots-like movements and promote it up?
A: Well, in the vTaiwan experiments back in 2015, it’s both. The conversations, the style of conversations is done by civic hackers, by grassroots. However, the agenda setting power is delegated by the central government. So basically, there are two components to this. In the diverging part, the civil society sets the rules and runs the space. In the converging part, the agenda setting part, a government official pre-commits to discuss at length substantially the crowdsourced consensus and only those consensus.
Q: The next question asks, so the Pol.is style conversation, what are some recent policies that you have seen passed that it was useful?
A: And this is a good question. Recently, we’ve enabled many vTaiwan processed regulations, for example, around e-scooters, around the legislature has recently just passed against the unconsensual sharing of intimate images and so on. [All of these have] gone through the Pol.is style agenda setting.
Q: the question asks, what are the ingredients and the involvement of population that makes it successful?
A: So bear in mind that Pol.is conversation just begins the conversation. When we have the rough consensus around these controversial topics, there are more face-to-face or online or hybrid dialogues, multi-stakeholder forums, co-creation meetings, and so on that follows the agenda setting. So to rely only on a single tool would not enable this whole process, visualization and agenda setting and accountability.
Q: the next question asks, okay, so we have generative AI now. Is this something that Taiwan is experimenting with?
A: Indeed, we have this ideathon with the theme “Plurality 2040.” We’re crowdsourcing not just stories from 2040 that shows an optimistic or non-optimistic use of the technologies, including 6G communication and so on, a decade or so from now. However, we plan to feed these scenarios into generative AI and we will coach those AI to become assistive in immersing the researchers into the visions of 2040 so as to have a conversation taking place in the future.
Q: The next question, has a Pol.is style governance system been implemented in any significant organization other than the government of Taiwan? And the question is, what do you think stands in the way?
A: Well, from what I gather, if you go to Pol.is, there are many like within a city government or a political party and so on. And the unifying, I think, motivation is that there are people who want to listen to each other better and overcome the polarization. So the idea of good enough consensus or rough consensus need to make some sense to that policy. So I think it speaks to a different style of politics. That is to say, vTaiwan was only possible because in the cabinet then as now, there are more independent members than members of any party. So it creates a credibly neutral space beyond party politics, but without replacing party politics for this kind of crossroads agenda setting. And so I would encourage you to create such spaces and engage all the parties because if the opposition party becomes the co-creation party, well, that is creative politics there and it’s far more possible for everybody involved to also gain the insights on the constituencies that’s their next election requires.
Q: And the final question, has these tools been deployed in the PRC regime?
A: aWell, I honestly don’t know because all of our process is open source, is public code. And in our live streamed meetings, the collaborative meetings, there were quite a few entrance people who no doubt through VPN or some other connection technologies participated at least in the Slido questions and also on the live stream. And of course we welcome all because we believe in crowdsource moderation and many of them showed a willingness of learning these tools, running them in a kind of self-hosted way behind the great firewall and to facilitate conversations. But because we are not running a SaaS model, right, all of this is the components that people can run for themselves. So we do not have statistics as of how it’s actually used there, but there’s already strong interest and continuously I think we would just share our good practices, our better practices that informs the democracy network, which includes of course the democracies that have signed on the declaration for the future of the internet, but also includes the democratic practitioners within more authoritarian regimes.
Closing: Okay. I hope the questions get answered by the video that I just recorded. And if you have follow up questions, please do feel free to reach me and for the time being, live long and prosper.