The more you participate,
the more fun it is.

Audrey Tang
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Audrey Tang is Minister for Digital, Taiwan Government.This time, we interviewed her about the perspectives of "Internet" and "education."


Audrey Tang
Minister Audrey Tang joined the Executive Yuan in 2016. She is commonly known as the Digital Minister and leads Taiwan’s innovations in governance and technology. The innovative digital strategies she leads are essential to Taiwan’s success in containing Covid-19 and avoiding a lockdown. As one of the world’s top open-source software hackers, Minister Tang previously worked as a consultant for numerous technology companies, including Apple. As a supporter of open governance, she is also actively involved with g0v (gov-zero), a community dedicated to creating tools for civil society.


有滝 貴広
Takahiro Aritaki
Graduated from Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering. Deputy Director of Marketing, Internet Academy. Contributed to international standardization and technology dissemination activities as a member of the "Study Group on Text Layout for Next-Generation Web Browsers" sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and was awarded the 2020 Information and Communication Technology Award (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Commendation).
Takahiro Aritaki
Picture 1, Picture 2
Audrey Tang, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons



It's freedom not just for the technologist,
but for freedom for everyone.

Hello, Minister Audrey Tang. My name is Takahiro from Internet Academy. I'm happy to be here interviewing you today. May I start the questions?

Yes, of course.

Thank you. I heard that Minister Audrey Tang first used the Internet in 1993, when you were 12 years old. May I ask what you thought when you first contacted with the Internet?

Before dialing into the Internet, I also participated in the bulletin board systems using Telix BBS. However, at the time, even the largest BBS sites, maybe have 10 telephone lines, 50 telephone lines, so it's still possible if I make a dial, it will not connect. So I always are happy when I connected to Telix BBS. But with the Internet, the dial up never fails. Right? So I only have to listen once, to the sound. And then once it's connected, I can go on to connect to 10, 20 different BBs on the Internet, but never fail once in dialing. So it's very convenient, and it feels like the feeling of freedom. It's very liberating.

We think that 1995, the year the company Internet Academy was founded and the year the Internet began to spread widely, is in fact the first year of Internet. How was the use of the Internet in Taiwan in 1995?

I don't know I mean, I will think it of as the first year of the Web, but probably not the first year of the Internet, because as you know, I've been on the Internet since 93 at least and Internet goes way back. Well I think the Web is truly special.
Because when I was dialing in to the BBS, it felt like the site operator, what we call system operator, or sis op, has absolute power over, not just content, but the logic of the interaction.
On the other hand, even on the Internet, the dialing even it always goes through, still it's very concentrated, all the information, all the data, how it's organized, the content and the interaction are both controlled by the system operator.
However, with the Web, it's not like that. If I make a hyperlink I’m essentially saying, here's something that I don't control, but I want you to read it anyway. And this fosters a very cross sectoral understanding. Previously, there really is no way for one BBS to switch the viewer to another unrelated BBS without their consent and a lot of coding. But with hyperlink and other Web technologies, the knowledge can actually become a what we call intertextual knowledge. And that made everyone happier, I guess, because people can see that there is a place for them. Anyone can become a webmaster. Becoming a webmaster requires no coding, just learning a little bit of HTML. And that is much easier to learn, compared to setting up an entire BBS system from scratch. It's very, very different. So everyone gets to be creators of content, and share it on the Web. So it's freedom not just for the technologist, but for freedom for everyone who writes and, and later on, of course, with the audio codecs and video codecs is also extended to anyone with a recorder anyone with a camera and so on. And so eventually pretty much everyone else.

Since the age of 15, Minister Tang has been participating in the creation of rules for the world of the cross-border Internet, such as making regulations on the Internet at the IETF, which formulates standards for technologies used on the Internet, and arranging communication rules at W3C, which standardizes Web technologies. Why did you decide to participate in such an activity?

Well, because it's fun. I don't really have any other answer. Yeah, I participated in the development of the atom standard. That's the one of the successors, to the RSS to the really Simple Syndication. Simply because I've got a blog, many of my friends had a blog, we want to make a timeline, we found that the timeline, you know, sometimes looks differently, the format, when and so on. And so definitely some standard is needed. So I participate in the work, because I believe that blogs, wikis, and so on. These are not just for the people who publish or people who read professional literature, but could actually become one of the, while we call the blogosphere, the social fabric upon which people interact with one another. And so the more people we can interact with at a time, it sounds more fun. Of course, nowadays, thinking in retrospect, more people is not always better. But at the time, we really want to connect more people, regardless of their technical capabilities, and through Unicode, emoji legalization, regardless of ethnicity, or cultures, or languages, and so on. So Internet, for all, I think, is more fun at the point of my involvement.

Minister Tan retired from business at the age of 33 and was responsible for Apple's Siri development as a digital advisor. Specifically, in charge of a project to make Siri speak Shanghainese. And you also integrated the Traditional Chinese dictionary built in Macs and iPhones into Apple's system. I read in the book that " support for the work of integrating multiple languages into the system is directly and indirectly linked to my current work." What specific points do you think that it links to your current job?

First of all, I want to set the record straight, I was a contributor to both efforts, but I was not the product manager. So I'm not exactly in charge of the project, I did make contributions.

Once there's Internet,
it empowers people who feel passionately about something
to connect with people with similar fashions of passion.

In 2020, as the Digital Minister, you provided apps such as mask maps and succeeded in suppressing the new coronavirus in Taiwan. Minister Tan said in the book, "It was achieved because of the relationship of trust between the government and the people." How long did this relationship of trust take to build and how did you build it? Can private companies and other countries use the same process?

I think the trans cultural approach, which is the approach that I took when I work on language technologies, is really important here. Because in Taiwan, we have around 20 national languages. And each national language has a different view on the shared history, but from a very different perspective. And so instead of just promoting one and leave the others behind, we really need to make each languages, citizens feel that's their language is accurately represented, not just in a term of conservation, but also it makes it easier for people in other cultures, to learn their language, and to learn their culture. And so listening, in this sense, is very important. Listening is an intention to be swayed to be changed by the other person on the other side. So it involves letting go of a little bit of hubris, right? If you can't know everything, and so when people point out that things are not what they seem to you from their perspective, I always ask, okay, so if you're the digital minister, what would you do? So this is the idea of everyone's business with everyone's help. And once people see that their contributions, gets merged in a very quick fashion, usually within a couple of days. And then of course, there's more incentive is more fun for them to contribute in this way. And so I would say two main things. One is humility, meaning that don't presume that we hold all the solutions. And the second thing is accountability. Meaning that when people explained that we did things wrong, and so on, we explain why we saw things this way and we explain how we were wrong. And we explain how we changed it. And then we follow through on the change

From the perspective of public health, Minister Tang thinks that it is more important for the majority of people to have basic knowledge than for a few to have advanced scientific knowledge, which I read from your book. Does this idea also apply to fields other than public health? Also, what kind of measures are needed for the majority of people to have basic knowledge?

I think once people have basic knowledge, then some of them will find this very interesting. And then they will acquire more knowledge. But then they will not forget that there's also people of knowledge that's not as involved as they are. So they become a little bit more proficient, but still has a capability to communicate with people that was less involved. And then the latter goes on, right, a few will decide to make it a career to pursue in that field, a few will make a number of contributions to the field, and so on. So this is like a letter of skills in which each step knows exactly how to talk to the people of the previous step, as well as how to get more insight, knowledge, more insights from the next step of the ladder. And once this shape is in place, we achieve this sort of social understanding of any particular field because anyone who wants to understand a little bit more knows exactly where to look, knows exactly who to ask. On the other hand, if it's just a few people with elite knowledge, and everyone else with almost no knowledge, this gap is too large. And there's no way to jump through this gap of knowledge. So I think this applies equally, really to any field. Doubts concerns the impact of everyday life. So it could be around the field of information technology, which connects machine to machine digits to digits, it could be about digitalization, which connects people to people, right? They're all in digitalization means all people. So both the natural science part of it, and the social science part of it, I think, can use this sort of knowledge ladders.

We are trying to create a society where people can be connected via the Internet and everyone has the opportunity to learn equally. I believe that will lead to the elimination of the digital divide and the poverty. On the other hand, I read your book and understood it as Minister Tang also aims to "include and connect all the people." Why does Minister Tang think it is important to connect people? Where does that origin come from?

Well, it came from the fact that when I dropped out of the middle school, really the Internet was pretty much the only way that I can get in touch with the researchers in the topics that I was interested in. Right. They're all in different jurisdictions in different time zones. And it's only the Internet that connects me with one another at a time, I really couldn't fly to like the 20 or so cities, where the researchers that I work with reside, although later on when I turn like 25, I would eventually do that. But when I was just 14, it was very different. And so the Internet to me makes sure that we can choose our own neighbors. If we care about the same values, if we shared the same outlook on the world, we don't feel alone anymore. Once there's Internet, it empowers people who feel passionately about something to connect with people with similar fashions of passion. And when people connect in this way, then each of us are liberated from kind of the burden the duty to tackle everything by ourselves, rather, we can tackle it as a group. So I think this is also important in terms of the personal development so that people can be good neighbors. It's just the Internet allows us to choose our neighbors from a much wider population.

I saw in the book that it is important to cultivate a sense of beauty and acquire a literary background in order to deal with problems that cannot be solved by science and technology. In the future, what should people who aim to become engineers do first in order to cultivate a sense of beauty? Also, how should people acquire a literary literacy?

I think one of the main thing is it's not about literacy. It's not about appreciating other people's work. It's more about competence, which is the ease of which that you produce new work. So while literacy makes people think that we have to, I don't know, read novels that are classics, to read poetry that are classics to watch movies that are classic, and so on, I think people who are already engineers are more attracted to the interactive creation of new works. So it could be, for example, making video games, there's many engineers that I know that very much enjoy making a video games, or modding; modifying existing video games, so that a place in a different setting, well, that's also an artistic expression, there's also a creation, but it's done in a proactive mode, meaning that I first think or feel something, I express it. And then I appreciate the people who had similar expressions. And then maybe we form a group of people who play with each other's games interactively, and things like that. And in that sense, I guess, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, even GitHub could be seen as this kind of creativity playgrounds. And so in those creativity playgrounds, I think it's important to make sure that whatever you feel like interesting or beautiful or something, you share your reaction also in the open so that people can work with more than just the code that we produce, but also the reaction to each other's code. I very much like how GitHub introduced emoji reactions, to each comment, and so on. And people make a lot of use of animated gifs, and memes and things like that. To me, these are also expressions that seem to liberate us from just a very mechanical engineering theory of time.

In contrast to the "digital native generation" who had the Internet from the time they were born, there are "digital immigrants" who did not have the Internet when they were born and encountered the Internet in their later lives. Moreover, I think that there are many people who have never used the Internet in an aging society like Japan. What kind of literacy should people like "digital immigrants" or "people who have never used the Internet" acquire in order to play an active role in society?

I think the Internet should move to where people are. It's not that people should adapt to the Internet. So in Taiwan, we make sure, for example, that all the pharmacies or the clinics and so on, have broadband connections, no matter how rural, how remote The place is. So for the elderly people, it's not that they have to go to a city to use the Internet, they can just be talking to their doctors, over a videoconference. But a video conference is set up by maybe a local clinic that they trust, a local nurse that they trust, a elderly caring place that they trust. And so they wouldn't think I'm using the Internet, they will think that I'm chatting with my friend on the next city is just like telephone, just faced with video, and so on. So I think this is a real need, by many people, especially in a time of pandemic, feeling connected feeling the warmth of people supporting each other. This is very important. And Internet is built for this Internet, the original design was to maintain communication, even when you know there's a nuclear war and people have to shelter and things like that, and still maintain a kind of connection between the people who are isolated. And so because the Internet was built for it is it plays such a role in a pandemic. And I think many people regardless of whether they're digital immigrants or natives understood that Internet is here to stay as an infrastructure to support the society based on their face to face over video communications. And I'm also a digital immigrant myself. So I understand Of course, always it makes sense to have a local person that you can trust that you feel safe, that you feel good around which that they can be the kind of Ambassador that introduced you to novel ways of using the technology.

It feels like the continuation of culture.

Minister Tang said, "I am convinced that lifelong learning ability will be important in the future." However, in reality, some people will continue to learn even if they become working professional, while others will stop. So what do you think that it is necessary in order to keep learning? Are there some kinds of systems?

I think everyone learns. And in many jurisdictions, people didn't have a habit of wearing mask. But over the past a year or so, everyone learned to wear a mask. So it's a proof that it's not that people stopped learning it’s just previously people didn't feel maybe the necessity to learn. But after a year or so many jurisdictions around the world, even the people who didn't have any previous association, or experience with masks, they now understand what is there to protect our own face against our own unwashed hands, see, that message resonates with the world and the entire world learns it. So I think the main difference is the context. If it is a context where everyone else around you is learning something, then of course, you're going to learn that, simply to have a way of conversation with the people around you. Proper mask use is a very good example of that. And so making it such a way that the culture of lifelong learning is considered normal into society automatically means that it's less socially difficult for people to say, Hey, I'm 70 year old, but I'm working on an undergraduate degree, or I'm 80 years old, but I am learning HTML and JavaScript. And if the culture is such that everybody shares what they're learning, just like learning how to wear a mask, then it makes it easier for the more elderly, more senior people to share what they're learning too.

What kind of thinking and efforts do Japanese companies need in order to survive in global competition? Could Minister Tang give us some advice, especially from the perspective of IT utilization methods and training systems for Japanese companies?

Oh. Companies, don't think anything, companies are just a fiction, it’s like a hashtag. But people in companies? Of course, they, they they may think, yes, that's right. They usually say smart citizens, makes smart cities, there's no Smart Cities without smart citizens. And so for people in a company, I think one of the most important thing is to realize that what used to be chores, what used to be necessity work that people don't really like performing, but they perform for the continuous survival of the company, could now more or less be automated. And the latest developments in assistive intelligence in AI means that if we can articulate the kind of input and the kind of output in any specific part of our work, chances are, without too much investment, people can automate away any part of the work that they don't enjoy. And so after that, then they have more time and more peace of mind to enjoy the work. And once the work is enjoyed, then it creates more surprising value to the employees, of course, but also to all the stakeholders, customers and so on of the company. So to make a workplace, that people can work out loud, to make a workplace where it's a learning circle, where people just focus on helping each other to reduce the chores to work with more joy. I think that's the most important thing. And there's many disciplines within computer science to IoT, AI and so on, that are designed specifically for reducing disorder of unwanted job and work within a company.

What is the fun and pleasure of learning IT for Minister Tang, as you had participated in various IT-related projects since the advent of the Internet?

I think the fun is when I share something, and I see people re-mixing my work in a surprising, unexpected directions. That is the most fun. Because I get to learn something that I couldn't think of myself and they get to create something that they couldn't create without my previous input. So it feels like the continuation of culture. I feel this kind of pleasure when I saw the Japanese Hip Hop band “Dos Monos” sampled my interview. So the interview, like this one, is not meant to make it to music production, but they use the Creative Commons license, which means that I relinquish most of my copyrights so that they can actually make a song without asking my permission. So this permissionless invention, permissionless innovation, I think it's the most attractive thing of the Internet culture. Prior to that, it's not possible. But since the advent of Internet, we more and more make a creation that is based on the work that of the people that I don't know. But based on this creation, I get to know new creators, and based on this new person to person relationship, I get to know new works. And from this works, even more collaborators, and so on. And so this fun and joy of sharing is actually self perpetuating, meaning that the more you participate, the more fun it is.

The Internet Academy has been providing IT education to students as an Institute of Internet Technology since 1995. Please give a message to our students and those who are going to learn IT from now on.

So I used to explain that IT connects machines and digital with the “al” in digitalization, the digital connects people. So I will give a message based on that idea. It goes like this. When we see the “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”. And whenever we hear the “Singularity is Near”, it's always remember the “plurality is here”.

Thanks so much for having time. And good message for us, everyone. Thank you so much.