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Technology Strengthens Taiwan’s Civil Society

Society’s use of technology reflects the perception of value. Taiwan cares about whether digital technologies bring public benefits to society as a whole. The development of new technology makes people worry about losing job opportunities and Artificial Intelligence (AI) may compete with humans, but it also leads to more exploration of human potential.

AI can augment our collective intelligence. For example, sorting through hundreds of thousands of input from citizens is very tedious. Now that AI can power this conversation at scale, a hundred thousand people can listen to one another because the facilitation is in AI. The more people join, the better the quality.

– Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan

Using AI to power conversation can scale the idea of listening to scale to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people talking together. People can still listen to each other’s main points. This is how Taiwan is using AI to power its public service consultation. One example of this is an AI-powered conversation platform that very cleverly takes away the chores but opens up the agenda-setting for people.

Technologies that Help Taiwan most to Manage the COVID-19 Pandemic

In Taiwan, the pandemic has strengthened its model of collaboration between people, government, and the private sector, deepening “people-public-private” partnerships. This is because Taiwan has built a digital infrastructure that lets people freely express opinions on policy reforms. When the COVID-19 outbreak struck last year, masks, the most essential personal protective equipment, were in short supply and the central government had to adopt a “real name registration system” for ordering face masks.

The contact-tracing system 1922 SMS is another case in point. It was a solution jointly proposed by civic tech communities in Taiwan to ensure both privacy protection and efficient contact tracing. Civic technologists enthusiastically discussed how to improve existing registration systems, which primarily relied on paper and pencil, or primitive web forms and were often confusing or counter-productive to virus suppression measures.

Inspired by these discussions, the government worked with five leading telecoms firms to develop 1922 SMS. By scanning a QR code using a smartphone camera and sending a text message to the toll-free number 1922, check-in records are created and stored—with no need for an app. When necessary, contact tracers can retrieve data from the system for quick and effective tracing. From discussion to deployment, the 1922 SMS system was built in a week. This would not have been possible without a robust partnership between the public and private sectors and the people.

Digital Social Innovation in Taiwan

Social innovation refers to using innovative methods, such as digital technology and cross-disciplinary cooperation, to find effective solutions to social and environmental challenges. Social innovation means “everyone’s problem; everyone helps”: Everyone uses innovative methods to spontaneously invest and participate in things that contribute to the world, and then change the relationship between different groups in society and find solutions for the common problems.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, when it comes to digital democracy, democracy is the main idea, and digital is just an objective to assist democracy. Around the world, there is the other way of ideas that somehow democracy must give way to the public health measures, to counter disinformation measures. However, technology needs to adapt to the people’s will and the people’s norms, and people’s co-creation and real needs.

In Taiwan, the system has been successful in hearing younger people. A lot of the most impactful ideas came from very young people. To shorten the time that a genuinely good idea gets thought by a teenager or young people, and the time that it is understood by the senior people and implemented, is key to moving democracy forward. The younger people, because they are digital natives, they do not think that once every four years is sufficient to upload bandwidth, the latency is too high, they prefer to collaborate on a day-to-day basis.

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