I am posting this about sixty minutes before the take-off of my 9.5 hour flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Sydney, Australia. Over the last two weeks I’ve met with several government and industry leaders, discussing the opportunities and challenges with the rapid adoption of the Internet of Everything (IoE). I’ve been impressed with the diversity of different cyber-civic endeavors occurring in Taiwan; three efforts in particular:

  • Open Government in Taiwan
  • Combating Cybercrime Through Collaborations with China
  • Pioneering New Public-Private Partnerships to Accelerate the IoE

All discussions and views shared on this trip have been solely in a personal, non-work capacity, as part of a 2015 Eisenhower Fellowship.

1. How the Internet is Transforming Open Government in Taiwan

With regards to open government, I met with several individuals who shared different perspectives on two trends occurring in Taiwan. The first trend involved the most recent election for the Mayor of Taipei, who ran as a bipartisan independent candidate, generally not closely affiliated with either party, and succeeded in courting the social-media savvy segments of Taipei’s urban population to win the election. It surprised both parties and triggered the existing national government of Taiwan to hold mandatory training seminars for their political appointees on the importance of using social media.

In meeting with some of the high-level political appointees at the national level, some expressed skepticism about how could they find the time to engage on social media daily given all of their other duties? Did using social media mean that they should let their day-to-day duties be decided by popular online votes? Did the public have the attention to focus on the longer-term, more detailed efforts that government workers generally had to do?

Other high-level political appointees, who had established bidirectional mentor-mentee relationships with Taiwan’s younger generation, expressed greater openness to exploring the changes, believing that it was important to engage Taiwan’s public on issues facing the nation.

While they recognized no online interaction would be perfect, and that individuals could potentially “flood” electronic spam or other disruptive comments in the midst of such online interactions, they saw the role of social media with the new Mayor of Taipei’s election as a sign that moving forward, they needed to better engage the public online.

In particular, one effort called g0v.tw was working with those government leaders willing to partner with the effort’s members. The g0v.tw effort itself began some years earlier with the goal of providing open source tools to better visualize data associated with Taiwan’s government. As part of the “Sunflower Movement” in Taiwan and other parts of Asia, g0v.tw and other collaborators voluntarily spent their time writing open source tools to help peaceful protestors mobilize and provide rational discussions in a way that reduced the spread of online rumors.

They noted that not all social media platform are conducive either to reducing the spread of rumors or galvanizing individuals to take productive action. To its credit, when an anti-protest movement formed to protest the “Sunflower Movement” in Taiwan, g0v.tw provided the same open source tools to both sides – focusing to be facilitators of the discussions and intentionally not pick a specific side.

In Taiwan, g0v.tw’s volunteers had produced tools to better visualize the government’s data. When I met with them, they also were working with a government Minister to develop an open source platform for public comment on rules being considered by the Taiwanese government using GitBook.

In terms of members, g0v.tw is voluntary, with individuals putting in time at night and on the weekends to help code. They have monthly meetups/hackathons to reinforce collaboration, and members living in different regions or those with different focus areas actively self-organize weekend sessions.

The efforts of gov.tw are definitely worth tracking to see what evolves over the coming months, and gives one hope for Taiwan’s open government and democratic endeavors. Also, as an open question worth asking: could such a self-organizing, voluntary model – namely of open source coders working nights and weekend to assist public service in a manner that transcended partisan politics – succeed in other nations?

2. Combating Cybercrime Through Collaborations with China

Also during the trip, I met with multiple stakeholders involved with combatting cybercrime. Of particular interest, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice shared that they were addressing cybercrime in collaboration with law enforcement in mainland China, primarily focused on fighting scams facilitated by the internet and internet-based “ransomware” targeting the elderly.

The officials cited the Taiwan-China cybercrime relationship as beneficial, especially since the perpetrators often were not in the country where the crime occurred. That said, the officials also noted challenges when law enforcement activities involved cases in other parts of Asia beyond the borders of either Taiwan or China.

The different officials also indicated concerns with how the IoE might provide additional avenues for electronic scams or “ransomware” that would hold hostage a user’s computer, smartphone, car, or even electronic house. They also asked if I had suggestions for how their personnel could keep up with the speed of technological changes?

My own recommendation was that they provide annual, if not quarterly, hands-on opportunities for their personnel to “dive deep” into the latest technologies so they each could understand both the good and not-so-good opportunities presented by new advances with the IoE.

I suggested the officials look at the U.S. Cyber Challenge as a possible model, and that Taiwan's legal and technology professionals work together proactively to consider preparations for unexpected and new “future crimes” associated with the IoE. A rapidly changing world will require greater collaborations across nations and sectors, especially given the breadth of the IoE and its expected impacts on our daily lives.

3. Pioneering New Public-Private Partnerships to Accelerate the IoE

The third aspect of my discussions in Taiwan that I found impressive was the nation’s history of launching new public-private partnerships to address emerging technologies in the 80’s and 90’s.

This included Taiwan’s Institute for Information Industry (III), originally launched as a way of connecting accelerating technology advances with the government and industry policies activities needed to both encourage economic growth and successful commercial “spin-offs” from the R&D investments conducted by academic and government agencies. Throughout the trip, I met with multiple people who shared positive success stories of Taiwan’s hardware manufacturing successes via the III public-private partnership.

At the same time, some industry leaders observed that Taiwan was not, as of yet, a nation as focused on software advances to the same degree as its focus on hardware manufacturing endeavors – and they raised questions about where the best place to focus with the IoE was: new hardware or software?

Though none of us know the future with complete clarity, I expressed my own personal view which was that the best focus would be on improving contextual methods of “sense-making” and decision making from IoE data. Such endeavors would require public-private partnerships collaborations involving hardware, software, and most importantly human and social activities.

Even with advances in machine-learning, we should still pair humans with algorithms to better inform the context and hone the actions needed from such data-rich endeavors.

Such public-private partnerships in Taiwan also could address work across to sectors to address both the need to protect privacy as well as bake-in both good “cyber hygiene” and security into the IoE.

One idea was that individual privacy could be protected by empowering consumers to decide when, where, and in what context their data should be shared with data requestors. By developing an open source agent or mobile app, consumers could chose to use it to be their trusted online broker when interfacing with other websites, mobile apps, or online services requesting their data.

Such an open source agent/app as trusted broker would operate solely for the consumer, with no other institutional purpose. It intentionally would be developed with open source code to both establish trust and employ a “many eyes” approach to detect software bugs. Strong encryption for the data handled, not only in transit, but even more importantly when the data is at rest, would also assist with data security.

By putting the consumer in control of their own open source agent – the consumer can could both set their privacy preferences in one single place vs. on different online platforms, and intentionally chose and monitor which requests for data they opt to respond to vs. other requests. Most importantly, as part of a larger “choice architecture”, consumers would be able to choose what IoE personal data sources they decide should be shared and in what context with other internet sites, apps, and services.

Closing Thoughts (For Now)

I leave Taiwan bound for Australia with my mind still a buzz from all the different conversations about the IoE that I’ve had in the space of two short weeks. Deeply indebted both to my hosts in Taiwan and the Eisenhower Fellowship, it is my hope that having these discussions in advance of mainstream global adoption of the IoE might better inform the future social deliberates, designs, and choices made by leaders everywhere as technology advances.