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How Taiwan's online democracy may show future of humans and machines

How Taiwan's online democracy may show future of humans and machines

Originally posted by Shuyang Lin @ smh.com.au

Taiwanese citizens have spent the past 30 years prototyping future democracy since the lift of martial law in 1987. Public participation in Taiwan has been developed in several formats, from face-to-face to deliberation over the internet. This trajectory coincides with the advancement of technology, and as new tools arrived, democracy evolved.

The launch of vTaiwan (v for virtual, vote, voice and verb), an experiment that prototypes an open consultation process for the civil society, showed that by using technology creatively humanity can facilitate deep and fair conversations, form collective consensus, and deliver solutions we can all live with.

It is a prototype that helps us envision what future democracy could look like.

In 2014, riding on the era of self-media — when digital natives wouldn’t hesitate to become YouTubers, to share selfies and Vine videos on social media on a regular basis or in real-time — the Sunflower movement took place. Students in Taiwan couldn’t bare the MP’s unwillingness to deliberate about a service trade deal with the Beijing Office so they occupied the parliament for 22 days and conducted a real deliberation, with the entire process live-streamed.

This led to the introduction of vTaiwan.

vTaiwan has been experimenting with bringing citizens and public servants together in a civic deliberation process utilising state of the art technologies for crafting digital legislation. The adoption of these technologies brings a more transparent, responsive, and participatory deliberation process, which is the core of public participation and the open government movement. By openly aggregating shared wisdom from the society on a regular basis, the experiments created a recursive public, an open and interactive community environment that kept track of updated rough consensus for crafting legislation and regulation.


It brings people directly into governance and helps lawmakers implement decisions with a greater degree of legitimacy. To date, more than twenty-six topics have been discussed through vTaiwan, with 20 of them contributing to decisive government action.

The vTaiwan project as an adaptable, and reproducible, prototype for future democracy.

It's an extremely flexible space formation that connects the physical room with digital interfaces according to group size for each discussion; and, an interactive environment crafted by vTaiwan contributors, which could mean anyone. It creates an open space with open format. It invites all actors to participate in discussion and to decide the agenda. The vTaiwan process has also been formed by the community participants iteratively. Therefore its space, environment, process, experience and the environment has been developed in several varieties over the past three years. The power of the web and AI is utilised to provide full remote participation for large groups of participants.

The problem of deciding how we want our nation to live together — democracy — has not been about not being able to make decisions, because we already have laws, regulations, norms and culture pretty much documented, even with pen and paper. The real problem has been that we are not able to follow those shared standards because many of them are quite outdated. The speed our society evolves has passed the speed of how we update our shared collective intelligence.

Decision-making is not an easy task, especially when it has to do with a larger group of people. Group decision-making could take several protocols, such as mandate, to decide and take questions; advise, to listen before decisions; consent, to decide if no one objects; and consensus, to decide if everyone agrees. So there is a pressing need for us to be able to collaborate together in a large scale decision-making process to update outdated standards and regulations.

The future of human knowledge is on the web. Technology can help us to learn, communicate, and make better decisions faster with larger scale. The internet could be the facilitation and AI could be the catalyst. It is extremely important to be aware that decision-making is not a one-off interaction. The most important direction of decision-making technology development is to have it allow humans to be engaged in the process anytime and also have an invitation to request and submit changes.

Humans have started working with computers, and we will continue to work with them. They will help us in the decision-making process and some will even make decisions for us; the actors in collaboration don’t necessarily need to be just humans. While it is up to us to decide what and when to opt in or opt out, we should work together with computers in a transparent, collaborative and inclusive space.

Where shall we go as a society? What do we want from technology? As Audrey Tang,  Digital Minister without Portfolio of Taiwan, puts it: "Deliberation — listening to each other deeply, thinking together and working out something that we can all live with — is magical."

Shuyang Lin is co-founder of the Taiwanese government's Public Digital Innovation Space, working to prototype future democracy. She will be presenting at the Above All Human conference on August 29th.

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