• Rajmeet Singh Arora

How digital innovation can fight pandemics and strengthen democracy | Audrey Tang | Talk on TED




Audrey Tang is a conservative anarchist and Taiwan's Digital Minister, who likes to call himself a poetician. Watching this Ted Talk opened a very unique perspective on Digital Democracy and how Taiwan learnt from SARS 2003 and succeeded in avoiding the deadly consequences of Covid-19 that a lot of other countries around the world have faced.


I work with the government, not for the government & I work with the people not for the people.

The talk starts with Audrey putting forth 3 Key ideas about digital democracy:

  • Fast: Taiwan started checking individuals flying from Huan on 1st of January. Rapid response system build trust between the government and the civil society.

  • Fairness: Everyone having access to information about which pharmacies have masks available

  • Fun: Taiwan's counter dis-information strategy: "Humour over Rumour" Making sure that factual humour spreads faster (goes viral) than rumours like tissue papers ending.

The community trusts each other. That is the main point of digital democracy. This is not about people trusting the government more, this is about the government trusting the citizens more.

Then in the conversation with David Biello from TED, Audrey puts forth how Digital Systems can fight coivd:

  1. Collective Intelligence System: Online spaces without the "reply button" because with the reply button people focus on "face" and not "book". In Taiwan, Polis - a forum that lets you upvote and downvote each other's feelings with real-time clustering. In such places, people are encouraged to post more eclectic, nuanced ideas - allowing the Government apply Social Mandate which involves at scale for rough consensus.

  2. Distribute Ledger - In Taiwan, when you go to a nearby pharmacy and present your NHI card, you can buy 9 masks (or 10 if you are a child) - and see the stock of that pharmacy go down by 9 or 10 in a couple of minutes on your mobile phone. This information is published every 30 seconds so that everyone holds each other accountable. This allows for a very transparent social set-up.

  3. Humour versus rumour: Whenever there's a trending rumour or conspiracy theory you respond to it with a humorous, factually correct meme within 2 hours. "Comedians are our most cherished colleagues.", says Audrey

Another interesting idea Audrey talks about is In Taiwanthey have broadband (connectivity to internet) as a human right. And so when deploying 5G, they're looking at places where the 4G has the weakest signal and begin with those places in their 5G deployment


Personal data is never truly personal. It's always social, intersectional. If I take a selfie at a party, I inadvertently also take pretty much everybody else's who are in the picture.

What do you see next?

I see coronavirus as a great amplifier I think the coronavirus is the change for everybody who have survived through the first wave to settle on a new set of norms that will reinforce your founding values, instead of taking on alien values in the name of survival.

When we see the internet of things, let's make it the 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 that singularity is near, let us always remember the plurality is here.
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