80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

#120 – Audrey Tang on what we can learn from Taiwan’s experiments with how to do democracy

80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

In 2014 Taiwan was rocked by mass protests against a proposed trade agreement with China that was about to be agreed without the usual Parliamentary hearings. Students invaded and took over the Parliament. But rather than chant slogans, instead they livestreamed their own parliamentary debate over the trade deal, allowing volunteers to speak both in favour and against.

Instead of polarising the country more, this so-called 'Sunflower Student Movement' ultimately led to a bipartisan consensus that Taiwan should open up its government. That process has gradually made it one of the most communicative and interactive administrations anywhere in the world.

Today's guest — programming prodigy Audrey Tang — initially joined the student protests to help get their streaming infrastructure online. After the students got the official hearings they wanted and went home, she was invited to consult for the government. And when the government later changed hands, she was invited to work in the ministry herself.

Links to learn more, summary and full transcript.

During six years as the country's 'Digital Minister' she has been helping Taiwan increase the flow of information between institutions and civil society and launched original experiments trying to make democracy itself work better.

That includes developing new tools to identify points of consensus between groups that mostly disagree, building social media platforms optimised for discussing policy issues, helping volunteers fight disinformation by making their own memes, and allowing the public to build their own alternatives to government websites whenever they don't like how they currently work.

As part of her ministerial role Audrey also sets aside time each week to help online volunteers working on government-related tech projects get the help they need. How does she decide who to help? She doesn't — that decision is made by members of an online community who upvote the projects they think are best.

According to Audrey, a more collaborative mentality among the country's leaders has helped increase public trust in government, and taught bureaucrats that they can (usually) trust the public in return.

Innovations in Taiwan may offer useful lessons to people who want to improve humanity's ability to make decisions and get along in large groups anywhere in the world. We cover:

• Why it makes sense to treat Facebook as a nightclub
• The value of having no reply button, and of getting more specific when you disagree
• Quadratic voting and funding
• Audrey’s experiences with the Sunflower Student Movement
• Technologies Audrey is most excited about
• Conservative anarchism
• What Audrey’s day-to-day work looks like
• Whether it’s ethical to eat oysters
• And much more

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Producer: Keiran Harris
Audio mastering: Ben Cordell
Transcriptions: Katy Moore

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