Jason Hsu (許毓仁) co-founded The Big Questions in 2008, a consultancy focuses on social innovation and brings leaders from all fields to engage in conversations and actions for sustainable future. A year later he founded TEDxTaipei and has been serving as a TEDx Ambassador since 2011. Meanwhile Jason keeps learning. In 2013 he received scholarship from Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. In 2015 he attended Executive Program at Singularity University.
Like many young Taiwanese, he was inspired by the 2014 Sunflower Movement to get into politics. But rather than side with the then-opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), he joined the Kuomintang (KMT) as it faced a landslide defeat in the polls and became one of their young legislators
Q: Do you feel there is a transition? If so, how do you define it?
Yes absolutely. I’m a big believer in technology, and what many people forget is that technology grows exponentially. Most governments and organisations haven’t taken this into account in their work. They still function in a linear fashion. This can be seen in the way they organise work, information distribution, decision making processes, etc.
Because of this way of thinking we are constantly constrained by scarcity. We need to start thinking in abundance. By which I mean we should not deplete the world’s resources of course but we should think how best to use the resources. We have to create an exponential future. In other words, we need a whole new way of thinking in business, in public governance and NGOs. We need to tackle the world’s problem using technology.
So yes, we are definitely living through a transition but the issue is that we haven’t put the proper legal infrastructure in place, we don’t have the right government structure in place and most of what we produce is still organised in siloes.
Q: Could you give me an example of “abundance thinking”?
Sure. Take Moore’s Law for example, computational power doubles every 18 months. This makes your pocket-sized smartphone more powerful than a building-sized supercomputer from the 1980s. The same exponential laws apply to minimum intrusion of medical operations, 3D printing, robotics, etc.
If you think in abundance, we need to explore the possibility of not depending on natural resource extraction. We need to stop over-production and over-consumption. Our governments need to create legislation which supports the lower consumption of goods. For example, promote renewable energy, electric cars, reduction of fossil fuel consumptions in materials…
Q: A trend I see growing in America and Europe is simple living or minimalism, which is also what you are talking about, living with what one needs, no more. It still seems to me that Asia, including Asian Youth, is still very much consuming without consideration for the environmental and societal implications. Am I wrong in this observation?
I agree though the trends you describe aren’t mainstream anywhere.
In our society production and economic growth are still the two main drivers of any societal activity. We keep producing but by utilising technology properly, we could do more with less.
Yesterday, our Parliament decided to raise the amount of a national fine against Über to 25’000’000NT (roughly US$800k). This is indicative of the struggle between the old and new economy. The Parliament is protecting taxi drivers because they represent votes but they are at the same time, stopping innovation within the transport industry. The problem we are seeing is that our leadership has not grasped this implication for our future. They are working to protect their past, to preserve their interests.
I envision a future where technology is not seen as a threat but as a tool.
Q: You have stated quite openly that you have gone into politics and joined the KMT party, to reform it from within. As you have just explained, any system protects the past because, the people in power are the result of the past. How do you propose to change a 70-year-old conservative political party from within?
The situation I am dealing with is complicated and it is important for there to be outliers, especially in Parliament. I would like to represent that group of outliers.
I believe the future is far better and greater than the past we are protecting. My goal is to educate little by little the current administration - including my own party - to new ideas and developments, in a way that encourages values and not conflict. Most people when they communicate, do so following the logic of a zero-sum game, where there is a winner and a loser in the conversation. I try to talk keeping in mind how to maximise the future with current opportunities.
The future is there to be discovered and built. Über is just the tip of the iceberg. We have yet to see the sharing economy in the healthcare sector for example. Just before our meeting, I was at a Financial Committee meeting, where I proposed a bill for a regulatory sand box on think-tech. I know this will constitute a threat to the financial sector because it will authorize IT companies to do what historically only banks could do.
We will continue to see the overthrow of old power structures in all sectors of the economy.
Q: If I take automation for example, the new technologies there seem likely to create mass unemployment in the next two decades. As a fervent technologist and a representative of the people, how do you reconcile those two roles?
In the past, Taiwan has been extremely reliant on industry, especially in the electronics sector. However, younger more educated generations don’t want to work on a TSMC factory line for instance. They want to build start-ups and the government should do what it can to promote and help them to do so.
We will find industries to replace the old ones. Taiwan can become the global testing ground for new technology. For example, we could be the first country to legalise nationwide self-driving cars. We should pick 5 trends, set up “Innovation zones” and trial them so that these new models and industries represent around 10% of our economy. These 10% will be the disruptive innovation which will more gradually change the other 90%.
Q: Your values seem much closer to the ones put forward by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the current party in power. Why did you join the KMT, in particular, at a time of crisis and following their historic defeat in the national elections?
People ask me this all the time.
Before joining Parliament, I didn’t have any political affiliation. The KMT came to me and asked me to join them and that is what started me thinking about politics. The DPP asked me to recommend people to them, which I did, but never asked me to join them.
I decided that as long as I knew what I was doing and I could remain true to my values, then I was fine joining the KMT.
I also thought that it is important to have at least one outstanding voice in a conservative party because any party needs a progressive perspective within it. It would also be very bad for the country if the KMT had no future and there was no alternative to the DPP. Every country needs good political discourse and hegemony is never a good idea. Finally, the KMT is in crisis and so, much more open to my ideas. For example, I am championing LGBT rights which was seen as taboo in the KMT, but the party’s caucus is allowing me to proceed because they are willing to try pretty much anything at this stage.
Since assuming power, the DPP has had a harder time being as liberal and reformative as it wanted to be. It is normal for a party in power. The Über fine I mentioned previously is a DPP proposal. On this issue and others, the DPP is becoming a heavy regulator. They have had to compromise their ideals.
Instead of joining a party probably more aligned with my own values, I chose a party where I could have more impact.
Q: Taiwan is arguably today the most advanced country in terms of civic-tech and technologically- assisted direct democracy with vTaiwan and pol.is. Do you think these changes are simply cosmetic or does it more deeply change the role and nature of the citizen?
The citizen involvement in all these changes has actually been critical and it is something we need to encourage.
During the last mayoral elections, the people of Taipei were sick of two-party politics and so elected an independent, Ko Wen-je, following a very interesting grass-roots movement.
Civic-tech actually should be one of the 5 trends I mentioned previously because, as you say, Taiwan is already quite ahead of the game. In particular in Asia: Singapore has a one party system, we don’t need to talk about China, Hong Kong’s legislative system is fake, Korea is at the hands of the Chaebols, Japan is kind of dying. Civic engagement and technology are two strengths of Taiwan that we should encourage even more.
Following this idea, I also introduced a bill so that the Government name a Chief Information Officer and a Chief Data Officer.
Q: Technology in itself is neither good or bad but its use isn’t as neutral. As a pro-technology legislator, how do you take into account the ethical consideration of technology? Should there be a committee in charge of such matters?
You are right, we need to find a system of checks and balances for technological development. Though I am a technologist and a liberal, I do still believe in legal frameworks and also in the citizen’s ability to have the sufficient knowledge to understand an issue and have a proper and constructive public discourse.
Actually, you’ve just given me the idea that we need to organise public hearings on data ownership, uberisation of the economy and security of data. Thanks.
We need to educate people by giving them the information and tools to think about these topics, then as legislator we will do our job and write the law in accordance to their opinion.