Interview with Dr. Tsung-Tsong Wu, Minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology and Deputy Convener of the Executive Yuan's Board of Science and Technology

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Taiwan will be a key player in technological advancements for a better future

Taiwan's successful management of COVID-19 and proactive contributions around the world, as seen with its Taiwan Can Help campaign, has bolstered its international visibility more than ever before. Tsung-Tsong Wu, Minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and Deputy Convener of the Executive Yuan’s Board of Science and Technology, noted that Taiwan's resilience in weathering the waves of the pandemic is a clear testament to its world-class healthcare system and strong R&D capabilities. In the face of a transformed post-pandemic world, Taiwan must strategically accelerate its proactive approach to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and promote itself as a key player in the global tech community.

The 15-year plan for innovation, sustainability, and inclusion 

Taiwan has been striving to become a smart country since 2016. In addition to the DIGI+: Digital Nation and Innovative Economic Development Program and the Five Plus Two Industry Innovation Plan, the Executive Yuan has conducted policy planning for future developments in Taiwanese society and communicated with civil organizations to propose three major visions for Taiwan in 2030—innovation-driven Internet of Everything (IoE), circular sustainability, and diversity and inclusivity. These three core concepts will guide the planning of technology policy and industrial development. Minister Wu believes that for Taiwan to successfully seize opportunities and create value in the post-pandemic era, MOST cannot continue to simply think exclusively in terms of technology; it must have an inclusive mindset that will integrate a variety of fields and disciplines.

Three years ago as minister without portfolio of the Executive Yuan, Minister Wu organized interdisciplinary research between science and technology and the humanities. During this same period, he developed his vision composed of three concepts—innovation, sustainability, and inclusiveness—which he stressed would help technology take a more active role in the world. Innovation and technology will have a great impact on people’s lives in a future where the person and IoE are connected; sustainability, through understanding and utilizing a circular economy, will allow Taiwan to strengthen its stability in the face of climate change and resource shortages; and inclusivity, in light of decreasing birth rates and increasing numbers of immigrants, will become a crucial component of society. This vision will be the basis of the government's plans in science and technology and will be the key factor leading Taiwan toward 2030 and beyond.

The time for multidisciplinary work is now: joining together technology and the humanities 

Technology and the humanities must unite in order to form innovative ideas. As deputy executive secretary of the Technology Advisory Group of the Executive Yuan in 2004, Minister Wu reflected that while Taiwan’s economy previously rested on manufacturing OEM, these products had little relevance to daily life. In short, most daily goods were made in Taiwan but designed in other countries; for example, Taiwan manufactured 98 percent of the components of the iPhone, but the design itself originated in the United States. If tech products designed and manufactured in Taiwan can be more applicable to daily life, their value will greatly increase tenfold or more.

Minister Wu also stated, “Future products should be inspired by daily needs, so from the perspective of the industrial value chain, we must think of how to improve people’s lives. This is why we need to break this down in reverse. We need to figure out the objectives of high-level research and how to transfer them to mid-level studies before passing them to industries for manufacturing.” Minister Wu believes that Taiwan’s foundry was very strong in the past, but its gross profit margin has since declined, with the key issue being that products have not been integrated into everyday life. Innovative thinking is crucial to resolving this problem. The red wine industry in France, as an example, focuses on agricultural products and can attain such a high value due to the industry’s ability to combine product with lifestyle in a creative and refined manner.

While working at the Institute of Applied Mechanics at National Taiwan University a decade ago, Minister Wu felt that the connection between technology and daily life should not be managed solely by the College of Engineering and College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, but together with the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In regard to government departments, interdepartmental collaboration would mean ideas could be contributed by MOST, through its high-level and mid-level research, as well as by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, using its industrial thought processes. If Taiwan is to become a technologically advanced country, research and industry must be connected. This will, in effect, increase the exchange of foreign currency and the salaries for young people in Taiwan.

In light of the pandemic, Taiwan has become a hotspot for talent and capital

The experience accumulated in the fight against SARS served as the basis of Taiwan’s national security standards for managing COVID-19. Taiwan’s preemptive measures prevented a full lockdown, allowing Taiwan to maintain continuous economic growth amid severe global challenges. Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA), an international technology entrepreneurship base established by MOST in Taipei Arena, has already received international talent and capital from Europe and the United States. Due to the pandemic, entrepreneurs with the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, such as Steven Shih Chen, a Taiwanese American entrepreneur and cofounder of YouTube, along with various AI and software companies have come to Taiwan to join the TTA in the past six months. This is the talent that Taiwan needs to attract—those with an international outlook and experience in both innovation and international collaboration who can help Taiwan develop innovative ideas. Upon coming here, these entrepreneurs and companies have realized that Taiwan is home to world-class talent and an outstanding industrial chain.

Women in technology and basic science support a new realm of innovative value

MOST values women in science and technology and has placed a greater emphasis on policies directed toward workplace and family needs. In the era of declining birth rates, only 200,000 university students are predicted to graduate in 2030, of which more and more women are expected to play a growing role in the development of the science and technology sectors. Past stereotypes that women were not suited for physics and chemistry have been overturned, and the exemplary performance of women in the information security field has become increasingly clear. In a recent analysis of labor in STEM fields, women only accounted for 21¬–24 percent of the workforce. MOST is both looking for more proactive approaches and focusing on creating provisions to increase the number of women in science and technology.

MOST also supports and encourages young scholars to build a solid foundation in the basic sciences. In recent years, digital technology has been maturing and has integrated with everyday life and research; however, the basic sciences remain the foundation. While the future is unknown, having basic skills, maintaining goodwill, and staying true to your original intentions will remain especially important. The value of technology lies in its potential to benefit humankind, including the 23 million people living in Taiwan. As Taiwan moves toward becoming an advanced country, collaboration among the fields of science and technology, humanities and social sciences, and aesthetic design will allow Taiwan to maintain its strategic position and increase its technological and economic competitiveness.

Taiwan's technological strength can make positive contributions to humanity

Due to geopolitics and competitive technological developments around the world, Facebook and Google have relocated their investments in cloud services from Hong Kong to other locations. Minister Wu noted the importance of Taiwan's internet infrastructure in the global digital competition. The quality infrastructure, data centers, and software content that Facebook and Google have built in Taiwan will prevent the country from being marginalized. Additionally, existing interdepartmental network communication between sectors such as MOST, the Ministry of Education, Academia Sinica, and Chunghwa Telecom needs improvement. In this wave of the pandemic, MOST has allocated a budget to improve network quality and connections.
As the world ushers in the 5G and 6G eras of the future, technology will revolutionize traditional industries and human life. With the SpaceX Starlink project, space technology will no longer be used solely for military defense. Future satellite base stations 500 km above the Earth will connect the world. Everything—whether self-driving cars, food, clothing, housing, transportation, or other wireless communications—will rely on space satellites. Such advanced developments will overturn traditional industries, and brand-new technologies will create value in never-before-seen areas.

MOST represents the nation’s overall state of technological development and undertakes the important mission of handling Taiwan’s outreach in science and technology. However, MOST cannot manage these tasks alone. It must connect resources between government departments and public and private domains and serve as a pipeline that can maximize the overall expansion of the country’s technological capabilities. MOST needs to create an environment conducive to innovation and seek out opportunities to overhaul Taiwanese industries. This is why inter-ministerial associations must work together. Taiwan's manufacturing economy was successful in the past, but in the next three decades, it will be replaced by an innovation-driven economy. The road toward innovation is long and filled with challenges. It is only by courageously working together that Taiwan will be able to create internationally competitive industries and products.

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