Interview with Amaëlle Guiton

Amaëlle Guiton: ...start. Can you just draw on this iPad Pro? 

Audrey Tang: Yes, and I am going to sit by you so we can be on the same page. Here is your text (Hackers: Au cœur de la résistance numérique), so I can refer back to the text whenever I want. This is how I look.


Audrey: Then, I just make annotations on it. This Goodreads app is not my normal note-taking app. I use this because this works with PDF files. Normally, I take notes with Zen Brush, which is the calligraphic Chinese way of... This is too ceremonial, maybe, but you get the idea. [laughs] Let's use this. Let's just start talking... and write notes in the background, on the margin of your book. It's funny. 

Personal Background

Amaëlle: How did you get into code, at first? 

Audrey: I think that was pretty well documented. I got into coding when I was eight, and I saw those programming books. I was very into mathematics at that time, so it looked like an extension to mathematics, except it's repeatable mathematics. It's a mathematics that is done outside of one's mind.

It's like a blackboard that does math for you. That was my initial idea. I started to just use pen and paper, which is actually why I always preferred pen-based devices.


Audrey: Stylus. I started with the very early Palm Pilot, and then Zaurus. Every generation of devices with stylus, because that's how I started, with a pencil and a paper, and an actual keyboard, and then simulate how the computer would respond before my parents bought me real computer. I was already programming before that with pen and paper, which explained this affection. 

Amaëlle: You had, I would say a first career. I don't know if it's the good word but as an entrepreneur, and then you got involved in politics. When did you get this sense that maybe there was something to do with code and politics? 

Audrey: That was back in, I would say 1987. I was six at that time. You know the entire Apple II personal computer history. I would not have to tell you that. You wrote this book. I know what you already know.


Audrey: That was when Wozniak and Gates were doing their work mostly. On the same year, it was the lifting of the Martial Law in Taiwan, so think Spain and Franco. Before that, it's impossible to have a press like the Libération. Back then, it's just government-run presses, as well as the presses that walks a very fine line on censorship and self-censorship, and so on. But after '87, because the Martial Law was lifted, an emphasis on freedom of speech has been going on for 30-something years.

People started to have the freedom of press, I think around '88, freedom to make parties around '89. You know, all those things. They are in the psychology of the Taiwan generation — not just for me — that personal computing and political freedom happen in the same year.

Internet and democratisation, the direct election of presidents, the first one in '96, happened in the first year. Then the social media, as in both Wikipedia and the other kind of blogging around 2002 or 2003, appeared at the same time as the modernisation of the other election levels. Then it’s further democratic innovations, like referendums, or participatory budgeting, and things like that.

They could be discussed now, while as before, it was not even on the agenda because there was Martial Law and the dictatorship. What I'm saying, is that it's not about me. It's a very particular timeline. 

Amaëlle: It was quite natural for you to get involved, for instance, in open source? 

Audrey: Yes, because the freedom of speech in the IETF coincides with the freedom of speech in the new constitution that took effect after the lifting of the Martial Law. Actually — defined with the exactly same words. 

Amaëlle: What do you mean? With the same words. 

Audrey: Meaning that, for example, in the Tao of IETF. I don't know if you have read this document. This is one of the RFCs that defines the way of the Internet Engineering Task Force. This is where they said, “we reject votes and kings and presidents; we believe in rough consensus and running code.”

Amaëlle: Rough consensus and running code. 

Audrey: Then there's a section in there called security implications, because all the RFCs by that time are required to have a section that says security implications. All the section says is a quote from Laozi, the Chinese philosopher who says, basically, “one who defends with love and care has no enemies,” or something like that.

But words from that scripture was quoted in the democratisation slogans, too, because Taiwan is very heavy in traditional Chinese culture. Our written language is literally called “Traditional Chinese.”