The Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration has appointed hacker and tech expert Audrey Tang (唐鳳) as a minister without portfolio with responsibility for the digital economy and open government.

The 35-year-old will be the youngest minister in Tsai’s cabinet. She takes office on Oct. 1.

Tang, a programmer, confirmed her appointment on Facebook, saying she hopes to become a “civil servant for civil servants,” using her expertise in digital systems and technology to solve problems within the public service sector and increase government cooperation with the digital community.

She said her appointment was not intended to provide certain groups with an insider, or for her to advocate online on the government’s behalf. Instead, she wants to be a channel for the combination of intellect and power.

TonyQ Wang (王景弘), a well-known software developer who has worked with Tang, told Technews Taiwan that Tang had two important tasks ahead of her.

She will have to create digital processes that can fit easily into existing government frameworks, like government e-portals, and to coordinate and create resources for new digital businesses like Uber, Wang said.

Tang's appointment is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a cabinet that is widely considered to be too old and too male, commentator Lin He-ming (林河明) wrote in an op-ed in the Chinese-language United Daily News. Lin believes Tang’s background gives her an edge when it comes to increasing transparency in government affairs.

Unconventional 'genius'

Tang reportedly has an IQ of 180 – the score implies she is a genius. Unable to adapt to school life, she dropped out of middle school and was homeschooled by her mother from the age of 14. She set up her own technology company at 16 and has held consulting positions with Apple and BenQ.

In 2014, she retired from the business sector to redirect her efforts toward public service and was active in the Sunflower Movement that year.

She has contributed to the g0v platform, which advocates for transparency of government information by developing tools for citizen participation. One of the group’s most notable projects is a visual projection of the 2012 budget. She also helped set up vTaiwan, an online platform for policy discussion.

While the Tsai administration says Tang will be helpful in building an open government and developing the country’s digital economy, Lin warns that the biggest enemy to government openness is conservatism.

“If Tang is able to provide a fresh perspective and positive stimulation to the government, then as an outsider [to the system] she will have succeeded in gaining a foothold on the inside” Lin says.

First transgender minister

Tang will also become Taiwan’s first transgender politician, a milestone for the country, which is also considered to be one of the most progressive countries in Asia in terms of LGBTQI rights.

Much media attention has focused on the fact that Tang is a transgender woman. In 2005, Tang underwent sex reassignment surgery and changed her name from Autrijus to Audrey.

Her appointment follows the election of transgender woman Geraldine Roman to congress in the Philippines in May.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole