In an interview, Tsung-Tsong Wu, minister of science and technology, described Taiwan's innovation roadmap that extends well beyond its status as the world's chip foundry.
The coming decade will be transformational for the island that currently serves as chip manufacturer to the world. Buffeted by the same technological forces that are digitizing economies across the world, Taiwan’s planners are focusing on both that transformation and the need for an energy transition required to solve problems related to climate change, created by human activities.
Taiwan’s Minister of Science and Technology, Tsung-Tsong Wu, is leading the charge, with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the National Taiwan University in 1977, and master’s and doctoral degrees in theoretical and applied mechanics from Cornell University. Wu has worked in the fields of ultrasound, surface acoustic wave devices and related sensors, phononic crystals and non-destructive evaluation of materials.
In an interview with EE Times, Wu highlighted key aspects of technology such as digital transformation and energy, along with update on the recent VivaTech 2021 Virtual Conference which hosted several Taiwanese startups.
The global pandemic is accelerating digital transformation. The pandemic poses both challenges and opportunities to rethink technology development and supply chain management, he said. Thanks to public and private efforts over the past year, Taiwan has largely withstood the ravages of Covid-19.
Infections spiked in mid-May, prompting various government restrictions. The number of Covid cases is now declining. Taiwan has earned global praise for its effective campaign to limit the coronavirus, a program that includes an “electronic fence” that tracks residents via mobile phones to ensure that quarantined people remain at home. The effort is also seen as less intrusive than other tracking efforts.
According to Minister Wu, “We have shown our skills and expertise in public health and digital technology. With the belief that ‘Taiwan can help’, we have been sharing resources and pandemic experiences with international partners. Many foreigners get to know about Taiwan in the process. The pandemic posts a challenge, but also creates an opportunity for Taiwan to highlight outstanding tech professionals and industry chains”.
Digital Transformation and Energy
Digital transformation and green energy are both key elements. Since 2016, Taiwan has implemented its Digital Nation and Innovative Economic Development Program (DIGI+) along with its 5+2 Innovative Industries Plan.
In the post-pandemic world, Wu said Taiwan will focus on six key industries: security, precision healthcare, digital transformation, semiconductors, space and 5G/6G Internet infrastructure.
“Taiwan has focused a lot on digital policies and, in the next few years, we will hear about blockchain and IoT,” he added. “Everything will be connected and everything around us will revolve [around] digital” technologies.
“Because of the pandemic we have to speed up, we have to move forward in the digital transformation process even faster. I think the same situation is happening in Europe. For [the] precision healthcare industry, we have owned health insurance and Taiwan Biobank databases since 1995. Along with existing advantages in ICT industry and a robust healthcare system, we support [biotechnology] startups. We are integrating multiple databases to ensure data [are] shared securely,” Wu said.
Large enterprises like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. are ramping up their digital transformation efforts. “They have a lot of automated plans, and they are using a lot of big data,” Wu said. “Besides AI, 5G, IoT, and other digital technologies, we focus on supporting digital transformation in [small and medium enterprises] and micro-businesses.” Those companies and startups account for about 80 percent of Taiwan’s workforce.
“Our goal is to have a digital platform so that information service providers can work closely with all those small businesses. We also want to guide them through this transformation process. Because of the pandemic, they are encountering some problems. But the pandemic will be the boost to make this digital leap,” he predicted.
Information security is also critical to digital and smart development. As IoT connects everything, companies must take digital asset protection seriously. To that end, Taiwan is establishing a Security Center of Excellence for security professionals and technology innovation across Asia, Wu noted.
Taiwan has been building a science park dedicated to green energy since 2018. It will serve as a demonstration site for digital and energy transformation. “This area accommodates multiple functions, including technology, meetings and exhibitions, commerce, academic research and residences. Based on a circular economy, it integrates digital and energy transformation scenarios,” Wu said. Included is an autonomous driving test site along with the new startup center opening in 2022 that will serve as a prototype city for energy and security research.
The linking of devices and the information they store is both a convenience and a threat to privacy. Hackers increasingly search for unsecured digital assets. Contact tracing and other tracking platforms have heightened those concerns. Observers “have praised Taiwan, [but] many have wondered whether the tracking process might invade the privacy of some people. We are paying extra attention to make sure that, when we use this data, we can ensure privacy” said Wu.
He noted specific regulations that seek to ensure all data collected during the pandemic remains secure and must be removed or disposed of after a certain amount of time. “While we are safeguarding people’s safety and their lives, we also have to maintain democracy. And we have to strike a balance between democracy and security.”
The minister stressed that digital technologies, human rights and democracy are all linked. “How to use technologies to ensure convenience while maintaining human rights is always a fine balance. We need more people and more countries to experiment and then share different experiences.”
Before 2016, renewable energy accounted for only a small percentage of Taiwan’s power grid. Since then, the island has adopted new green policies which by 2025 are expected to provide about 20 gigawatts of solar energy.
As the amount of solar energy grows, Taiwan is turning to wind and other offshore energy sources. “Before 2016, people thought it was unlikely that Taiwan could have offshore wind energy anytime soon. Taiwan is small, but we do have several great wind fields.” Those efforts have attracted European investments. Wu predicts offshore wind sources will generate as much as 6 gigawatts of power by 2025, with smaller hydropower and geothermal contributing to the total.
Those sources will help power electric vehicles, which Taiwan is banking on to help reduce emissions. “Electric vehicles are actually like a smartphone on the move. And we can make this kind of technology smaller, more compatible, and more affordable. I’m sure Taiwan can also play an important role in electric vehicle developments in the future. The battery or storage solution is the key element of electric vehicles.”
Electric mobility is a key driver of the energy transition, and it is expected to lead to an increase in demand for electricity, much of it generated by renewable sources. That will require more a more flexible power grid. Energy storage will play a key role as the smart grid and renewable energy expand. As energy storage prices fall, backup and time-shifting applications are expected to emerge. “There is no doubt that the future of the chip and related smart sensors will lead to even more electronic and less mechanical cars,” added Wu.
Wu defines innovation as an advance based on close observation of everyday life. “In Taiwan, we see big changes and one aspect to consider is the innovation of a traditional industry. For the next 10 years, we will see digital technologies integrated into the traditional industry. And so, like digital technologies and cybersecurity, these will be essential for young people both now and in the future, when resources will be more and more precious.
“Resources on this planet are not indefinite, and we all have to do our part by living on a connected planet. And that’s why I believe that, when we think about the future, we have to integrate everything together. We have to integrate technology, nature and society.”
Meanwhile, emerging technologies like AI and data management will help eliminate highly repetitive tasks while creating greater demand for interdisciplinary skills. “For example, people who know AI technology and [possess] domain knowledge will be very popular,” Wu predicted. “It will be necessary to have multiple professional skills in your learning and career journey. [With] many more tech tools to assist our decisions, it would be very important to keep your value systems and treat people with kindness and inclusion.”
Taiwan has long supported technology startups in fields ranging from telecommunications to AI, IoT and VR. Those efforts are beginning to bear fruit. For instance, GliaCloud, a tool that uses AI to convert text into video, is working with local media outlets and e-commerce retailers.
Those and other entrants participated in this year’s VivaTech conference for startups. “Our goal is to use these events to advertise our businesses, chip manufacturers and many interesting startups in various digital fields. Taiwan is known for OEM and ODM capabilities, but we are also equipped with a long innovation history.”
Wu noted that Taiwan-based startups won several awards during VivaTech. “I always tell startups in Taiwan that we also need to think about how these technologies can be connected to life and its daily needs. I think that in France, Germany or Italy, the companies you meet probably have a lot of experiences that Taiwanese startups can learn from,” Wu said.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.