Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Truly forward-looking investment

By Jang Show-ling 鄭秀玲

The Executive Yuan’s Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program is to issue debt through a special budget in order to raise NT$882.49 billion (US$29.35 billion) over the next eight years. This money is to be spent on railway transportation (NT$424.1 billion), water infrastructure (NT$250.7 billion), renewable energy (NT$24.4 billion), digital infrastructure (NT$46 billion) and urban and rural infrastructure (NT$137.2 billion).

The government is hoping that the program could kick-start infrastructure construction and economic growth, and balance development between northern and southern Taiwan. The government should be praised for its good intentions, but the policy goals are unclear and a discussion of how “forward-looking” these plans truly are is required.

Perhaps government officials have been too conservative in the past, or perhaps the outlook of our legislators has been too narrow, but in the past few years Taiwan has missed out on many new economic opportunities.

The nation missed the transition from personal computers to mobile devices, and did not get in on social media, mobile payments, shared economy, electronic commercial services or the mobile game booms, leaving the nation in the economic doldrums.

In addition to outdated laws, this is because policymaking relies on traditional concepts and methods.

At this crucial time, when other nations are pushing hard to improve their economy, the government is planning to borrow NT$882.49 billion and spend it on railways and water infrastructure construction. If prudently used, this astronomical sum could indeed transform Taiwan, but if it is not put to good use, it will not only fail to have any effect — it will also add to the next generation’s debt mountain.

According to a Stanford University study published last year titled Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030, artificial intelligence and big data technologies are destined to bring huge changes, such as in “smart” cars and traffic applications, “smart” healthcare, “smart” education, media and entertainment, and public safety and security over the next 20 years.

The White House Office of Science and Technology in December last year published a report titled Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy, which called on the US government to prepare for developments in scientific research, industry and education.

Introducing these new technologies would improve industrial production efficiency, but at the same time, it would also dispense with many workers and it would have a major impact on both traditional and new industries. Taiwan’s program includes no measures for dealing with this coming economic change.

Nor does the program consider the impact new technology is already having on business. The rise of cloud computing is bringing more global opportunities to Taiwanese businesses, which can now use cloud-based solutions to invest in innovation and research and development with a limited workforce and investment.

This will not only greatly reduce operating costs, it also overcomes geographical restrictions; apart from being able to market products and services globally, it also increases the willingness of businesses to invest locally.

Unfortunately, total investment in digital infrastructure only accounts for 5 percent of the program’s overall budget.

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