The impact of Big Data is wide-reaching and has implications for numerous sectors, from industry to health, energy to education. Recognizing this, the Obama Administration announced an initiative to encourage collaboration between key players in the space. Pivotal's Annika Jimenez spoke this week at Data to Knowledge to Action, an event hosted by The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Networking and Information Technology R&D program
The release of the White House’s new open data mandate, and advances in sophisticated analytics tools and machine learning, could accelerate massive shifts in critical infrastructure and core industries such as healthcare, energy, and agriculture.
Despite the prodigious business value, civic innovation, and predictive insight yielded from the cascading streams of Big Data, there are critical questions regarding who has access to what information, and how actionable insight will impact the lives of the human beings beyond the dashboard.
Over the course of four seminars, the Big Data for the Public Good series presented a rare opportunity for leading data science thinkers, innovators, and practitioners to explore how the field can serve the public interest. Presented by Code for America and sponsored by Greenplum, the series hosted Michal Migurski and Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, Jake Porway of DataKind and formerly The New York Times, wiki inventor and Nike Code for a Better World Fellow Ward Cunningham, and Jeremy Howard, President and Chief Scientist at Kaggle. Though the diverse selection of speakers explored the topic from a variety of perspectives, a set of recurring themes arose during the talks.
It's been great building the National Lab Day website, and it's also wonderful to have the site recognized on whitehouse.gov. This makes two sites we've worked on that have gotten attention in the Innovations Gallery, since Peer to Patent was similarly recognized.
The video from whitehouse.gov (below) does a better job explaining the project than I can:
And yes, the voice on the video clip is our own Mike Grafton.
President Obama today announced the establishment of an annual National Lab Day, a nationwide initiative to foster scientific and mathematic experimentation and invention in young Americans through collaborations between volunteers, students and educators. He also announced the opening of the National Lab Day website, a site that we had the honor of building with Jack Hidary, chairman of the National Lab Day and the Jack D. Hidary Foundation. The site connects scientists and engineers with students and classrooms needing their mentorship, their enthusiasm for science, and their spark.
National Lab Day will take place every year in the first week of May.
We are pleased to be able to contribute to this effort, designed to foster the kind of inquiry that brought us all into the world of technology. We encourage scientists and technologists across the country to sign up to volunteer. In the words of President Obama, "I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it's science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent -- to be makers of things, not just consumers of things."
- Wired Magazine: Making Science Cool: Educate to Innovate
- The New York Times: White House Begins Campaign to Promote Science and Math Education
- The National Science Teachers' Association: President Obama Announces National Lab Day Initiative
- ReadWriteWeb: Obama, Kids, & All Tomorrow's Web Apps: President Focuses on Tech Education
- Or see all Google News coverage
We hope that this initiative plants the seeds of innovation in the next generation of young scientists and entrepreneurs.
What OSDV means to me personally
I personally am really excited about this talk. I worked on the OSDV prototype at Pivotal last year, when we made a small prototype in a few weeks. This was subsequently presented to congress. It was an incredible experience. As a programmer, you write a lot of code which isn't that exciting, counting beans or Yet Another Social Networking Website.
OSDV, however, is something that is REALLY important. It has the potential to revolutionize the way Democracy works, and really change the world for the better.
Here goes the talk, with Matthew Douglass running the slides and Gregory Miller talking.
First is a video about how democracy used to work, when we trusted the outcome of votes. Now, after the 2000 Presedential Election, people lost confidence.
Now, states are getting funding to update their voting system. However, now that we are past the "Hanging Chad", we are seeing MORE, not fewer problems. The companies that make proprietary digital voting do not make the required investment to make their machines trustworthy, and rely on PC technology and proprietary code.
Shouldn't we be able to say "I count"? We should not expect the Government or Private Sector to fix this. It must be a Grass-roots movement, something big. We need to completely rethink the lifecycle of our ballots.
We have to shift away from companies guarding proprietary, black box voting to a world of "glass-box" voting. Blueprints and designs are freely available.
We need the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation.
it is not just another thinktank or group of lobbyists. It is technology professionals teaming up with volunteers. Everyone can see, touch, and try it out.
This is a digital public works project, calling people from all over the country and world to help out, take a hands-on approach, and do something.
We are the real stakeholders in our Democracy. We can all make our votes count. The time to begin is NOW.
Q: Federal guidleines for how votes are counted? A: FALSE
Q: California's absentee ballots always counted? A: FALSE
Q: Major voting vendors system rely on commodity Hardware/Software A: Sort Of. They use "Windows 95".
He then shows "Clippy" helpfully offering to finish your vote for you...
A "Free Markets" Failure
- No Competition
- High Barriers to Entry
- No Incentive to Innovate
Horribly dysfunctional market. There are FOUR vendors of voting systems in the US, there may be two by the end of year
Very high barriers to entry, hard to get it approved and legal.
When you have no competition and barriers to entry, there is no incentive to innovate. You end up with closed proprietary systems with inconsistencies and irregularities. There is a natural conflict of interest between shareholder interest and public interest.
Guess who wins every time when shareholder interest meets public interest?
Critical Democracy Infrastructure
The pillar of democracy is transparency, and the substance of the pillar is technology.
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant"
This stuff is so imperative and essential to our Democracy, it needs to be lifted up to the level of a public works project.
Why not commercial sector? They will do as little as possible, and have conflict of interest
Why not the government? Slow, and at risk of losing funding.
Bringing together two approaches - fault tolerance and high-availability computing, with the dynamics of open source community.
Rather than being a think tank, they have a group of people in Silicon Valley making things that we can see and touch.
- Core team
- partner with Mozilla Foundation.
- RFC (Request For Comments) Service
- Send out requests for comment to community
- Design Congress
- A virtual community to help drive requirements, so they know there is a possibility of adoption
- Federally certified
Public Technology Repository - State and local govt, Fed govt, Commercial Vendors, test suites, dynamic continuous testing, everyone is giddy!
Two commercial vendors who are deploying with a commercial deployment license, and are being delivered open source solutions based on draft standards that the consortium is building.
Major work areas
- Digital Voter Registration System
- Ballot Design Studio
- Ballot Casting and Counting Systems
- Election Management Services
- Operating System Platform
Rails is a major part of their work. They are assembling a great core team.
It has been below the radar, but it will be more public in the future.
Q: How do we advance or improve the system? A: Yes, look over the horizon at what the future looks like - Instant runoff, etc. However, there is another half of the question. They DON'T want to build the 'perfect' system, and have it be a relic. They have to be driven by real requirements and real adoption. They have to take the EXISTING processes, and make them better. That will get their attention, and drive adoption.
Q: Are the Hardware and Interface designs open source? A: Absolutely everything is open. Everything will be transparent and funneled through the RFC process. The goal is to build an entire software ecosystem that runs against a known, virgin, commodity hardware system. Then they will examine on a device-by-device basis to plug in new parts. "Open Source Hardware" has never been done, but they will try.
Q: What are the obstacles (e.g. politicians) A: Lots of them, but their position is that they are technologists, making the best solutions. Senator Patrick Leahy said "please don't waste time trying to change systems, make things that people can touch and try".
There are "horrifying" ways the system is designed to preserve incumbency. If this works, it really changes the landscape in a big way.
Q: What percentage of elections are corrupt? A: They have been doing due diligence, and have found "remarkable" inconsistencies, some of which have resulted in criminal elections. We may think that Obama got elected, things are great, but we dodged a bullet. We are 170 days into the congressional session, and no senator from Minnesota is seated. Politicians will no longer be able to hide and say "the box did it".
Q: It seems like a huge complex problem to solve, shouldn't it be bite-sized? A: They thought about componentizing it, but the only way to do it right is to start with a clean slate. Forget incumbency, and legacy. We need open data and open processes. They are partitioning the process to different buckets, and have different teams working on them. They are laying the foundation for a pluggable, XML-based framework. They are going in a procedural fashion, and really focusing on the 2010 election.
Rapid prototyping, Agile Development approaches with Structured Approaches.
HUGE APPLAUSE AND WHISTLES!
Today I spent the day on Capitol Hill, presenting the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation to the 12th Annual Tech Exhibition of the Congressional Internet Caucus. OSDV is a non-profit foundation working to build open source solutions for voter and election management, as a way to increase the transparency of elections, restore confidence in the vote, and reduce the cost to states and counties to implement such systems.
The application we were showing was one we've been developing with them for the past 8 weeks, an online voter registration tracking system, called Reggie. It's designed to help eligible voters to register to vote, and to track their registration process; and to give registrars greater oversight and auditability.
By applying agile methods and leveraging Ruby on Rails, we were able to deliver a fully test-driven alpha product in just 8 weeks from the initial scoping meeting, during the holiday season, with a single pair of developers.
OSDV has had serious interest from a number of State Secretaries and registrars, and hopes to pilot with at least one state in the coming months.
Pivotal-developed projects like this one, Peer to Patent, and Casebook apply modern web technologies to improve the efficiency and transparency of government. We're proud to work on projects like this one, and to be an agent for change.