We’ve been unintentionally silent here on the blog due to the regular chaos fortified by legislative efforts, election security consulting with DHS and Congress, project proposals like this, and so on. But for the moment, we pause to announce some big news. Really.
The OSET Institute announces today that veteran technologist John Gage has joined its Board of Directors. How kewl is this? I mean the venerable Gage is like the “Yoda of Silicon Valley,” right? After all, he coined the phrase, “The network is the computer.”
Crazy back-story but the fast 411 is that one of our co-founders (Gregory Miller) has always thought of John Gage as a mentor of his, although they had been out of touch. So, when John’s daughter, the amazing Kate Gage of the Obama White House OSTP era ran into Gregory at the XPRIZE Visioneers Summit last September she knew instantly these two had to reconnect. Why? Well because John had become deeply engaged (you see what I did there) in international election observing and audits. And combined with his decades of thought-leadership in computer and networking technology he grew increasingly interested in the challenges of election technology innovation, integrity, and security.
Meanwhile, Kate was aware of Gregory’s decade of total self-investment on the same topic and realized it was past due these two reconnect. They did, and have spent a bunch of time together comparing notes with John analyzing the work of the TrustTheVote Project – giving the engineering plans, and every last architectural detail a fair and deep shakedown.
The result: John has joined our Board. And it makes total sense because Mr. Gage brings decades of technology thought leadership and a passion for democracy. His focus will be extending the Institute’s work on innovating election technology to democracies worldwide.
To give you sense of Gage’s value, consider that John was a member of the founding team of Sun Microsystems (acquired in 2010 by Oracle), and Chief Researcher and Director of its Science Office until 2008. From 2008-2010 he was a partner at the venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers focused on green technologies.
Gage has served on national and international advisories and boards including the Markle Task Force on National Security, whose reports helped in reorganizing US intelligence agencies. John currently serves on the United Nations Task Force on Digital Health, and the Human Needs Project, where in 2012 he helped build a networked water source and treatment plant in Nairobi, Kenya. For 12-years Mr. Gage hosted the JavaOne conference, convening 20,000 Java developers, and establishing the Java language in over 95% of mobile devices as the basis of the open source Android operating system.
Of particular value to us here at OSET, John participates in international election observation in several countries, including the most recent Kenyan national election.
In Mr. Gage’s own words, he describes his connection with our work...
“The OSET Institute’s voting technology project is one of the most important public initiatives I’ve encountered. After careful assessment of the design and the way the TrustTheVote Project has engaged multiple elections stakeholders to confirm requirements, I’ve concluded this is a comprehensive engineering effort with global implication.”
Our CTO John Sebes chimed in, “John (Gage’s) guidance will be instrumental to helping us ensure our technology is available and useful worldwide.” And this fits with our larger mission, because we share a vision with Gage of tech-sector ingenuity delivering imperative social benefit—public technology to increase confidence in elections and their outcomes.
Gage 'Gets' the Challenge of Innovating in a Failed Market
Mr. Gage also seized on another point we’ve been making forever: that the voting technology industry needs innovation but it has zero commercial incentive to do so itself. This is for understandable reason on their part: it just wouldn’t pencil out because to invest in the kind of research and development necessary to make truly innovative verifiable, accurate, secure, and transparent election technology would require millions that they would need to cover in their cost of goods sold. In other words, they rightly expect to make a return on investment (ROI). And the trouble is their customers are governments—counties. And these county governments’ budgets twist in the political winds of appropriation. So, if the vendors have no assurance of being able to sell something for which they’ve invested a bundle developing, they’re likely to focus on building a minimally viable product that can be priced competitively in a world of least-cost procurement bidding.
So, where will this innovation come from? And that’s what John Gage “gets” the best: sometimes innovation to move an industry forward comes from public projects to make such available. After all, that’s how the Internet developed and matured—through publicly funded research that built all the foundations of what we take for granted today, and on which an entire economy is building in the digital age.
As Mr. Gage pointed out in a discussion,
“Ever since Sun made the Java programming language open source in 2006, I’ve understood how open source technology can invigorate an industry. Its important to get election security policy right, but as the Institute says, ‘code causes change,’ so I’m going to do all I can to help drive that change. And our democracy depends on it.”
We could not agree more. John’s sage thought leadership and guidance will greatly fortify our Board, and will give a big boost to our cause of publicly available (open source) election technology. We’re excited by what John helped do for the Java movement and ultimately its impact on Android—we can imagine (and hope for) “portable” learning for ElectOS. We’re excited by John’s unique viewpoint, impressed by his experience in the international election arena, and totally stoked about his passion for innovating democracy.
Welcome aboard John. We’ve all been advised to strap-in, adjust our goggles, and keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.
Here is the official press release.