Balance. The philosophy of yin-yang teaches among other
things that a struggle of energies provides balance and can even serve as a
flywheel of momentum. In a recent post, I
attempted to present some unique giving
propositions
for the OSDV Foundation which were focused – in part – on the
nature of our work product.

Today, I’ll
describe another unique aspect of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation
that borders on the stuff my learned colleague who is leading our Technical
Ranks is focused on: problem solution
approach
.

OK, I’m off
and typing, but really trying to stick to the point. This stream-of-consciousness blogging approach combined with 65WPM typing is a dangerous mix. So, buckle in and keep your
cursor firmly on the scroll button (it’s
Saturday early before I start the weekend
).

Some,
including the technology professional seated next to me on a flight recently
from Boston to San Francisco, have observed this characteristic, I am about to
describe, as novel if not downright breakthrough (if we can pull it off, he notes).
Yeah sure, I’m talking his ear off about the OSDV effort, and why
not? The more technologists I can engage
the better. I believe Linus Torvalds put it
succinctly: “Given enough eyeballs, all
bugs are shallow
.”

Seriously,
we spent months performing “blink tests” of our own with political, policy, and
technology thought-leaders in the early part of 2007 before we decided to leave
the comfort of our regular paying professional pursuits to strike out on the
most challenging start-up of our lives: the OSDV Foundation.

And the
blink tests were (almost curiously)
highly supportive. Sure, we had very savvy
technology policy thought-leaders like the Honorable
Mozelle Thompson
(former Commissioner of the FTC, to name names) advise us
to make sure we had “accountability
feedback loops
” in our design of everything right down to the organization
itself. And another whip-smart
technology policy thought leader – Peter
Harter
(to name another), cautioned us to engage the right mix of
technology and policy geeks in order to achieve a balance in solution that
could equally withstand the nuances of government guidelines and legislative
think as well as the rigors of publicly well vetted invention… and to do so by leveraging
learning from our time at Netscape way back when. But in all of that, the words of
encouragement consistently echoed: “you
must do this
.” The key was figuring
out how to tackle this large and
thorny problem. That’s where the balance
of yin-yang plays in.

The Breakthrough in Approach

What we
believe is breakthrough – and supported by the thought leaders we’ve spoken
with – is in how we are going to
approach the terrible trouble with voting technology. I’ll leave the details to John Sebes, OSDV Foundation CTO, but
let me summarily try to put it as follows.
It involves, as suggested, two elements that have a natural tension
between them, but if balanced, will provide a flywheel of momentum and
unprecedented results.

1. Yin: High Assurance Methodology. First, the demands of highly trustworthy
digital voting technology approach what I like to call “fault intolerance.” And in fact, there is an entire specialty
in the disciplines of engineering that addresses fault intolerance (at
least to the notion of fault tolerance).
It is generally referred to as high assurance systems
engineering. And it is often
employed in so-called “mil-spec” or military grade technology design and
development. It equally plays in
medical technology, aerospace industries, and anywhere a requirement
exists for highly reliable and trustworthy devices and services. The hallmark of this discipline is a
highly structured methodology (with lots of accountability feedback loops)
that is rigorous in practice and application. The results are single purpose devices
with high grade reliability. Let’s
call this the Yin half of our
breakthrough approach.

2. Yang: Open Source Process. Second, we have a DNA-level conviction
(and thus our Foundation’s name) that the only way the cornerstone of a
digital democracy – the technology of voting – can be truly assured trustworthy
and in the public’s best interest is to place the underlying architecture,
specifications, designs, and (at least draft) standards for the same in
the public trust. This means open,
transparent, publicly well vetted work.
We believe this means operating under an Open Source mandate. As repeatedly discussed elsewhere, “open
sourcing” software, hardware, and systems alone is insufficient. And we are focused on the processes of
open source development more than the resulting things that come from
it. But the only way an open source
initiative can succeed is if it operates in a truly meritocratic
environment that necessarily is built on volunteerism from a highly
distributed population. Open source
efforts operating at maximum efficiency and productivity are by nature,
chaotic and even at times ad-hoc.
Let’s call this the Yang
of our breakthrough approach.

And so the yin-yang of the OSDV movement is a
required balance between [1] the
highly structured and disciplined methodology of high assurance system design
with a fault intolerant mandate, and [2]
the highly chaotic, rapid-prototyping, distributed volunteer nature of open
source development.

That’s
breakthrough. That’s unique to the OSDV
Foundation.

Check it out: Producing a digital public works
in this manner has never been done
before anywhere we can determine.

So, to make
this work, by necessity, means a core team of highly experienced full-time
senior technical architects, who in turn, must guide a large distributed community
of volunteer developers – mostly across the Internet – in an open source
environment, complemented by “on-loan” senior technologists from the corporate
technology world, to actually flesh out everything… absolutely everything from
design guidelines and principles, to architecture, specification, engineering,
and then actual code and digital specifications for hardware design. And all of this must happen in the public
view, publicly vetted, and held in the public trust.

Really, if
we can pull this off, it may just suggest an entirely new way of public works
development in a digital age.

BTW: Keep this theme in mind: a digital public works project funded
through non-profit donation and grants, managed by and for the public through
an open source community, rather than funded by tax dollars and managed by
necessary corresponding government bureaucracy.

And as you
can imagine this requires a capital commitment (and not as large as you might think). To be sure, specific projects on the long and
complex road-map that our CTO and his fledgling team are in the early days of
“imagineering” will be funded by larger philanthropic sources on a
project-by-project grant basis. And the
road-map will not be any result of “ideating” (with apologies to IBM), but a carefully thought
out map that will not be complete until it, like everything else, it has been
publicly vetted with your help.

But your help can also come in other ways… simple small donations of not just time to review and comment on documents and works, but even (yes) money (small amounts). To be sure, our specific projects are funded by larger grants as I mentioned above. But the operations — including the small cadre of core senior technologists to shepherd everything is covered by the support of the community at large — those who stand to benefit from secure, trustworthy digital voting systems — every U.S. citizen, probably even yourself.

If we consider discussions in
earlier posts and elsewhere in this online community, we know that the power of
the populist to have a financial impact of the proportions of corporations is
real (e.g., witness the online fund raising success of political
campaigns). You’ve heard of the “wisdom
of crowds.” I think of this as the “investment
of crowds.”

Oh, and if
you think you might be one of that cadre of core technologists we intend to hire, by
all means get at us before any decisions are made.

Apologies,
I’m really trying to shorten up these posts, but I just get so dog-gone excited
about sharing what we’re thinking. Enough.

Your ball.
Please tell me what you think.

Thanks!

GAM|out