Results tagged “whitehouse”

Let's Do More

May 13, 2014

I've been trying to do more things that are unfamiliar or slightly out of my comfort zone lately. Here's a quick roundup:

  • I got to participate in Rhizome's venerated Seven on Seven conference, where I teamed up with Kevin McCoy to create monegraph. It's a system that uses the block chain technology which underpins Bitcoin, but puts it to work in service of artists, so that they can verify that a digital work is an original, with a verifiable provenance. I describe the context of the work in A Bitcoin for Digital Art, my first piece for Medium's "The Message" collection, and we also showed it off with a demo at the most improbable of venues, TechCrunch's Disrupt conference. The response overall has been great, as you can tell from the monegraph tumblr.

A Bitcoin for Digital Art

  • The White House's working group on Big Data and Privacy released its report, which is surprisingly thoughtful and appropriately nuanced in its consideration of the issues. As danah so aptly summarized it, "[T]he conversation around the “big data” phenomenon tends to get quickly polarized - it’s good or it’s bad, plain and simple. But it’s never that simple." It's no surprise danah's take was so thoughtful; her Data & Society Research Institute was one of the most valuable contributors to the White House report. In my role on the board of the DSRI, I got to moderate a panel with Kate Crawford, Steven Hodas, Alondra Nelson, and Shamina Singh. The conversation was incredible, and so it's no surprise that our panel was cited in the full report from the White House. You can watch the panel here:

  • Over on The Awl, it's "How to Avoid Raising a Monster" which takes a look at my, uh, parenting style. This includes the question, "Can you ... provide some more examples of when you’ve been especially tempted to do things that wouldn’t be found in any guidebooks on how best to raise a child?"
  • On PolicyMic, a nice piece on 23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World Better for Men includes my least insightful comment ever: "Sex is fun!"
  • Coming up this fall: I'll be speaking at PopTech in October. If you know that conference, you know why I'm geeked out about the opportunity, especially given that John Maeda as host has chosen "rebellion" as the theme for the event.
  • Oh, and Prince finally retweeted one of my tweets, but elided my name and then removed the tweet entirely a brief while later, as he is prone to do. But still, fun for me!
  • And as always, the ThinkUp team has been rocking with a whole range of fun and ridiculous new insights in the app. If you haven't seen ThinkUp lately, you haven't seen it. You should probably sign up and give it a try.

The White House Should Host a Secessionist Beer Summit

November 15, 2012

Even as I was asking the Tea Party to occupy the White House's petition website a year ago, I didn't actually think it would happen. But people are smarter, and better, and bigger than we ever imagine.

That is of course, not how I'm supposed to describe the idea of seceding from the United States, as someone who loves his country. And to be clear: I think talk of secession is a foolish, self-defeating, petulant response to an election, in addition to being unfeasible. I'm enormously glad the conversation is happening, though.

The fact is, if even citizens who hate the United States of America (as secessionists must) find it valuable to engage in an online petition platform maintained by the White House, then that platform is working. There have been many successes for the We The People platform, from stopping puppy mills and no longer using monkeys in military training to coming out against SOPA and PIPA's threats to the Internet to pushing for patent reform. But the people involved in the neo-secessionist movement represent a unique opportunity.

President Obama should sit down for a "beer summit" with representatives chosen by petitioners who've signed the calls for secession, and listen to the grievances which they think require the dissolution of the Union.


Why A Beer Summit?

It's pretty clear that there are a few hundred thousand people involved in signing the secession petitions, based on a reasonable academic assessment of the signatures. For perspective, that's about the same number of people as work for CVS, or about half as many people as voted for Jill Stein as the the Green Party candidate for President. Even if we assume that the number of people participating has increased a bit as the petitions gain more press attention in the days since that study was done, this is definitely an extreme fringe of the country, and most of them aren't from the states for which they've signed petitions. It isn't an obvious choice for the President to make time to sit down with such fringe interests.

But the teams at the White House responsible for We The People, like the New Media team that built it, or more broadly the Office of Public Engagement which handles the President's interaction with citizens, have put so much effort into making these petitions effective and available that it's clear they want to honor the spirit of the lofty name they've given the platform. They want to do the right thing. They're the ones who got the White House's homebrew beer recipe released in response to a petition in the first place. It's only appropriate that they put that beer to good use.

And the ostensible secessionists would benefit from the clarity that comes with the seriousness of having this discussion at the highest levels. When ordinary Americans (or soon-to-be-former Americans) engage with matters of policy and the Constitution in a serious manner, they almost always step up to the challenge with extraordinary thoughtfulness. That's only an option if a good leader asks them to do so, and I think our President is that good a leader.

Though I disagree with their stated intentions, I also don't resent my fellow citizens who've signed these petitions. I have a soft spot for extremist views in general, and an appreciation for old-fashioned approaches to questioning the way our government works. But more importantly, I think they'll benefit most from seeing that government can work the way we all imagine that it might: People with different opinions can come together in conversation, those with unpopular or unusual views can be heard, and the contrast of perspectives can leave both parties wiser for having engaged.

Beer Summit I

Ascending The Summit

I'm not a pollyanna about this suggestion. I'm sure communications experts within the White House will say "Why on earth would we want to take a political risk like this right after an election when there are so many other problems to focus on?" And the secession sympathizers will ask "Why would we want to talk to the guy that we resent so much that we're talking about leaving the country?"

To those in the White House, I'd say, this is exactly how you show leadership, but engaging in a productive way with those who most oppose you. If you want to phrase it in the odious tactical language of the political class, you can see this as an outflanking move for your political opponents. But on a more human level, it's just an act of empathy that might actually result in a productive discussion.

To the nominal secessionists, it's important to understand this is the only way to take what seems like a petulant, irrational response and elevate it into something more akin to a principled objection. The rigor you'll have to introduce amongst your nascent movement in order to simply pick the representatives to participate in such a summit will do wonders to clarify whether there's real substance to the idea, or if it's just the reactionary and ridiculous response that it seems to those of us who disagree.

In short, both sides benefit, even though the conventional wisdom on both sides will be to avoid seriously engaging. I think those who make a platform like We The People do so because they believe in the principles it epitomizes, and I believe those who use such a petition platform do so because they believe the people should be able to exercise those principles.

So, go forth and do it. I'll happily send along some pretzels to go with the beers.

Our Biggest Challenge Yet

April 12, 2010

The White House tweeted that they want feedback on the Grand Challenges in science and technology that face our country. That's not so new. But today, if you reply to the White House's tweet to share your ideas, the White House will actually see your response.

Wait, what?

These days, I often sound like a skeptic or a curmudgeon when it comes to the technology industry. But ultimately, I'm profoundly optimistic about what the Internet can be, and today is one of those days where I hope we can demonstrate exactly why so many of us love the web.

For the past several months, I've been leading an effort at Expert Labs to help policy makers use social networks to collect feedback on policy. Today marks our first experiment. To participate, all we have to do is suggest ideas as ambitious as the moon landing or the human genome sequencing, or like the X Prize or the Netflix prize — ideas so inspiring that they prompt a ton of new innovations.

So do it. Just reply to the White House on Twitter or Facebook, and they'll hear your suggestions and if you've got a good idea, they'll use the feedback to help shape policy. The President has eight items on his list of Grand Challenges but there's no reason your idea couldn't be number nine.

This is just a first step, but it's a pretty good one.

How'd We Get Here? Where Next?

It's been a long, interesting road to get to this first tentative experiment in broad-scale policy feedback on social networks. Fundamentally, one of the biggest opportunities has been that the current administration has embraced the President's Open Government Directive, encouraging public feedback using every avenue possible, with a special focus on new technologies.

But if you dive in to the specifics of some of the plans, it's even more remarkable what's going to be possible in the future. For example, the White House's Office of Science & Technology policy posted its own open government plan, which includes a specific nod towards Expert Labs, acknowledging that we can be a small part of their overall effort to allow for public feedback.

And we've been working like crazy to step up to the challenge. Gina has been leading an amazing community that's built one hell of a little app called ThinkTank. It aggregates all those tweets and Facebook replies and will collect them for sharing back with the White House and with the public. It's even matured quickly enough that we're a Google Summer of Code project, with some fantastic proposals coming in from students who want to make ThinkTank even smarter. Gina describes the potential brilliantly in her post on Smarterware, too.

How You Can Help

Here's the thing: I need your help. This is a complicated, unfamiliar new idea to explain to people. So I need help in telling people a few things:

  1. The White House wants to hear policy feedback through channels like Twitter and Facebook.
  2. Expert Labs has built tools that will let them do this.
  3. The success of this first question about the Grand Challenges in science and technology will do a lot to demonstrate how every part of government could use these tools.
  4. This is just the start; We're going to be doing this in bigger and better ways in the future.

So, if you've got a blog, or a Twitter account (and if you don't, what the hell are you doing here?!) please share the word with your readers. Reply to the White House's tweet using hashtag #whgc, and then stay tuned as we start to share our findings with the world.

Expert Labs, ThinkTank, Gina Trapani and our Grand Challenges

February 17, 2010

A few months ago, I started as director of Expert Labs, a new independent non-profit effort with the goal of improving government by letting policy makers tap into the collective wisdom of the public. We're part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and because our goal could have seemed a bit nebulous I've held off on explaining the full vision of the effort until today, when we're announcing our first project, platform and project director. Here's the highlights:

  • We'll be collaborating with the White House in support of the Grand Challenges initiative. The President has defined a list of the biggest scientific and technological challenges facing America, as part of his Strategy for American Innovation. But they need our help, especially from those of us in the scientific and technological community: What should our highest priorities be for the biggest technological challenges of our time? What items have been omitted from the President's list of priorities? In short: If you had to pick the next project on the scale of the moon landing, or the human genome sequencing, what would you suggest? And how would you find the leadership and community that would achieve that goal? These are the questions we want to help answer.
  • To help get answers for these questions, Expert Labs will be sponsoring the development of a technology platform that allows policy makers and community members to ask questions across the existing social networks that exist on the web. My guideline for the technology platform was that it be free and open source, make smart use of existing technologies and APIs, have a thriving developer community, and be appropriate for use in cloud environments for easy deployment by government agencies, private industry, and even individuals. So I'm excited to announce that we've selected the ThinkTank application as our first official technology platform project at Expert Labs.
  • And, as you might expect since we've agreed to sponsor her application, I'm ecstatic to announce that Gina Trapani is joining Expert Labs as our Project Director for the Grand Challenges project, overseeing our technology efforts around ThinkTank and making sure that the platform is a good fit for the community of policy makers, scientists, technologists and the general public that it's designed to serve. Gina is of course the founding editor of Lifehacker and publisher of Smarterware, a best-selling author, and a co-host of This Week in Google, one of the most popular podcasts on the Internet. She's also an incredible talent and a woman of remarkable character and I couldn't be more excited to have her on the team.

Phew! That's a lot of great news. Since I announced my role at Expert Labs two and a half months ago, we've been hard at work meeting with folks across the Federal Government to find out how we could be of the most value. The truth is, when I started this project, I really only had a hunch that there was something amazing happening at the confluence of technology and government. But the months since have shown that my optimism there is well-founded, even if it is still just early days for this kind of effort.

The Startup Mindset

You see, Expert Labs sits at an interesting intersection. We are not part of the government, don't take any money from the government or any tax dollars, and don't take orders from anyone in the White House or any other part of the administration. In the early days of refining Expert Labs, I saw us as something like a "gCombinator", creating technology that serves government needs, but with a model that looks a lot more like an entrepreneurial technology incubator.

And while we're proudly independent, we've also been given a remarkable amount of access. The federal government as a whole is making an incredibly rapid evolution towards becoming more open and accessible, particularly to technologists. You can look at something like the OpenGov Tracker and see the results of this in real time. That's not to say things are ideal; Only 611 ideas for improving government have been submitted in total thus far. But I think that we can get orders of magnitude more Americans to participate in, and suggest ideas for, better governance if we make it as easy as just using Twitter or Facebook. And I think we can provide great motivations for them to do so if we show that their ideas and inspiration have direct impact on the policy decisions that are made.

White House - Grand Challenges

This is a time of remarkable opportunity for the tech industry that I have spent my career working in. I'm just a regular guy, who was working just a few years ago as a PHP coder building content management systems. Today, I've been able to go to the White House and help make the case that a better technology platform, connected to the social networks we already use, could have the same transformative effect on policy making that it did on the world of media or business. And they were ready to listen, not just to me, but to our entire community. (I'm not saying that to name drop; In the new world of open government, things like visitor records for the White House are actually easily accessible.) I mean, hell, I got excited just knowing that my project's website got linked to from the White House blog — imagine when that's a two-way conversation for all of us!

And if you're a web programmer today, you can have a huge impact, even if you don't know the first thing about government or policy. You don't have to work for the government to work for your country. All you have to do is follow the ThinkTank project and make submissions of any code fixes or improvements that you have. Or join the mailing list and become part of the community. Or simply run the app for your own business and submit your feature requests about how it could be better suited to answering large-scale questions on various social networks. Simply by playing with new technology, participating in an open source project, and sharing what you've learned about what works in crowdsourcing ideas online, you can make a huge impact in our government's ability to listen to our ideas.

Just Getting Started

I'm incredibly excited to get started with our first official project at Expert Labs, and there are more to come in the future. Today, I hope you'll read over the Grand Challenges Request for Information from the White House and understand a bit more about what this project is about. Then you can visit the Expert Labs site (or follow @expertlabs on Twitter) and keep up to date with us as both the technology platform and the overall Grand Challenges effort progress.