June 29, 2020

Going Far Together: Open-Source Technology in Post-Covid New Zealand

“If you want to go fast, go alone; But if you want to go far, go together.” This statement about a culture I was then entering into for the first time left with me a strong impression about who New Zealanders are.

In 2010, if you immigrated to New Zealand, like my wife Shalom and I did, the first thing you might notice as you came through immigration was a mural stating:

“If you want to go fast, go alone; But if you want to go far, go together.”

This statement about a culture I was then entering into for the first time left with me a strong impression about who New Zealanders are.

Months later, when I showed up to serve at an open-source technology meeting, I was greeted once again by these same words; this time written in large letters on a white board.

This self-identified culture of ‘going together’, or collaboration, contributes to the many reasons Shalom and I made New Zealand our home.

From our home, looking out to the Tauranga Moana and Mount Maunganui harbour, I get to collaborate with individuals physically located all around the globe. These individuals represent the world’s largest technology firms. Together, we collaborate on the open-source blueprints of the world’s most rapidly evolving ecosystems in technology.

Open-source or open-source software is where computer software is created in a way that grants users the right to use, study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. It means that anyone can see, add to and change your creation and ensure that together you create the best possible solutions for the changing requirements of your various communities anywhere in the world. Open-source enables these best practices by bringing in the diverse perspectives that are beyond a single company, beyond a single country.

Open-source software results in consumer savings far exceeding $60 billion USD per year.

Today, there are so many people, representing countless organisations across the nations, racing to create their own proximity tracing apps as one-off solutions that are not compatible in their implementation and remain private, disconnected and unverifiable by open-peer review. This costly and time-consuming duplicated-effort is not benefiting from the hourly, continuous integration (think updates) that it would receive from the open-source collaboration happening elsewhere.  

This closed approach to a global problem means the technology being developed, in this case tracing apps, cannot be peer-reviewed by experts in our country and around the world. That threatens lives, risks personal security and privacy, and wastes both time and money.  

Conversely, organisations like Google, Apple and countless universities have already begun working together to publicly peer-review and enable open-source tracing solutions that are “opt-in” (giving control to the individual), designed so that they are not abused by governments, and provide money and time already well spent. Leveraging this existing wealth of financial and technological investment, as well as the human capital represented in that collaborative effort is worth infinitely more than we in New Zealand could ever afford alone.

Now is the opportunity for New Zealand businesses and experts to work together in the open.

New Zealand has led the world in our first response to Covid-19. We have never been better positioned.

We can continue to lead the world in our response to the ongoing threat of this global pandemic by becoming a global contributor in the open-source approach to combatting Covid-19 through the use of technology, and thus inspiring the behaviours we want to see in others.

In the face of a global crisis, it is time for us to go together - and go far. This requires an open-source approach to innovation.