GTN chats exclusively with Alec Ross about innovation and technology.
How did you end up the Senior Advisor for Innovation?
I’m a public school kid from West Virginia who ended up in West Baltimore in the 1990s, during the crack-cocaine wars, as a school teacher through Teach for America. From that experience I started a non-profit organization with three friends call One Economy, where we work to help people from poor communities, like the one that I grew up in in West Virginia and the one that I taught in in West Baltimore; to help kids from those communities be able to compete and succeed in our increasingly technology rich knowledge based economy. It was from that that I got involved in the Obama campaign, focusing on technology and media policy. From there I became Hillary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation for four years at the State Department.
What advice would you give young people?
A little over a hundred years ago the President of the United States was Teddy Roosevelt and he said something that’s very inspiring to me, “It’s far better to dare mighty deeds, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” When I talk to University students it’s usually about staying out of the gray twilight.
What innovation are you most proud of?
The innovation that I’m most proud of is technologies that allow people to safely access the internet in dictatorships where the dictator doesn’t want them to be able to access the internet, or be able to communicate, without the governments intercepting their communications. While I was at the State Department we spent right around 110 million dollars on programs to help keep the internet open and free. We produced a lot of great programs to do that and that’s what I’m most proud of.