Insights from DrupalCon 2024 on AI

Beth Gunter // Drupal

I recently attended my first DrupalCon in Portland, Oregon, where I experienced firsthand the openness and cooperation of the Drupal community that I had heard so much about. The forward-thinking discussions reminded me of my college days when fellow students and I talked about how “when we ran the world,” we would make things different. While there were some impassioned debates about shaping the future, we were open to each other's ideas for making the world a better place.

One of the most interesting discussions at Drupalcon – and the focus of the keynote address “Open-Source AI Must Win” – was open-source AI. AI is all the rage these days. Ardent supporters tout its potential for good while others warn of risks, with doomsday predictions of a dystopian future where humans are no longer in control. There are plenty of movies depicting this worst-case scenario.

As I pondered the pros and cons, I learned from the speaker Alex Salkever that open-source AI addresses many of the concerns held by those who question AI’s value. For those not familiar with the term, open source refers to software developed in a decentralized and collaborative way, relying on peer review and community production. A key benefit of open-source AI is that it facilitates scrutiny – its code is accessible, data sources evident, and outcomes subject to challenge, fostering greater trust.

In contrast to open-source AI, proprietary systems should be approached cautiously, the keynote address warned. Lacking transparency, proprietary AI obscures its data sources and learnings. Relying on it as your source of truth is akin to relying on “unnamed sources” in a tabloid instead of a trusted, reputable news outlet. AI exemplifies the idiom “garbage in, garbage out.” As such, it is up to the users of AI to verify, verify, verify. We are accountable for the information we rely on. We cannot blame a computer.

Many large names in the tech space have spent billions of dollars investing in AI and want to keep it strictly governed so they can control the outputs and narratives. However, there is a shift underway, with the recognition that open collaboration yields greater impact. Open source fosters not just growth, but refinement, through diverse contributions.

The keynote speaker noted that even amidst the enthusiasm for this developing technology, we still must be discerning about AI's long-term implications as it progresses through the "Hype Cycle." We should be both optimistic and cautious.

The keynote address and the other sessions I attended at Drupalcon gave me key insights into emerging technologies and the ever-growing potential of Drupal. I can’t wait to share them with my Spry team members and my clients. And I can’t wait to attend Drupalcon 2025.