DrupalCon 2014: Cory Doctorow wants you to FLOSS

We make our future

Cory Doctorow is worried.

In his keynote at DrupalCon Amsterdam 2014, the science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger spoke for nearly an hour on his concerns with closed, opaque systems and the importance of open source development projects.

Doctorow’s premise is this: free/libre, open-source software (“FLOSS“) is critical to our individual freedom. As technology has become intertwined with every part of our lives, our ability for agency in our own day-to-day experience rests upon the need to understand what those systems are doing and ensure that others can not remotely control them without our consent.

“A modern house is a computer that you co-inhabit; it’s basically a giant case-mod you live in.”

Our houses are filled with computers. In many ways, our houses are computers. If the computers that control key systems, let’s say heating or water or communications, go down, the house becomes uninhabitable almost instantly. If a utility company controls your thermostat remotely, what happens when they decide there is an “energy alert” and they decide to bump your temperature a couple of degrees to ease the load on their overtaxed systems? What happens if they don’t tell you they’re doing this?

“Your car is a computer you sit inside of, trapped while it zooms down the motorway at 70 or 80 miles an hour.”

Yes, self-driving cars are sexy-as-hell, may make travel safer and faster, and are one of those things that sci-fi authors have been presaging for decades. But if the systems in your car are opaque and not based on FLOSS, Doctorow says, this opens the vehicle up to remote manipulation by either bad actors or overzealous authorities. There will be no more “Pull over!” commands barked through loudspeakers. A few taps from a keyboard at a central dispatch, with the right authority codes, and your car will pull itself over to the shoulder with you in it.

“Do you want something inside your body that is designed to take orders from remote parties?”

The implication is that even sovereignty over our own bodies is at risk. The pumps and pacemakers and repairs and augmentations that are here and inevitably coming (3D printed kidneys, anyone?) are subject to the same forces. Are you supposed to stay away from sugar? Even if you trick your self-driving car into taking you to the donut shop, your prosthetic leg won’t let you walk in the door. Here, have some kale.


What’s new in Drupal 8?

So what does this have to do with Drupal?

Doctorow’s scenario is a plausible one. It’s one possible future, but it’s not the only one. The reason he was speaking at DrupalCon is that Drupal is one of a host of open-source projects (here are others) that align with his recommendation of FLOSS as a key to ensuring a more self-determined future.

To date, the open-source Drupal 8 project has had over 2,300 contributors who have examined and worked with the code base. In addition to just knowing what’s in there, they have been ensuring the code is mobile-friendly, less opaque and aligns with industry standards. In particular, the project has been focusing on:

  • Mobile first
  • Multilingual capabilities
  • New configuration management
  • Accessibility
  • Web services
  • A better user experience
  • Better authoring
  • Improved theming

The project is now in beta, and the Drupal 8 beta can be downloaded from here.

Drupal Statistics

Image: Dries Buytaert and the Drupal Association

Despite the gravity of Doctorow’s talk, we do have a path forward. Be curious. Take your things apart. Choose open solutions where they are available. Tinker. Contribute.


Image by: http://jonathanworth.com (license here)

Christopher Carfi
A veteran of both startups and the enterprise, Chris has a deep track record in developing customer community and evangelist programs for brands such as Adobe, H&R Block and Aruba Networks while holding executive positions at Ant’s Eye View and Edelman Digital, and he was co-founder and CEO at Cerado. He currently lives in the Bay Area with his family.