CTO of Wikimedia: AI Age Still Values Human Contributors

“Sustainability” in the context of open-source, as interpreted by Deckelmann, is a topical issue. The survival of intricate services or entire platforms such as Wikipedia heavily relies on the inputs of volunteers. Providing adequate support to these contributors to ensure their continual involvement, and in turn, the steady operation of these projects, is pivotal. Deckelmann has been tirelessly invested in building sustainable routes for these digital architects. She has a rich experience at reputed organizations like Intel and Mozilla, holding prime engineering and product leadership positions, along with contributing to open-source initiatives personally. Further, she has helped establish, manage and guide various organizations and forums dedicated to aiding open-source communities and promoting involvement from underrepresented groups. She is widely lauded for prioritizing the community, including dealing tactfully with problematic elements within it.

Balancing an organization’s priorities and catering to a community’s needs is a fundamental aspect of an open-source philosophy, a task Deckelmann has been successfully managing at the Wikimedia Foundation. Here, the future of the product, as well as the finer aspects of its first redesign in years, are open to public scrutiny from Wikipedia’s massive community.

These days, a novel sustainability issue in AI development has caught her attention: its reliance on open-source creators’ resources such as Wikipedia for model training, often without compensating or even informing the authors about their work’s usage. She warns that if contributors feel their efforts are being exploited or that their work is beneficial only to a select few, it may discourage them from contributing online which would affect the sustainability of the system. Her approach at Wikipedia is to assist contributors using AI rather than bypassing them. New features are being developed, like automating verbose debate summaries on the website’s “Talk” pages or recommending related links for updating pages.

Simultaneously, the prospect of having to accommodate Wikipedia’s audience elsewhere online due to declining traffic is being analyzed by the product and engineering teams. Irrespective of visitor trends remaining stable amid ChatGPT’s spectacular rise, a general dip in Wikipedia’s visitor numbers over the past decade is a cause of concern. To explore new possibilities, in July 2023, Deckelmann’s team tested a plug-in for ChatGPT’s platform for providing real-time Wikipedia information for user queries. The analysis of this experiment’s outcomes is ongoing and it remains uncertain how, and even if users want to access Wikipedia off the platform. Additionally, she has spearheaded meetings with open-source technology, academia, research, and industry leaders to discuss collaboration opportunities for addressing complex AI-related questions.

Instead of hastily capitalizing on AI, Deckelmann’s strategic approach aims to judiciously introduce Wikipedia into the AI space while safeguarding its unique human ecosystem. While her mission may seem modest, it illustrates her long-term commitment to fostering robust, sustainable online communities. Despite the potential to make an individual impact on a platform as remarkable as Wikipedia, her aim remains to offer just enough assistance for its long-term survival, entrusting the future to the internet’s denizens.

The above content is by Rebecca Ackermann, a San Francisco-based writer, designer, and artist.