So that was Dreamforce. It’s indicative of how busy a schedule it was that I genuinely lost track of what day of the week it was! That’s good - this was not a conference where you were dragging your heels.
It was content-rich, dominated inevitably by generative AI. I said at the start of the week that one of the challenges facing Salesforce this year would be to strike the right balance between evangelism and pragmatism, the latter demanding recognition of the fact that the overwhelming majority of delegates in attendance are unlikely to be in a place where they’re going to be ‘firing in anger’ with barely-out-of-its-diapers generative technology.
I think that balance was achieved. There were enough demonstrations of the potential of generative AI - and plenty reminders of the long-term credibility of Salesforce’s Einstein AI - to satisfy the curiosity of most. But alongside that was acknowledgement of all the issues that accompany the current generative hype cycle. The interesting comparison next year will be to see how far the interest in generative AI has translated into active use case exemplars.
Talking of generative AI, one of the most intriguing sessions of the week was the appearance of Sam Altman, founder of OpenAI. I’ll confess I’m extremely uncomfortable with some of his views on the genie that’s not going back into the bottle and found his ‘hallucinations are part of the value’ proposition frankly nonsensical. But maybe it’s lack of experience and resultant poor communication of ideas? Again, let’s see where we are in a year’s time.
I did like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s comparison of current generative tech as being akin to toddlers in the nursery. Just wait until they hit high school, he said. It’s a nice idea, although if we’re following that analogy through, at some point generative AI is going to become a teen, scream about how much it hates us all, and lock itself in its bedroom to plot our demise. Gulp…any way that we can just skip puberty?
The mood of the conference was a different vibe to last year’s ‘family reunion’, post-COVID gathering, when a lot of the energy just came from being back in the room. This year it was a different charge in the air, with generative AI providing the hub around which the event could revolve.
Then there was the city. The so-called ‘doom loop’ that San Francisco has been enduring was less to be seen than I’d feared, with the most notable evidence of the downturn being the devastated retail landscape around Union Square. There wasn’t much need to leave space in my suitcase for shopping this year!
Still, as Benioff noted, the authorities seemed to have gotten their act together to clean up for the week. That’s good - and hopefully means that any notion of moving Dreamforce away from San Francisco is lessened - but as he observed, if things can get better for the week of the conference, why can’t they be addressed across the year? We can’t have Dreamforce every day.
So, that’s Dreamforce done for another year. Our dedicated content hub can be found here, and we’ll be adding some follow-on articles over the coming week or so.
But for now, as we always say at this point, this has been Dreamforce 2023 - and that's a wrap!