Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence are two of the hottest technology trends right now. Even though the two technologies have highly different developing parties and applications, researchers have been discussing and exploring their combination, and they have been found to go extremely well together.
In the following article, I will discuss the basics of Artificial Intelligence, followed by the fields in which the two technologies exhibit highly promising convergent potentialities.
A Brief Introduction to Artificial Intelligence
The term “Artificial Intelligence”, henceforth shortened to “AI”, is much older than generally assumed. It was first coined by computer scientist professor John McCarthy in 1955. He originally defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” McCarthy was the same professor who initiated widely recognized research in the field of AI, thanks to early experiments with self-driving cars, decision-making models, and cloud computing.
Essentially, AI are machines and computers capable of working and reacting to situations in the same, but preferably better, way than humans.
What we’re trying to achieve with AI is to recreate intelligence. With AI programs, scientists are trying to make systems do the following:
- Learn from past experiences to perform better in new situations that they haven’t come across yet
- Draw conclusions from the available data to give meaning to a situation
- Analyze environment and situations, and be able to interpret them correctly
Many scientists in the field of AI predict that the technology will soon outperform humans in many fields, starting with translating (predicted for 2024) all the way to surgery (predicted for 2053). Although experts disagree on the timeframe in which AI will start overtaking humans in these areas, they all agree on thing: it will happen.
A number of science fiction movies have already introduced us to the concept of AI through virtual assistants. These computer-based assistants perform the tasks we ask them to do such as research, scheduling, recommending entertainment, and answering our questions.
Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, is an AI program that is already doing just that for us, indicating that AI has already made its way into our day-to-day lives. From here on, we can expect AI applications to be further developed to make our lives easier, allowing us to outsource more and more complex routine tasks, such as problem solving, learning, and customizing other machines we use in our homes and workplaces.
The AI Arms Race
AI’s consumer applications are great innovations, ridding us of iterative daily tasks and saving users a lot of time. However, on a global level, AI is regarded as one of, if not the key asset for nations wanting to become the world’s dominant country.
This is because experts believe that once AI is developed enough, it can lead to major strategic advantages due to AI’s superior intelligence to humans. This has been dubbed the global AI arms race and, like the nuclear arms race, it’s been escalating quite rapidly, with billions of dollars being invested in the research and development of AI programs.
This has been happening because world leaders and AI experts believe that the first nation to create a superior AI will have a permanent advantage over its competitors. Theoretically, this advanced AI will be able to develop other AIs, resulting in exponential growth that no sizeable team of experts will be able to compete with. It doesn’t matter if a nation creates this AI 2 years or 2 months ahead of its competition. As Russian leader Putin put it, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Do we really want this extremely powerful technology to fall in the hands of one central party? Whether this omnipotent and self-replicating AI is controlled by a company such as Google, Amazon, or IBM, or by a central government, the thought of one entity wielding such power is frightening.
Here’s where blockchain comes into play, creating the option to globalize and decentralize AI entirely. And based on the above scenario, we really want AI ultimately to be decentralized.
Decentralized Artificial Intelligence and Its Benefits
Due to its decentralized nature, blockchain can potentially neutralize the risk of one party’s monopoly of AI and their ability to control one of the most powerful and dangerous technologies known to man.
If we were to decentralize AI, AI algorithms could become Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO). DAOs are organizations that are able to operate autonomously and in a decentralized way through smart contracts, without having a central party pulling the strings and making decisions. The users of DAOs, who constitute its network, will decide how a DAO functions and operates.
Participants of a blockchain network are directly connected to each other, without going through a third party. Imagine Airbnb as a DAO. Contact between house owners and travellers would be based on smart contracts through which they can transact directly with each other.
This same model would apply for AI programs running as DAOs. Its learning algorithms would be informed by its smart contract design and the DAO will have to buy its data input from the market. A project that is already working on such a DAO is called SingularityNET, a highly ambitious project definitely worth checking out.
Such an AI DAO would operate as constituted by its smart contracts. It will only be able to perform the actions that are specified in these smart contracts. Designing these smart contracts are extremely complex and the success of an AI DAO will be completely dependent on this architectural design. When conducted optimally, an AI DAO would be able to take over development at some point because it is designed to learn through data to optimize itself much more effectively than could be done through human design.
An important note to this is that these smart contracts must be designed with the utmost precaution and precision to ensure the network stays in control and not the AI. As is the case with blockchain applications, there is no one plug to pull, but an entire network keeping the chains running.
We really don’t want an unstoppable, Skynet-esque AI blockchain running autonomously, programming itself with us being unable to shut it down.
The progress of AI is completely dependent on the input of data – our data. Through data, AI receives information about the world and things happening on it. Basically, data feeds AI, and through it AI will be able continuously improve itself.
On the other side, blockchain is essentially a technology that allows for the encrypted storage of data on a distributed ledger. It allows for the creation of fully secured databases which can be looked into by parties who have been approved to do so. When combining blockchains with AI, we have a backup system for the sensitive and highly valuable personal data of individuals.
For example, Spotify uses the data we give it to recommend music based on our preferences. This recommendation runs on AI, and it is a great feature for Spotify users, most of whom don’t have a problem sharing their usage data.
However, when it comes to medical or financial data, although receiving recommendations would be extremely valuable, this data is too sensitive to hand over to a single company and its algorithms. Storing this data on a blockchain, which can be accessed by an AI, but only with permission and once it has gone through the proper procedures, could give us the enormous advantages of personalized recommendations while safely storing our sensitive data.
Another disruptive innovation that could be possible by combining the two technologies is the monetization of data. Monetizing collected data is a huge revenue source for large companies, such as Facebook and Google.
Platform users create personal data by using their online services. This data is then collected, grouped, stored, and eventually sold to other companies. This makes data incredibly valuable – more valuable than we as users realize, and we are giving it away for free. Data is the new oil, and it could become our most valuable asset in the near future.
Blockchain makes it possible for us to monetize the data we create through data marketplaces. By using blockchain technology, we can actually own our data and decide what to do with it.
Instead of third parties selling our data to companies, often using unethical and insecure means, companies will have to buy it directly from us. This wasn’t possible before because of the stringent process of going through third parties and dealing with expensive fiat currency transactions. Blockchain technology enables microtransactions, which is exactly what we need for the trade of data.
The same goes for AI programs that need our data. In order for AI algorithms to learn and develop, AI networks will be required to buy data directly from its creators (i.e. us) through data marketplaces. This will make the entire process a far more fair process than it currently is, without tech giants exploiting its users.
Such a data marketplace will also open up AI for smaller companies. Developing and feeding AI is incredibly costly for companies that do not generate their own data. Through decentralized data marketplaces, they will be able to access otherwise too expensive and privately kept data.
Trusting AI Decision Making
As AI algorithms become smarter through learning, it will become increasingly difficult for data scientists to understand how these programs came to specific conclusions and decisions. This is because AI algorithms will be able to process incredibly large amounts of data and variables. However, we must continue to audit conclusions made by AI because we want to make sure they’re still reflecting reality.
Through the use of blockchain technology, there are immutable records of all the data, variables, and processes used by AIs for their decision-making processes. This makes it far easier to audit the entire process.
With the appropriate blockchain programming, all steps from data entry to conclusions can be observed, and the observing party will be sure that this data has not been tampered with. It creates trust in the conclusions drawn by AI programs. This is a necessary step, as individuals and companies will not start using AI applications if they don’t understand how they function, and on what information they base their decisions.
The combination of blockchain technology and Artificial Intelligence is still a largely undiscovered area. Even though the convergence of the two technologies has received its fair share of scholarly attention, projects devoted to this groundbreaking combination are still scarce.
When people with access to the highest quality information concerning AI, like Elon Musk, are saying that AI could be the biggest existential threat in existence, giving this power to one single entity isn’t the best idea. Decentralizing AI and letting it be designed and controlled by a large network through open-source programming is probably the safest approach to create superintelligence.
Putting the two technologies together has the potential to use data in ways never before thought possible. Data is the key ingredient for the development and enhancement of AI algorithms, and blockchain secures this data, allows us to audit all intermediary steps AI takes to draw conclusions from the data, and allows individuals to monetize their produced data.
AI can be incredibly revolutionary, but it must be designed with utmost precautions – blockchain can greatly assist in this. How the interplay between the two technologies will progress is anyone’s guess. However, its potential for true disruption is clearly there, and rapidly developing.
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