The AI industry is booming. Companies are proliferating across the US and the world, with leaders like SenseTime, the image processing and facial recognition startup, reaching $1.2 billion in investment in no time at all.
But no matter how rosy our optical sensors, it’s impossible not to feel a chill down the spine when reading about the purpose of some of these corporations. The Chinese government is deeply involved with SenseTime, incorporating it into its surveillance state, and leasing out the technology to similarly paranoid nations.
If AI is inevitable, and our increasingly computerized interconnected world indicates that it is, is there a way to free it from centralized control and democratize its power? Blockchain may point the way.
There currently exists a chasm down the center of AI. On one side are businesses with access to the rich troves of data that AI needs to function, and on the other, the researchers and developers working on the AI itself. The only entities capable of bridging the gap are national governments and Silicon Valley mega-corporations like Google and Facebook. While these organizations assure us they can be trusted, it’s probably wise to put AI on a more level playing field.
That’s the thinking behind SingularityNET, a company aiming to set up a decentralized marketplace where businesses can market their data and developers their AI services. You may have heard of their CEO, Dr. Ben Goertzel. He’s the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, creators of the ‘social humanoid robot’ Sophia, who recently professed her desire to “Destroy all humans.” Robotic prophecies of doom notwithstanding, SingularityNET’s mission is decidedly pro-human. While the platform utilizes smart contracts on the blockchain to facilitate exchange between clients interested in AI services, it has a second, more futuristic motive, very much in keeping with the Kurzweilian connotations of the company’s name.
The numerous AI agents buzzing around on SingularityNET’s platform will learn to collaborate with each other as more (human) clients use it, eventually reaching a complexity similar to that of a network of human neurons. Or so Dr. Goertzel would have you believe. This method of ’emerging’ an AI is similar to how Sophia the robot humanoid already functions. An executive AI agent delegates requests to other AI agents who have their own specialties until this beehive achieves enough interdependence and efficiency to carry out tasks requiring human-level intelligence. To stave off the inevitable SkyNet comparisons, Dr. Goertzel claims that if a human-level AI does emerge on the platform, it will have the soul of Gandhi and the heart of Mother Teresa thanks to SingularityNET assigning it a quota of altruistic and charitable tasks.
Reading between the lines we can envision a future decades or centuries from now, where the munificent SingularityNET AI is the people’s champion against AIs raised on the bile of warfare or craven corporatism. Until this day arrives, SingularityNET is planning to leverage the blockchain to offer valuable, if decidedly un-dramatic, helper bots such as translators and image processors. Currently perched on the Ethereum blockchain, the platform uses an ERC-20 compliant AGI token to access services and vote on any upcoming changes to the system (such as hopping over to a new blockchain). The token launched in January of 2018 and is holding steady at around ten to fifteen cents a coin (USD).
Sharing the Load
Another entrant into the world of decentralized AI is DeepBrain Chain, a platform currently on the NEO blockchain. While it also pitches itself as an AI marketplace, it offers another service that’s indispensable to developers and businesses alike – utilizing blockchain nodes to provide much-needed computing power. This saves businesses the trouble of investing in more hardware to get their AI off the ground. The financial benefit is twofold, nodes are paid in DeepBrain Chain tokens (DBC) for lending a computational hand, and companies have an easier time integrating AI services.
The competition between marketplaces hasn’t lasted long. SingularityNET and Deepbrain Chain have already joined forces, pooling their data, computing power, and infrastructure to create a burgeoning powerhouse in an industry still finding its sea-legs. While AI may have other uses for blockchain, such as solving its scalability problem, the current winds are blowing in the direction of decentralization and democratization of its incredible power.