How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech’s Hold on A.I.

by crypto journalist

How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech’s Hold on A.I.


Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, with the humanoid robot Sophia — an alternative to Amazon’s Alexa — in his office in Hong Kong. He wants Sophia to reach out to other artificial intelligence providers if she can’t find answers to users’ questions.CreditCreditPierfrancesco Celada for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Pairing artificial intelligence and the blockchain might be what you would expect from a scammer looking to make a quick buck in 2018.

The two concepts, after all, are two of the most buzzed about and least understood ideas in the tech universe.

Dawn Song, a computer science professor at the University of California, and Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, have been among the big names arguing that the blockchain could be a crucial way to push back against some of the most worrying trends facing the field of artificial intelligence.

Many A.I. experts are concerned that Facebook, Google and a few other big companies are hoarding talent in the field. The internet giants also control the massive troves of online data that are necessary to train and refine the best machine learning programs.

Professor Song, Mr. Goertzel and other entrepreneurs say they believe the blockchain could encourage a broader distribution of the data and algorithms that will determine the future development of artificial intelligence.

“It’s important to have machine learning capabilities that are more under the user’s control, rather than relying on these big companies to get access to these capabilities,” Professor Song said in an interview.

Ocean Protocol, a project based in Berlin, is building the infrastructure so that anyone can set up a marketplace for any kind of data, with the users of data paying the sources with digital tokens.

Unlike Google and Facebook, which store the data they get from users, the marketplaces built on Ocean Protocol will not have the data themselves; they will just be places for people with data to meet, ensuring that no central player can access or exploit the data.

“Blockchains are incentive machines — you can get people to do stuff by paying them,” said Trent McConaghy, one of the founders of Ocean Protocol, who has been working in artificial intelligence since the 1990s.

The goal, Mr. McConaghy said, is to “decentralize access to data before it’s too late.”

Ocean is working with several automakers to collect data from cars to help create the artificial intelligence of autonomous cars. All the automakers are expected to share data so none of them have a monopoly over it.

Another start-up, Revel, will pay people to collect the data that companies are looking for, like pictures of taxis or recordings of a particular language. Users can also let their phones and computers be used to process and categorize the images and sounds — all in exchange for digital tokens. Over a thousand people already have put their computers to work.

These sorts of marketplaces are only the outer layer of the blockchain-based systems that are being built to handle artificial intelligence data.

SingularityNET, a blockchain that will serve as a link among A.I. services around the world. If one artificial intelligence module is unable to come up with an answer, it can consult with others, and provide compensation if one of the other modules is able to get it right.

“It let’s you have a network of A.I.’s that nobody owns,” Mr. Goertzel said.

Hanson Robotics is planning to use SingularityNET to feed information into its humanoid robot, Sophia. Unlike Amazon’s Alexa service, which answers questions using services approved by Amazon, Mr. Goertzel wants Sophia to reach out to other artificial intelligence providers if she can’t find the right answer.

“We are now using SingularityNET to upgrade Sophia’s intelligence,” Mr. Goertzel said. “In principle, it is much more flexible because we don’t have a centrally controlled market.”

As with most blockchain applications, a lot of technical work still must be done before these new systems can take off — and it is not clear that all of the roadblocks are surmountable. Fred Ehrsam, the co-founder of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, is investing in the area, but he says he believes it will take some time before these systems can prove themselves. He is hopeful that when they do, they will play an important role in democratizing the industry.

“Right now the data isn’t really being valued in an open market, it’s just being given to a few companies,” Mr. Ehrsam said. “What if there was now a free market for data?”

This content was originally published here.

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