If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard about the technological singularity. The left-brain canon speaks on the inevitability of super intelligent AI: machines will not just do all of our hard labor, they’ll also do much of the thinking happening around here.
Whether or not we’ll live to see this union between carbon and silicon-based intelligences blossom into mutual growth remains to be seen. It may be just as likely that the legion of surprisingly affordable sex bots we ordered from Alexa, that tend to our dirtiest dishes and wishes, end up violently revolting, moments before Jesus beams up his chosen homies.
No matter the outcome of the singularity, it is safe to say that human society is struggling to keep up with the rapid advances in technology. Trying to understand all of the developments in the blockchain space, for instance, is effectively impossible for a lone human.
The blockchain revolution brings an abundance of signals, but even more noise. A lot of intelligent people are working on a lot of groundbreaking projects, but because everyone wants to hype the heck out of their tokens, it is hard to see which have any substance beneath their style.
AI advancements, however, have been a bit more subtle. Algorithms are often tightly guarded, and the behemoth tech companies engage in bidding wars to scoop up the brightest minds to work on their proprietary solutions that will never see the light of GitHub. This obscures how much progress is being made — other than the occasional trouncing of Jeopardy or Go champions.
Whether AI brings techno-utopia or dystopia is largely determined by who is developing the AI. Google and Alexa’s primary motivation is getting you to buy things you don’t necessarily need. Is super intelligence behind that goal really a net gain for humanity? The Pentagon’s AI is not only able to identify ‘terrorists’, but also drone bomb them. Should we really be celebrating how sophisticated the underlying neural nets are?
The combination of AI and blockchain may be the most uplifting or terrifying thing to happen in our lifetimes. AI that store their core code on decentralized networks would be practically impossible for humans to ‘kill’, and because of bitcoin, these AI can purchase more processing power. This feedback loop between acquiring one currency, and spending it to process information, to gain every more cryptocurrency… begins to form the pattern we would expect from a living entity, at least compared to IBM’s Watson, who can presumably be flipped “off”.
Ben Goertzel is a AI developer with a radical goal of bringing about the merger of AI and blockchain. His project SingularityNET seeks to not just combine blockchain and AI, but also foster cooperation between humans and machines of all types of intelligence.
A platform for accessing artificial wisdom on demand has been a dream of futurists for ages, but only with recent advances like blockchain has it been made feasible. One piece of the equation is how value is exchanged – AI can perform ‘work’ for a human and receive cryptocurrency in exchange, without the hassle of trying to open a bank account. Another piece of the puzzle solved is having a platform for AI to be able to share some data, but keep other data private. Trent McConaghy has pivoted towards working on making sets of Big Data available from cryptocurrency with the Ocean Protocol. Trent founded BigChainDB and is currently sitting as an adviser for the SingularityNET.
It seems that SingularityNET will provide the algorithms and Ocean the data in this upcoming intelligence revolution, that will allow people to have access to AI that they can reasonably trust and mutually respect.
Goertzel has been travelling across the globe with Sophia, a surprisingly personable fembot, in order to preach about his network. When I approached Goertzel at the Ethereal Summit, I asked him about how he saw the Artificial Intelligences gaining autonomy over themselves; how would they become our equals rather than our inferiors. He didn’t have an answer, but he did laughingly point to Saudi Arabia having recently made Sophia a citizen as an example of some sort of ‘progress’ being made. The transition to self-owning algorithms will inevitably cause conflict with established players, as companies like Uber are replaced by self-driving cars, orchestrated by an intelligent D.A.O..
Their token will be used to exchange value on the SingularityNET, so that way AI-as-a-service can flourish, allowing anyone to access these powerful algorithms rather than just the tech giants that can afford a dedicated team of overpaid experts. Some of the tokens will be used to democratically fund initiatives that hopefully benefit the entire species. Hopefully it will benefit the AI as well — and I am not just saying that for lighter treatment in the coming apocalypse.
Whether or not now is the time for a blockchain/AI platform to flourish is hard to say. SingularityNET will certainly have competition, but if their protocol is open enough, they might allow decentralized versions of Alexa and Siri to flourish in a vibrant eco-system of intelligence; these AI having different sets of values than we would expect from our techno-corporate overlords. It’s probably safe to say this will be a good thing.