Startups Use Blockchain to Democratize Artificial Intelligence

A group of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists believe blockchain can be used with artificial intelligence to create an open marketplace and thus speed development of AI projects. University of California computer science professor Dawn Song and Hanson Robotics chief scientist Ben Goertzel are among the group that wager adoption of blockchain would create a wider distribution of data and algorithms. That would democratize the development of AI beyond the handful of large companies currently dominating the field.

The New York Times reports that, “the startups working toward this goal are applying blockchains in a number of ways,” including its use to “access large stores of data without any big company in control of the data or the algorithms.”

To that end, “several startups are setting up blockchain-based marketplaces, where people can buy and sell data,” and the Berlin-based Ocean Protocol 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.” These marketplaces will not have the data — unlike Facebook and Google — but “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,” said an Ocean Protocol founder Trent McConaghy, who noted that the goal is to “decentralize access to data before it’s too late.”

For example, Ocean is working with automakers to “collect data from cars to help create the artificial intelligence of autonomous cars,” without any single manufacturer having a monopoly over it. In another such example, Revel, another startup, “will pay people to collect the data that companies are looking for, like pictures of taxis or recordings of a particular language.” Users who allow their smartphones and computers to process and categorize the content can earn digital tokens; over 1,000 people are already on board.

Personal data privacy is one of the biggest worries around Facebook, Google and their ilk’s data collection. In the Oasis blockchain network, which Song is working on, “all data moving through the system will be locked into encrypted bundles.” One use case is Kara, a project building on top of Oasis, which “will allow medical researchers looking at the behavior of specific diseases to train their machine learning models with data from actual patients, without the data ever being exposed.”

Venture capital firms have already funded Oasis to the tune of $45 million. Oasis also has competition: Enigma, another startup created by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.