By: Ee Ning Foo
Some might wonder what the value of decentralization is– The short answer is privacy and security.
Traditionally, individual users could only conduct transactions through digital intermediaries like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Based on the sheer amount of people relying on their services, these platforms have been able to scale up rapidly and dominate digital markets. However, a new trend is starting to gain momentum: decentralization. Decentralized Artificial Intelligence (AI) capitalizes on the strengths of multiple networks to enable users to take charge of their online transactions, without going through other platforms.
Now, some might wonder what the value of decentralization is– after all, the services of tech giants like Google are convenient, and they do a good job at what we ask them. The short answer is privacy and security. When businesses are able to gather and maintain rights to the information of millions of people with relatively little regulation on their use, privacy is compromised. Cases like Cambridge Analytica epitomize the problems of a single entity holding large amounts of information. We are unable to verify the usage of our data and can be easily manipulated into certain behaviors through microtargeting advertisements. The security of our data is also uncertain. The 2013 Yahoo data breach, in which the personal information of 500 million users was leaked, shows the risks associated with centralized digital entities, which are the obvious targets of hackers. This is further exacerbated by the influence major companies can wield over individual users.
In addition, digital companies tend to prioritize profits over the protection of users’ rights. As they grow, they constantly seek to extract new information about their users and to construct profiles for tailored advertising. This exploitation of information stems from a misalignment between users’ and the company’s benefits. The scaling up process causes a company to evolve from a focus on attracting users to an emphasis on extracting more information out of those customers. At the same time, they move from cooperation with industry players to competition, resulting in only a small number of companies dominating the market.
Decentralization a miracle cure?
With the multiple issues arising from centralization, it may be baffling that changes were not made earlier. But is decentralization the answer to all our woes? Some think not. New York University professor and economist Nouriel Roubini, best known for predicting the 2008 financial crisis two years prior, has openly declared decentralization a myth. At the Blockshow Conference in Las Vegas in August, he explained that mining resources require large amounts of investments that lead to their concentration, pointing out that “the top five mining pools control 70% of all mining”. He made the claim that the current crypto scene– the one leading the call for decentralization– is in fact centralized. Moreover, scientist and investor Jesus Rodriguez has pointed out the major challenges that need to be addressed before true decentralization can become reality. These are issues related to privacy, autonomy, transparency, and economics, as seen in Figure 2 below.
Pioneers of Decentralized AI
Despite the forecasted doom of decentralization and multiple challenges ahead, many companies have tried to leverage the strengths of decentralized AI. Let’s take a look at some of them.
SingularityNET: One of the most well-known projects in decentralized AI led by Dr. Ben Goertzel with teams in Hanson Robotics, Mozi Health and iCog Labs, SingularityNET markets itself as a platform which “lets anyone create, share, and monetize AI services at scale” as well as “democratize access to AI technology”. The company provides full-stack AI solutions in a decentralized marketplace which any user can access. The Sophia robot, widely known to be one of the most expressive robots today, is one of their use case where many of her underlying AI programs will be available open-source on the platform.
Ocean: With advisors including Meltem Demirors, Dr. Carsten Stöcker, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Gajek, Adam Drake and more to come, Ocean Protocol aims to unlock data for more equitable outcomes for data users. It is “an ecosystem for sharing data and services” that provides “a tokenized layer service layer that exposes data, storage, compute and algorithms for consumption with a set of deterministic proofs on availability and integrity that serve as verifiable service agreements”.
OpenMined: This community seeks to “create an accessible ecosystem of tools for private, secure, multi-owner governed AI”. Their methods focus on protecting privacy through federated learning and differential privacy, establishing security through multi-party computation and homomorphic encryption as well as enabling multiple owners through consensus governance and threshold governance.
Admittedly, the decentralized AI scene is relatively young– it remains to be seen if the concept can achieve real-world success among a wider audience or if it will all turn out to be a huge bubble as some have suggested. However, the growing community and research being done currently puts decentralized AI on our list of things to watch out for, at least for now!
Armerding, T. (2018, January 26). The 17 Biggest Data Breaches of the 21st Century. IDG Communications. Retrieved from https://www.csoonline.com/article/2130877/data-breach/the-biggest-data-breaches-of-the-21st-century.html
Dixon, C. (2018, February 18). Why Decentralization Matters. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@cdixon/why-decentralization-matters-5e3f79f7638e
Bloomberg, J. (2018, August 25). ‘Dr. Doom’ Economist Nouriel Roubini Bearish On Everything Crypto. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2018/08/25/dr-doom-economist-nouriel-roubini-bearish-on-everything-crypto/#5e15e66226d5
Rodrigues, J. (2018, September 19). Everything you need to know about Decentralized AI. Towards Data Science. Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-decentralized-ai-3abdb052324b
SingularityNET. (2018). The Global AI Network. Stichting SingularityNET. Retrieved from https://singularitynet.io/
Ocean. (2018). A Decentralized Data Exchange Protocol to Unlock Data for AI. Ocean Protocol Foundation Ltd. Retrieved from https://oceanprotocol.com/
OpenMined. Building Safe Artificial Intelligence. OpenMined. Retrieved from https://www.openmined.org/