Blockchain and artificial intelligence
by Andrei Povarov
When we talk about disruptive technologies, one of the interesting and rarely discussed aspects is how few of them can be used in combination to possibly achieve some greater — in fact much greater — business value. Indeed, both blockchain and artificial intelligence are disrupting and recreating modern business by bringing totally new value generation rules, and their synergy can do even more.
We have already discussed the combination of the disruptive technologies of blockchain and the Internet of Things, in Blockchain in the economy of self-sustaining devices.
The natural continuation of the IoT and blockchain combination would be the addition of AI. In a typical scenario, IoT devices would inevitably generate a great deal of data; using this data to feed training sets of AI models would constitute the next logical step to achieving more added value and business insight from the technologies used.
Coming at it from the other end, adding blockchain to existing AI applications, one could build an effective combination of AI and blockchain in multiple ways. One of the simplest would be the use of blockchain to maintain shared ownership of the value generated (and consumed) by an AI-managed process.
For example, in a smart farm using AI techniques to obtain the best harvest, ownership of the farmland, seeds, hardware devices and harvested product could be distributed among thousands of people. Thus, in a fully automated business the distribution of assets, expenses and profits expenses can be managed in a fully automated way.
In more complex scenarios, blockchain could provide less direct, but quite substantial benefits to AI systems. For instance:
- blockchain-based decentralization and distribution would bring more — and more varied — data to AI, helping to create better models;
- sharing and transparency would facilitate access by different (remote) AI actors to sets of training, real data and models; and
- consistency and immutability of critical data on blockchain would help to maintain AI data sets and models in a robust way.
On the other hand, organizations already using blockchain are keeping more — and more complex — critical data sets in their distributed ledgers. For these organizations, there is a growing need for the smarter analysis that AI can provide.
Various industries have already begun to benefit from the combined use of AI and blockchain. Among them:
- medicine — with powerful AI methods of diagnosis joined with the careful management of personal medical histories and information sharing (the need for this is clearly demonstrated in a recent case involving Google DeepMind AI;
- copyright management, with the blockchain sealing copyrighted materials in an immutable, time-stamped way, complemented by the identification of copyright violators through AI learning about patterns referring to the blockchain-held content;
- cybersecurity based on AI real-time threat detection additionally strengthened by maintaining the immutability of critical information that could be subject to unnoticed changes;
- decentralized autonomous organizations in which blockchain maintains full self-governance, and AI methods help with decision-making and adaptation to the changing environment; and
- the purchase and redistribution of energy (and other commodities) in Smart Cities accomplished via blockchain, while AI uses the behavior patterns of inhabitants to manage energy flow and forecast and future needs.
Lately we've seen more — and more practical — combinations of AI and blockchain to create a single powerful prototype. For instance, in early 2016, IBM began to introduce blockchain to its Watson platform. Within a few months, the first incubator of its kind, Watson Centre, opened in Singapore, specializing in building blockchain applications on the IBM platform.
We've witnessed a new global wave of interest in AI and its increased practical use in real projects — due largely to the availability of much greater amounts of data, more powerful computers and the overall progress in the development of AI tools, especially neural networks. This has been matched by the fast-growing wave of blockchain technologies development, and this powerful combination is extremely promising today.