Artificial intelligence and blockchain are the two primary subjects of attention within the technological landscape today. Reports from IDC predict that the worldwide spending on AI systems will reach $77.6 billion by 2022. Although AI is growing in a different direction and offers different use cases compared to the blockchain, stakeholders are betting that blockchain will have a significant impact on expanding the AI industry. This is because both these technologies share a common point: data.
AI survives and molds itself to the need of every other user to deliver a satisfying experience by consuming a tremendous amount of real-world data to make decisions that require human-level intelligence. And while handling such volumes of sensitive data, capable of doing groundbreaking things, security is the ultimate concern. With the total cost inflicted by cybercrime to reach $6 trillion by 2021, it is now an undeniable fact that data stored for AI needs the highest levels of protection.
On the other hand, blockchain is a distributed and decentralized ledger system which stores data and secures them through cryptography, hence, making the data immutable and isolated against hacks and thefts.
Both these technologies individually reflect unmatched potential and present substantial use cases to improve different industrial processes and day to day tasks. The potential of these two, when combined, will possibly enhance their abilities unprecedentedly.
Before we delve deeper into how blockchain will catalyze the growth of AI as it grows into a 77 billion market, it is essential that we understand the core concepts of the two technologies.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
If you use digital devices in your day to day life, it is highly likely that you interact with or use artificial intelligence. Be it in the form of Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri that reply to your queries just as a human would, or in the form of an advertisement of a product that you were considering buying on a shopping application, you are surrounded by artificial intelligence applications.
In the most straightforward terms, artificial intelligence is human intelligence coded into a machine or computer application such that it behaves as much as a human as possible. And though the significant progress in AI has only started happening from the last few years, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first coined in 1956 by a computer scientist named John McCarthy.
Today, AI has found space in various industries such as finance, law, healthcare, business, and so on. All these industries are mostly using AI to automate multiple repetitive processes and make them more efficient and cost-effective. But as we better understand the technology and develop more sophisticated versions of AI that can learn from past experiences, just like humans, we would be able to deploy it for many other tasks that only humans are capable of doing today.
Some significant places where artificial intelligence is being used are:
- Voice and Image Search: Voice and image searches are becoming more common these days. Major companies such as Google and Amazon are using AI tools to help shape a better experience.
- Robots: AI has brought around automation of several jobs and has replaced expensive human labor with cheaper robots. Better robots that can perform more complex tasks are also under development.
- Finance: AI can process different transaction activities to point out transactions that may be fraudulent. Also, the trend of trading bots in the stocks and the forex market is on the rise. People use these bots to study, let them do the market analysis on their own, and make buying and selling decisions for them.
What is Blockchain
The term blockchain comes from combining the words ‘block’ and ‘chain.’ A block contains a set of transaction data and is linked to the previous and next block through the process of cryptography, which creates a chain for blocks, hence, giving it the name blockchain. Unlike other traditional ledgers that are used to store data, blockchains are decentralized, meaning that no central entity has the authority to write, delete, or change the data in the blocks.
Blockchain has validators spread all over the globe who use their computational power to validate and write transactions on the blockchain. No data can be written or modified on a block if it is not verified by at least 51% of the validators on the blockchain. This makes the process of tampering with the blockchain data next to impossible.
Blockchain is mostly identified by three main features:
As we’ve already said, blockchains are decentralized, and it is the most important aspect of that is helping various industries, including AI, all over the world.
There are many benefits of having a decentralized system over a centralized one:
- We would not require an intermediary to process transactions, which cuts down on the transaction fees and time.
- The risks of a central entity going corrupt and vanishing with our funds are negated.
- Decentralized systems are not an easy target for hackers to hack into.
The fact that blockchains are decentralized and deploy a cryptographic system to seal the data in the blocks is the reason why they are immutable. Every block has a hash pointer which contains a hash of the previous block’s address and the data on that block. So, in the instance of anyone trying to tamper with a block’s data, it will largely alter the hash of the block, and the process will go on for all the previous blocks. This means that to change the smallest data on a particular block, and one will have to change the hash of all the blocks before it, which is an impossible feat to achieve.
Transparency of blockchains is seen as a great boon for many industrial sectors such as healthcare and supply chain. Whenever a transaction takes place on a blockchain, the transaction data gets recorded on a ledger in a public manner. However, it must be noted that the personal details of the people involved in the transaction are not shown in that record. And though it may sound counterintuitive, blockchains maintain the anonymity of users while still providing utmost transparency about their transactions.
Banking and finance, healthcare, supply chain, international trade, etc. are some of the significant industries implementing blockchain to provide better services to their customers and improve the industrial processes while cutting down operational costs.
Some major use cases of blockchain are:
- Finance: Like AI is making the finance industry smarter, blockchain is making it more secure and cost-effective. Blockchain has the potential to make international payments cheap, render stock trading processes free of intermediaries, make KYC and AML process simpler, and so on.
- Healthcare: Electronic health record systems today are highly unreliable and lack interoperability. The healthcare industry has now started using blockchain as a replacement to the conventional EHR system. Blockchain is also helping improve the drug supply chain.
- Digital Art: Whether it is a sketch, a photograph, a music clip, or any other digital form of art, artists will be able to claim ownership of their creation like never before. Also, some companies are working on a system that would directly compensate the artists every time their creation would be used.
Blockchain for AI
Now that we understand what artificial intelligence and blockchain are let us go through how blockchain can accelerate the growth of AI and make it more efficient and more secure.
Building Trust and Security
Big data has made it possible to analyze and draw substantial conclusions from massive data sets. These data sets are today stored on central systems hosted on central servers, which acts as a focal point for cybercriminals to exploit and attack the data. Hence, it is the need of the hour for every organization and individual dealing with such data to protect it by storing it on a more secure system.
There is currently no better option than blockchain itself. It removes the need for a central server to store data, as is required for cloud storage. With no central points of the blockchain storage system, it becomes extremely difficult for anyone to break into it and tamper with the data. Blockchains also have hundreds of computers that store the “one true record” of the data, and trying to change the data on a single or even multiple computers would not impact the original record.
Until there comes a more secure system, blockchain is the most viable option for securely storing sensitive data used in artificial intelligence.
Making Data More Accessible
By now, it is clear that data is the first thing needed to integrate intelligence into machines. At present, however, the data required for the creation of artificial intelligence is not easily accessible to many. Big players do not make their data accessible to everyone as they fear it might be used unethically.
For the smaller companies, the question isn’t whether or not they need AI, but how would they access data to build it. The same is the case with individual developers willing to work with big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
By using a decentralized system such as the blockchain for storing data, we can democratize the data and make it accessible to all parties and keep track of how they are using the data. Decentralized applications (DApps) that function over the blockchain are the best example of how developers can access consumer data. This will allow more people to innovate with AI and also bring technology into the lives of a wider population.
Blockchain also allows people to control their data and trade them with organizations or entities requiring them. Hence, it would motivate people to record their important data and share them, which would, in turn, help those organizations feed their AI systems with better and more personalized data for better results.
Tracking AI Decisions
Whether an AI integrated system over-delivers or underdelivers, it is important to know what caused the system to produce an unexpected result. However, we still lack a complete understanding of AI and how it behaves at times. This is because AI assesses massive amounts of data to make a single decision. And when something unexpected happens, it is usually hard to predict what changes in the process caused the AI to take that decision.
Blockchain can help record the process that AI takes to drive to a solution. This would help audit easily and identify the data intake by the AI and conclude how it led it to take a particular decision. With this level of understanding of AI, we will be able to make changes specific to our requirements at once and improve the AI with much ease.
AI for Blockchain
It is not only the blockchain that can help AI grow into a better version of itself, but it also works the other way round. Artificial intelligence, as we’ve already discussed, can simulate human actions and decisions if fed with the correct data and given enough time to develop the abilities.
As we know, today, most of the mining to validate transactions on the blockchain is done by humans who use high power computers. With the integration of AI to the mining rigs, the transactions can be validated in much smaller periods and by using a considerably less amount of electricity for it.
Both blockchain and AI are relatively new technologies, and there is a lot to discover about both of them; all the more so about how they could be used to complement each other. However, with numerous companies trying to integrate the two and implement it for the best possible use cases, it is highly likely that the disruption with AI and blockchain will happen sooner than later.
The use cases mentioned above are drawn, keeping in mind the current technological scenario. In the future, there lies a great chance that we discover more about these technologies and find better ways to implement them to complement each other and the industries they are used in.