“Blockchain Could Provide Crucial Guardrails for AI Development”


Can AI and blockchain be integrated in a way that benefits humanity? This is a question that has been on the minds of many as these emerging technologies capture the public imagination and raise serious concerns.

In 2016, Vitalik Buterin wrote that both the crypto economics and AI safety communities were “trying to tackle what is fundamentally the same problem” of how to regulate complex and smart systems with “unpredictable emergent properties.” He concluded that both communities should “listen to each other more.”

With the emergence of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, worries about machines spinning out of control have increased. This has led to the notion that blockchains and smart contracts can serve as guardrails to stop AI models from going off course.

At the recent SmartCon 2023 conference, Allison Duettmann, president of the Foresight Institute, noted that those working in crypto have “a really distinct role to play” in making AGI go well, given predictions that artificial general intelligence, or AGI, may be coming soon.

A survey of 608 IT leaders across the US, Europe, and China revealed that almost half agreed that the integration of AI and blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize industries, enabling enhanced data security, transparency, and efficiency.

The basic idea is that blockchains’ immutable, tamper-free ledgers, together with smart contracts, may provide the guardrails for AI implementations, ensuring responsible artificial intelligence. This could even be used as a “kill switch” for out-of-control AI models.

However, Samir Rawashdeh, associate professor and director of the Dearborn Artificial Intelligence Research Center at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, cautions that it is misleading to describe blockchain’s “transparency” as an antidote to AI’s “black box” problem.

Scaling remains an obstacle, though progress has been made. Ben Garfinkel, director of the Centre for the Governance of AI, wrote that “established permissionless blockchains, including Ethereum, are too inefficient to run anything beyond fairly simple applications.” Casper Labs’ solution involves using both permissioned (private) blockchains and public (non-permissioned) ones.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order establishing new AI safety and security standards has created momentum, according to Mrinal Manohar, CEO and co-founder of Casper Labs. He believes that 2024 will be a year of big POCs and MVPs, and after that, there will be actual use cases.

Manohar suggests that a hybrid blockchain solution can address the scaling problem. This involves using a private blockchain that is controlled and configured, and a public chain for version control and record keeping.

This solution would provide a way to roll back the tape in case of AI models showing signs of hallucination or inherent biases, as well as a way to ensure data integrity, provenance, and transparency in the data sets used to train AI models.

In China, 68% of IT respondents agreed that the integration of AI and blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize industries, compared to 48% in the US and 34% in Europe. This is because China views blockchain technology as an effective certification and tracking mechanism, while in the West, “everyone thinks blockchain is just cryptocurrency.”

Manohar believes that blockchain’s track-and-trace governance protocols for the supply chain and financial technology sectors, as well as the fusion of AI and blockchain, could all be potential “killer apps” for blockchain.

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