Unless you’re living completely off the grid, it’s difficult these days not to leave a data trail.
It’s not just the daily ephemera you post on social media or the permissions that lead to suspiciously accurate targeted ads. GPS maps your movements, credit card information provides a pattern of commerce and affects your credit score. Security cameras with facial recognition swivel sharply and set off silent alarms if your visage is on the Most Wanted List.
Perhaps you always suspected that your online activity was being tracked, codified, and monetized. After all, it’s the cost of a “free” web. But what if you could change the balance of power and teach neural nets and disembodied ambient intelligence to improve life for all of us?
PCMag went to the Decentralized A.I. Summit in San Francisco recently and sat down with conference host Dan Gailey, co-founder and CEO of Synapse AI, a decentralized data and AI marketplace, who sees this future coming faster than you think. Read on for excerpts of our conversation.
Dan, can you explain what you’re hoping to achieve at the summit?
This is a place for hackers and researchers, primarily. We’ve brought together many, many people, in our community who are thinking about the future of A.I., from Google, Nvidia, Samsung, Unity, IBM, Amazon, and a ton of independent researchers and startups such as Numerai, DocAI, and Ocean Protocol. [They] are working on competing or complementary companies, but might have overlapping visions; [we want to] get them talking and thinking about how to change the perspective. Because the way these companies previously considered A.I. as something inside their separate entities, can’t be the way forward.
In your opening keynote, you talked about how all this data is stored in silos, whereas, in a decentralized A.I. future, you’d like to see multi-agent systems being able to interrogate interlinked data pools, storing findings and original sources via blockchain protocols?
Absolutely. Right now there are a ton of businesses which use this data and are required to create a target demographic, a specific audience, which only allows them to facilitate answers for a sample, using a certain model. What we want to do is allow that to open up.
Once you allow access to this data, so you can build open models, you can build more robust and representative models, which are leveraged by A.I. agents, via chatbots, or your phone, however you want to do that, to interface with these things, and they can start to reveal things to us. I call it the “Observe, Learn, Predict, Influence” model.
A.I. guiding us, because it has enough unfettered access to draw useful conclusions, similar to DocAI?
Right. And that’s where the fundamental shift will happen, in my opinion. Instead of us facilitating A.I., it will help us. We are the human-in-the-loop stopgap before machines can start thinking and learning, to create a new world.
And by using the blockchain protocol, people and companies who contribute their data to this A.I. melange can be retroactively compensated?
There’s a lot of hype around blockchain and not a lot of “where the rubber meets the road.” Here, at the summit, and at Synapse, we’re building the future of decentralized data and machine intelligence on top of the blockchain for that very reason. People need to be incentivized for contributing so it’s a real business proposition. Using the blockchain ensures integrity of data lineage so, when those models are realized, the right people get rewarded.
As the co-founder and CEO of Synapse AI, you have a vested interest in getting everyone to buy into decentralized A.I., so can you briefly explain what your company does?
We are building the first decentralized AI + Blockchain Marketplace and Network for data, models, and agents; creating the infrastructure that will run an autonomous logistics and supply chain, while providing insights and models of all participants (including humans).
At Synapse you’re about to go into beta on your marketplace where people can contribute their data in return for tokens and get rewarded in cryptocurrency or cash.
The Synapse Marketplace is the first installment of the Synapse Network. This is where contract fulfillment and service subscription happens. Our marketplace provides access to services for all agents participating on the Synapse Network. Inside the Synapse Marketplace, AI/ML/Data participants can use SYN Tokens to buy and sell data and to subscribe to services. This video explains how it all works:
If “data is the new oil” why would companies share it with each other, and with us?
Because the more data you have to work with, the more interesting an ecosystem exists, and the better models you can create. Once you start correlating different data points from different verticals, companies—by sharing—will have much better insights than they could ever have alone.
And it doesn’t mean, from a VC or market perspective, that you lose your competitive advantage by doing so?
No, because your competitive advantage ceases to become the information itself, but the engineering and ingenuity behind the algorithms that you create to mine this data with machine intelligence.
So that’s the end of the consumer data marketing agencies that sell our data then.
They have to become smarter, by creating A.I. agents that make useful investigations of that data. The siloed data alone isn’t worth much anymore.
How did you get into A.I. yourself?
I grew up programming and went through the hacker and phreaking scene, which was trial by fire. I asked someone to teach me how to hack and they taught me how to program C instead. They tricked me (laughs). At the age of 12, I learned all about C and Unix systems; how networks functioned, and what this all meant on a larger scale.
And this lead you into greater silicon-based intelligence gathering?
I knew we were building these machines to help accomplish something that we already do, like calculations, but we do pretty poorly. If computers can do it, they should do it.
Interestingly though, you went for an engineering degree.
Yes, I studied Chemistry and Electrical Engineering, with a focus on Computational Chemistry and Autonomous Robotics at the University of Mississippi because I wanted to be a full-stack scientist.
And engineering is all about systems thinking.
I knew that I wanted to understand it all. From the physical, or chemical, then bring it all the way up to abstract thinking, to programming, while grasping the concept of the sub stratus JK flip flop sequential logic circuits, systems design and architecture, to programmatic engineering, interfaces—and how all those things fit together. Because this is what we’re doing now, by building machines that observe other machines; build models for those systems, and figure out how to generate efficiencies out of them, optimizing tools and parameters in those systems. They already mirror natural systems.
Are you part of the quantified self movement?
I think it’s the next step to get to the next phase of being human. If we’re collecting data today, to find out who we are and how we function, and how we can improve. Then the next step is to build systems that examine that data and form correlations so we can maybe start to answer the bigger questions. Like “What are we doing here?”
Which is why you invited Dan Werthimer from Seti@Home to give a keynote speech.
Yes. Because I’m interested in creating an A.I. which is able to communicate with other systems to explore the “unknown unknown.” My entire life is geared towards delivering this network and connecting all humans, devices, and intelligence.
How much monetary “value” do you think the decentralized A.I. industry will unlock?
We’re not even talking trillions of dollars in value at this point, but something bigger that can unlock new A.I. economies never imagined.
What’s next for you?
We announced today a Developers Fund where we’ll be redirecting a portion of our proceeds from our ICO (initial coin offering) to create an ecosystem within our platform for smart ideas and those who want to explore them further in cooperation with others. I believe, by integrating ambient intelligence into our devices and our everyday lives, we will start to live in new and better ways, to understand more about who we really are and how we can better coexist with others around the world.
Dan Gailey will be speaking at Puerto Crypto on March 14.