AI for governance: Can governments be replaced with decentralized intelligence?

AI for governance: Can governments be replaced with decentralized intelligence?

A column exploring blockchain-related possibilities in the far future.
 Here, we look at blockchain technology in conjunction
 with other developing technologies. 
 Disclaimer: this post may be closer to science fiction than fact.

It didn’t take long before technologists decided to combine artificial intelligence (AI) with blockchain technology. I’ve come across projects that use artificial intelligence to recognize patterns and combining these functions with smart contracts—bringing the power of both technologies to unprecedented scales.

The assemblage, called decentralized intelligence, is capable of automating consensus mechanisms as well as managerial decisions for blockchain-based organizations. By analyzing collected data, AI can make business decisions for decentralized applications and subsequently enforce them.

The implications of combining the two technologies are quite vast. And because these are both new and continuously developing territories, it’s hard to see their limits.

One of the biggest questions many have been wondering is whether it’s possible to automate entire governments using this combination. Some have actually started trying: the UK has started their test run for a blockchain-run social welfare system. Russia has also started using it for a voting system. Stretching this use case further, I imagine a world where cases taken to the International Court can instead be decided upon by neutral delegates from anywhere in the world through a blockchain-enabled voting system. Instead of years, decisions can be arrived at faster.

Government adoption

It’s easy to see how this transition can quickly spread throughout government systems. I asked Dr. Paolo Di Prodi, senior data scientist at FortiGuard Labs, Fortinet for his personal opinion on the matter (he would like to clarify that these are his own personal stances, and not his employer’s). Dr. Di Prodi worked very closely with machine learning applications for big firms, including the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in the UK, and Microsoft.

Dr. Di Prodi thinks the UK’s blockchain test run is particularly interesting, but deploying the technology laterally, across all government agencies will be difficult—as interruptions are expected between administration changes.

“Yes, it will be interesting to see the outcome of that trial to manage welfare support payments in the UK. For me, it does solve a very practical security problem as well as an efficiency problem of receiving cash. The larger implication of adopting this payment system is that all the other interconnected services like housing services will need to be crypto-enabled to receive payments. This will reduce spending in processing and IT administration but of course will require an initial expenditure to modernize all the IT platforms which will need to come from the tax payers. The problem of deploying a blockchain solution is that it will span several administrations and thus will require a long term commitment from all political parties. I believe Russia or China will not have the same issue paradoxically.”

Additionally, the rise of AI in governance will be slow, especially because there are limitations arising now when it comes to acquiring the data needed to build machine learning models.  Governments will probably remain cautious as the technology proceeds.

“One of the most interesting projects in this field is openmined.org which allows the construction of decentralized machine learning models without disclosing private personal data. Other companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple—under recent pressure of privacy concerns—are working on privacy preserving machine learning especially after the deployment of the GDPR regulation in Europe.

The largest concern for using AI at a government level and by AI—I mean a fully automated process, is that the decisions will be biased on the actual data as we have seen in the press recently about racial discrimination performed by the COMPAS program in US courts. The governments of this world will be probably still cautious about using AI for decision making but instead still rely on their data scientist to propose new policies. I believe an area where the government will invest more will be more in protecting and exchanging citizen data to improve the quality of service they provide,” Dr. Di Prodi wrote.

He also agrees with blockchain’s advantages as a consensus mechanism, and how it can help curb influence and illicit activities. But admits it has its limits in terms of battling human frailty.

“The citizen could even have a major role in deciding in real time via electronic voting. However a shift will be required to move from a democracy to a technocracy which might still suffer from the influence of lobbies and wealthy individuals perhaps in a lesser form. I think AI will not be able to solve the human nature of greed but with the power of data into the citizen’s hands will be more likely to expose frauds, evasion, crime and in general inefficiencies.”

AI for governance: Can governments be replaced with decentralized intelligence?

Current Limitations

Data collection is crucial in building the necessities of decentralized intelligence, and machine learning as a whole. But data is as powerful as it is energy-intensive, Dr. Di Prodi says, yet he is optimistic that this hurdle will be overcome soon. He adds that a fully decentralized intelligence-run government depends on certain factors

“Yes this would be possible when we will live in a fully digitized word where we could possibly collect and process all the information from the macro to the micro economic factors. This will allow the government to run for example future scenario of the effect of a new tax structure, health service or pension scheme. More data will require more compute power and thus a larger footprint for the environment. Do you know for example that data centres across the world are already using 3% of global electricity supply? This means we will have to be more efficient in storing and computing data. The good news is that GPU and TPU are overcoming the limitation of the Moore’s Law suffered by CPU so there will be enough firepower to process all the data we need.”

Another obstacle he sees is the fact that although AI can be encoded with moral rules, these rules would have to be pre-set by humans themselves—something that is easier said than done due to highly relative and debatable morality standards.

“The AI will need to be programmed with moral rules, over population is a growing concern and we can’t really save the environment if we can’t reduce our birth rate thus consuming less. Look at what China did with the one child policy, most western countries define it as inhumane, but it was rationally the only choice to make the economy sustainable. The AI cannot make those sort of decisions for us, we are still responsible to program what is good and what is bad. To quote an old Latin proverb: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who watches the watchmen)?

Is singularity in the horizon?

Dr. Di Prodi doesn’t think so—at least not in the near future.

“Well shallow or deep AI is still in its infancy, the most imminent risk to humans is just what I call ‘poor AI’. We have allowed companies like Uber (and others like Waymo, Cruise, etc.) to run their automated driving cars in our streets without thorough certification and testing. As a result, a few lethal accidents have skewed public perception of AI. There is of course debate whether the accident would have been avoided by a real person but in most accidents, it was evident that the supervisor in the car was not vigilant. I believe the technology right now could be best applied in reducing specific behavior like drowsy driving or driving under the influence of alcohol. I believe there is need to more regulation and testing for physical AI (any AI that interacts with the physical world), because the legal frameworks like the FMVSS in US don’t work for driverless cars.”

He says that developing AI in self-driving cars will help decrease car accidents—which he says keeps him up at night.

“All governments have the same issue and will have to work together to develop one. In the long term when all cars will be automated and being able to talk to each other, there will be far less accidents due to human error but is the transition from mixed automated and manual traffic that keeps me awake at night!”

“We are far away from the singularity point, some people say is 30 years away, and even if we achieve the computational power of the brain we are still far away from understanding how the human mind works,” he adds.

“I believe the most likely scenario will be an AI bug – where bug can be a programming error or unexpected behavior – like the flash crash of the markets in 2010 most likely caused by high frequency trading bots. The most danger comes where AI is used in a closed loop fashion with fast decision making, although we have a kill switch [if] we are not fast enough to press it as in the flash crash or in the self driving accident scenario.”

Cecille de Jesus
@the_Scientress

AI for governance: Can governments be replaced with decentralized intelligence?

Implants, biometrics or wearables: What is the ultimate wallet of the future?

A column exploring blockchain-related possibilities in the far future.
 Here, we look at blockchain technology in conjunction
 with other developing technologies. 
 Disclaimer: this post may be closer to science fiction than fact.

Consolidating wallets and identification systems into one digital wallet is something some start-ups are already starting to work on. Today, cryptocurrency wallets are largely desktop, hardware drive, or mobile-based. But with several other technologies developing simultaneously, it’s hard not to think how these devices may become obsolete in the near future.

So what comes after—what emerging technologies do we know of that may replace what we have now?

  1. Chip Implants

This payment option is one of the most popular contenders in this race and is also a very common sci-fi detail. In fact, the concept of network-enabled chip implants has survived decades of science fiction and has been featured in shows and movies, including Andrew Niccol’s In Time (2011), and the Outer Limits, “Stream of Consciousness (1997).”

The concept is both badass and terrifying at the same time. And the most interesting thing is that this may actually become a reality soon. In 2016, a company aptly named Dangerous Things launched a product called xNT Tag, an implantable chip that can facilitate NFC transactions, including financial transactions like cryptocurrency payments.

This is the kind of stuff dystopian movies are made of. Unsurprisingly, the product has not obtained government approval and comes with a stern warning:

“This kit definitely contains dangerous things,” they wrote on their website.” Use of this device is strictly at your own risk.”

Still, Dangerous Things reached their $8,000 goal within a week of launching their Indiegogo fundraiser, and ended up with nearly four times that amount at $30,619, an indication that some are for it. Although most people would probably prefer a more medically established and “trust-worthy” source for something as sensitive as chip implants.

But here’s one argument against chip impants: as we all know, where money goes, crime follows. Will muggers start chopping off body parts to get the money? This is a gruesome thought. Although a simple multi-signature mechanism could deter such a modus—requiring passphrases for transaction confirmation in addition to the implants. But even with this in place, some may still try—God forbid you run across an ill-informed mugger.

Although highly convenient—not to mention superbly suave—another downside to chip implants is the fact that people will be reluctant to insert a device into their body, even if it’s just right under the skin. But assuming that a person is okay with this, there lies the question of privacy—can it be subjected to abuse, particularly in tracking individuals?

This would, of course, be a gross violation of rights. But it is worth noting that phones can already easily be monitored now (and can be tracked quietly in the background even when apps are inactive). But unlike phones, one would have to cut himself before an implant can be ditched.

Last month in Hong Kong, I asked Shyft Network’s CEO Bruce Silcoff—who himself is working on a blockchain-based universal ID system to help unbanked people gain access to financial services—what he thinks of an utterly dystopian possibility where it’s mandatory for humans to be implanted with such a chip upon birth. This was one of the worst case scenarios I could think of. And even he thinks it’s a scary thought.

“There are a few companies that have been working on a consolidating both the payment side and the identity side into one wallet. What does that look like—whether it’s a wearable, whether it’s embedded in you—I think that almost scares me a little bit if it’s embedded in you.”

“If we ever get to a day where government tells you, ‘you gotta put a chip in your body,’ that’s a problem,” he adds. Silcoff says there are ways for the government and society to work in harmony for a balance between freedom and regulatory obligations.

“There’s a fine line between freedom and convenience or advancement in technology,” Silcoff says. “as long as it’s up to the consumer—the individual person, to choose the form that they’re comfortable with—that they have their freedom of choice.”

  1. Biometric Identification and Payments

I asked some friends at Coin Crunch, a team conducting Podcasts and Youtube videos where they review cryptocurrency projects and interview founders. And while many are putting their bets on implants, Coin Crunch’s Danny Fries has his money on biometrics—another popular contender in the race.

“I think it will be a bio recognition app as a primary security layer—fingerprint, facial recognition, and voice,” Fries says. “The benefits being that (1) you don’t have to remember your key and (2) the above three are entirely unique to individuals.”

“The main dangers I see are that facial / voice can be faked with some new tech… this will probably get worse as tech gets better. Example: (Lyrebird, a voice-cloning synthesizer),” Fries says. `

“One possible solution would be to combine a simple safeword / traditional memorable password with the voice recognition part,” he adds. Coin Crunch is a community of intelligent blockchain investors and technologists that focus on big picture ideas and the groundbreaking tech of new crypto projects, releasing content regularly on Youtube, and have had their fare share of technology assessments.

Fries’s bet is actually quite a viable horse: it may be easier for a biometrics-based system to gain widespread acceptance, having already been widely implemented in other applications. Another benefit that comes to mind is “distress detection,” which may be handy in identifying theft and hostile situations. This has been studied by researchers from the University of British Columbia.

If biometrics can go so far as to detect “distress” at a time when a transaction is being initiated, maybe it can trigger an alarm for authorities to monitor something that could potentially be a case of kidnap for extortion—something that may become dreadfully common these days.

  1. Wearables

They don’t have the same sci-fi appeal that implants and biometrics do but wearable devices have an edge over other technologies: they’re not as intrusive as implants, and are already a far more common and easily accepted thing these days.

One disadvantage to wearables is that compared to the first two, there is a better chance of misplacing this device, although there are ways to locate a missing device using mobile phones. Stealing such wallets can be so easy for expertly dexterous, sleight-of-hand bandits, but again, multi-sig features can be a life-saver.

With so many developing technologies, the room for speculation is wide open. What do you think is the ultimate wallet of the future? Are there any technological developments worth watching and putting on the list?

Let us know your views in the comments below.

Cecille de Jesus
@the_Scientress