If artificial intelligence is the oppressor, is blockchain the liberator?

The World is on the cusp of a new era. Two major technologies have the potential to deeply reshape the society and they are marching with an accelerating speed: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain. Expectations are sky high, but the premises are being delivered.

Societal effect of mainstream artificial intelligence is ripe for speculation. AI loosely simulates principles of the brain and keeps on learning from cause and effect data. AI learns cumulatively as it never forgets; and it learns collaboratively as whatever an AI learns, all AI’s learn. The perfected skills of AI become the building blocks of intelligent agents and robots which can perform human tasks much more precisely, faster and cheaper than humans. It did not take much time to get from intelligent navigation to science-fiction fantasy self-driving cars. And that’s only a flashy example; AI lawyers, doctors, artists, assistants are all a reality nowadays.

What would be the role of humans in such an AI infused world is anybody’s guess. However, it would not be far-fetched to conjecture about central structures (corporations, governments) getting even more powerful in an economy based on automation driven efficiency.

After all, the logical extrapolation of AI driven efficiency trend would be all powerful central authorities getting things done by utilizing inexhaustible AI workers. In 1850’s economist Leon Walras had stipulated that given sufficient data and power, a general equilibrium could be constructed where a central authority can coordinate the whole of economy. Karl Marx similarly had claimed that the consolidation of power and automation would continue until a single central entity remains that rules the world.

“Workers of the word, unite!”

Karl Marx

One can argue that AI is the technological manifestation and flag bearer of capitalist ideology that sees progress in consolidation & automation driven efficiency, therefore a more powerful central authority. If so, what is the technological manifestation and flag bearer of the ideology that sees progress in distributing the power away from the central authority to individuals and achieving efficiency through this very de-commissioning middlemen and central authority move? Blockchain!

Blockchain enables transferring of valuable assets over the internet and achieves this via decentralized, encrypted ledgers. All the transactions are open to everyone involved, and the rules of trade are set with no possibility of changing (smart contracts). Such a mechanism is doing away with the need to have a central authority to establish trust.

When there’s a central authority, there’s the possibility of authority abusing power, or attacks to the authority resulting in damage to individuals who trusted to the authority. Facebook selling private information of its users, elections being rigged, theft of credit card numbers are all such examples.

Franz Kafka had written about the absurdities brought on by an all-powerful central authority, and how this authority could dismantle the private lives of individuals without even realizing (The Trial written in 1925). A similar story just took place recently in Los Angeles. Mr. Ibrahim Diallo was laid off by an automated, AI infused system as a result of a glitch. The system started executing the separation procedure with ruthless efficiency; disabling the badge, requesting security to escort Mr. Diallo out of the building, sending Mr. Diallo’s manager list of separation related tasks. No-one understood why Mr. Diallo was laid off, but they could not do anything against the concerted list of actions coming from “up”. It was not until couple months after that the glitch was realized and Mr. Diallo was invited back. Of course, if the meantime Mr. Diallo was effectively Mr. Josef K. from Kafka’s novel.

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

― Franz Kafka, The Trial

Blockchain technology has the potential to enable virtual companies, completely owned by its customers and employees through its decentralized, automated, contracts and payments processing. Crypto currencies and Bitcoin were the first killer apps of blockchain and they could very well weaken the economic central authority of governments by taking away the printing of money, flow controls, and money policies from them.

Most industries where a central authority is needed for trust, is ripe for disruption through blockchain. Imagine ownerless publishers sponsored by writers and readers, democracies where anything can put to vote immediately with high trust & no cost, realty transactions with no realtors, banking transactions with no banks…

IBM is a leader in blockchain space and is working with Linux Foundation to develop Hyperledger. IBM and many other companies support Hyperledger project and subscribe to the idea that blockchain should be an open source project. Hyperledger features permissioned blockchains that are customizable to various business needs.

Finally, as a practical advice, I would recommend the younger generation to learn these technologies as they will be force majeure for years to come. If you enjoyed this article, why don’t you share it on social media so your friends could enjoy and discuss it with you.

Published in Izdiham Magazine, August 2018. Issue 36

PS: I also wrote a book; realistically woven with AI, quantum computing, super intelligence, blockchain and other emerging technologies. You might enjoy it:

The Most Intelligent Person 
Artificial & Un-Artificial Intelligence (Superintelligence)


“Grail Society’s goal is to acknowledge the most intelligent person ever on Earth, nicknamed “Thoth”. Since it is estimated that a hundred billion of the species Homo sapiens have lived until now, the ideal admission level is a score on an IQ test reached by one in a hundred billion persons. Even defining the selection criterion as “extremely rare” is not correct as there’s only and only one, The Genius, in the whole history of humanity and no other. We are living in extraordinary times. Artificial intelligence is emerging with a roar and super-intelligence is getting closer to being a reality. What if during these times there also was a race to find the super intelligent person. Would the contest to find “The most intelligent person ever” lead to breakthroughs in science, technology, and social sciences as well? What would be the rules of such a contest? The story is a thriller about the road to super-intelligence, artificial and un-artificial. The IQX contest takes us through a roller coaster ride through real challenging problems of our times. The reader learns about quantum computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, morals & ethics for super intelligent machines and many other important topics of our times.”