Will Autonomous Devices Become our Benevolent Overlords?
Can we manage autonomous devices for the benefit of humanity? For the answer to be yes, we need systems that ensure autonomous smart devices will only act to enhance human quality of life.
Threats to Humanity Posed by Autonomous Machines
The fields of artificial intelligence and robotics have grown explosively over the past few decades. Computers are now able to achieve human-level performance in highly complex perceptual tasks. In the near future, robotic doctors will be able to diagnose and treat patients. Self-driving cars will communicate with nearby cars to minimize crashes.
While the robot revolution has the potential to greatly improve the human condition, it also has a dark side. With the development of autonomous robotics, human are creating machines that can interact with one another without our involvement. Some of these machines are autonomous weapon systems. How do we prevent them from undertaking actions that are harmful to humanity? Who is to be held responsible if they do undertake such actions? The fictional robotic superintelligence system in the movie The Terminator is a representation of the worst case scenario.
Is Skynet a Solution?
A new project called Skynet (ironically the same name as the robotic intelligence system in The Terminator) argues concerns over the future of autonomous machine development are warranted. The team believes the development of automated machines created today will eventually culminate in superintelligence systems with power over human affairs. The challenge is to make sure such systems function to benefit humanity. This is what Skynet intends to help do. As described in the whitepaper, it is creating “an end-to-end protocol combining a neural processing blockchain core to create the new benevolent overlord.”
In a nutshell, Skynet will link Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide with a connection to a blockchain network using the first blockchain chip in the world (using RISC V architecture). The plan is to embed Skynet chips in small IoT edge nodes or servers. The chips will be globally connected and communicate with each other intelligently.
Skynet protocol has two components: Skynet Open Network (SON), a scalable machine learning IoT blockchain platform and Skynet Core, a license-free neural processing blockchain core. Skynet Core provides the security and intelligence that IoT needs. SON provides the applications necessary for these cores to securely communicate and transact over. I describe both in more detail below.
What is Skynet Core?
Skynet Core will be a real-world infrastructure that blockchain tech can utilize. One of its key features is an embedded crypto wallet that lets devices such as wearables, smartphones, soft robots, connected cameras, and even self-driving cars have crypto storage capabilities. Skynet Core will give billions of these devices instant access to IoT blockchain networks. The infrastructure will use a Ledger Nano S hardware wallet, which has RSA encryption, secure memory, and CC EAL6+. With this combination, Skynet Core devices can run blockchain networks with high throughput while providing secure protection from theft.
What Is Skynet Open Network?
Skynet Core will layer over the Skynet Open Network, which will serve as a distributed “hive mind” infrastructure that will give devices the capacity to self-organize, learn, and transfer information between one another. Data and pre-trained algorithms are distributed across the network through the Core chip, and neural processing will let devices learn to respond to new situations. SON will enable IoT devices to become intelligent and autonomous. They will be able to form a self-learning economy and improve on current cloud systems and standard machine learning datasets.
The billions of Skynet Cores deployed to devices worldwide will also all include the native cryptocurrency of SON. In theory, this will allow the Skynet Open Network to become the most adopted blockchain network instantly.
What Makes Skynet a “Benevolent” Overlord?
First, SON will provide ways (via audit trails) for humans to manage their devices when they are not functioning properly. SON will also provide the ability to add permissions to the data devices share and the amount of identifiable information provided in the network (note: this doesn’t necessarily eliminate all privacy problems, as some are related to the immutability of blockchain technology itself).
Second, no centralized control is possible with blockchain technology. The collective knowledge of all devices is distributed, which means no central system can influence all the others. Devices collaborate directly without going through a controller like HPEnterprise or Microsoft Azure. They can exchange data and value in milliseconds, without Visa or Paypal. Blockchain enables autonomous machines to directly interact without a human middleman. At the same time, it ensures these devices don’t take control over human affairs and form a centralized intelligence against us.
Skynet is one of the most ambitious projects I have come across in a while. There is a lot of technical detail in its whitepaper that I am still parsing through, but the premise of linking blockchain technology and Internet of Things with the overarching purpose of advancing the social good is significant for me. The team behind it has the academic credentials and practical experience to know what they are talking about, both about the technology and about the urgency of paying attention to how autonomous robotics will shape our future. I am slightly terrified of the future they anticipate and hope they (and others) succeed in making sure our new overlords are benevolent.
Disclosure: I do not own SON tokens and I have not participated in the SON ICO. This article is not intended as investment advice. You should always do your own research.