Having seen the evolution, success, and impact of many platform businesses over the last two decades and being myself involved in building AI-driven platform businesses within the health and financial wellness space, I have been contemplating for several years various ways of how AI and its benefits can be democratized to as many people as possible in a decentralized hyperconnected world. In support of the proposed MTP for Humanity and its associated goals (see also Beneficial Outcomes for Humanity in the Smart Technology Era) to help shape a beneficial human-centric future, a revolutionary initiative is introduced along with an invitation to people around globe to participate in the development, deployment and use of a decentralized human-centric user-controlled AI-driven super platform called Sapiens (sapiens.network) with personalized AI agents that not only empower individuals and monetizes their data and services, but can also be extended to families, virtual groups, companies, communities, cities, city-states, and beyond.
In this tenth article in the Democratizing AI series, some text and audio extracts are shared from Chapter 12 “Towards Sapiens, the Human-centric User-controlled AI-driven Super Platform” in the book Democratizing Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Everyone: Shaping a Better Future in the Smart Technology Era (jacquesludik.com). The following topics on Sapiens, the Human-centric User-controlled AI-driven Super Platform, will also be discussed in the final session on 12 May 2022 at BiCstreet‘s “AI World Series” Live event (see more details at the bottom of the article):
(Previous articles in this series cover Democratizing AI to Help Shape a Beneficial Human-centric Future, Beneficial Outcomes for Humanity in the Smart Technology Era, The Debates, Progress and Likely Future Paths of Artificial Intelligence, AI’s Impact on Society, Governments, and the Public Sector, Ultra-personalized AI-enabled Education, Precision Healthcare, and Wellness, “AI Revolutionizing Personalized Engagement for Consumer Facing Businesses“, “AI-powered Process and Equipment Enhancement across the Industrial World“, “AI-driven Digital Transformation of the Business Enterprise” as well as “AI as Key Exponential Technology in the Smart Technology Era” as further background.)
There has been tremendous technology building blocks and innovative enabling technology developed over the last decade or so and especially the last few years to make the development and ongoing evolution of such a platform possible. But before I elaborate more on this exciting initiative [with respect to Sapiens as the human-centric user-controlled AI-driven super platform], let us briefly delve into platforms, the platform revolution, platform businesses, the evolution of super platforms, and decentralized AI-driven versions of this along with some of the enabling technological building blocks.
The traditional business landscape has been dramatically disrupted by “platform” businesses that now dominate markets and redefine how value is created. A significant portion of the world’s most valuable companies run platform business models and have displaced some of the world’s biggest companies with traditional business models by changing the structure of major industries through transforming value creation, consumer behavior, and conventional business processes and leveraging the power of AI, software, and hyper-connectedness. Some of the largest, fastest growing, and most powerful disruptive companies that exploit platform business models have originated in the USA and range from companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook to Uber, Airbnb, and eBay as well as some of their counterparts in China such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, JD.com, and Pinduoduo. Sixty percent of the ‘Unicorn’ billion-dollar start-ups are platform businesses.[i] The most successful companies invest deeply in incorporating platform services into their business models. We have seen that platform businesses outshine all others on growth rates, return on assets, margins, valuation multiples, and customer value creation. Apple became the world’s first $1 trillion publicly traded company by investing in a platform-enabled business model that complemented their business model portfolio structure consisting of platform and software services along with physical products. More than fifty percent of Amazon’s revenue comes from platform and software services (online stores 51%, AWS 12%, and third-party selling services 20%), whereas Microsoft is predominantly a software and platform services company (more or less an equal split between productivity and business processes, intelligent cloud, and personal computing).[ii] Platform businesses outperform businesses with traditional business models in all measures of growth and value such as growth rates, margins, return on assets, and valuation multiples. Very importantly, while platforms are from a business perspective dominant and disruptive, they also have a substantial socio-economic impact that is far reaching and affects jobs and the nature of employment, trade flows between companies and countries, and the manner that personal data is being exploited.
So, what is a platform? McKinsey defines a platform as a software-based digital environment with open infrastructures that orchestrates ecosystems that extends across sectors without borders, harnesses network effects and reduces the marginal costs to near zero, act as a type of matchmaker to link people, resources and organizations, and provides the foundations for combinatorial innovation.[iii] Platform Revolution by Geoffery Parker, Marshall van Alstyne and Sangeet Choudary describes the rise of the platform as a business and organization model “as one of the most important economic and social developments of our times” and discusses how networked markets are transforming the global economy, the network effects that power the platform, the principles for designing a successful platform business that can conquer and transform traditional industries and change the competition, monetization through capturing the value created by network effects, openness in terms of what platform users and partners can and cannot do, how to govern through policies that enhance growth and increase value, and the regulation of platforms.[iv] The authors see the encompassing purpose of a platform as enabling value creation (of resources that they typically do not own or control) for the benefit of all participants through frictionless entry and matching of users and their needs by facilitating the trade of services, goods and social currency. Whereas traditional market leaders became successful through supply economies of scale and push marketing strategies, platform businesses create their success by demand economies of scale that is manifested as network effects and pull strategies that stimulate virality. They observe that a two-sided market that has producers and consumers leads to four different network effects that should all be managed by the platform through quality community-driven curation, optimization and keeping a balance. These include positive and negative same-side effects (i.e., the effects of consumers on other consumers and producers on other producers) and positive and negative cross-side effects (i.e., the effects that consumers have on producers and producers have on consumers). The producers create value units that can be delivered to selected customers based on filters that enable the exchange of appropriate value filters between participants of the platform. Platforms monetize by capturing a part of the excess value created which can be achieved through access to the market, value creation, tools, and curation by asking a transaction fee, users paying for enhanced access, billing third-party users for access to the community and/or asking a subscription fee for enhanced curation. The openness of a platform involves how to regulate participation from managers or sponsors, developers, and users where greater openness is usually associated with more mature and developed platforms. Good governance involves having laws, standards, architectures, and markets that incentivize good interactions, promotes positive behaviors, and dissuades bad interactions and behavior. Self-governance through transparency and participation is also essential to ensure that a platform is managed in an effective manner. The Platform Revolution authors further recommend that platforms should during the startup phase focus on strong core interactions, trust, matching and liquidity, whereas during the growth phase the emphasis should be on lifetime value of producers and consumers, sales conversion rate and the growth in various subsets of the user base. Platforms in their maturity phase should concentrate on identifying innovations and mitigating threats from their competitors.[v] They emphasize the importance of cooperation and co-creation and observe that platform competition typically involves platform against platform, partner against partner, and platform against partner and that the control of relationships are more crucial than control of resources. It is evident that industries that are ripe for platform disruption have characteristics such as being very fragmented and information-intensive, having parties with significantly better information than others, and gatekeepers that are not scalable. They foresee platform transformation in sectors such as healthcare, education, energy, finance, and government and call for society to collaborate on ensuring that the platform revolution will create a human-centric world that benefits as many people as possible.[vi]
Continuing on our sense-making journey with respect to AI, platforms, and communities, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future describes three rebalancing acts needed in the smart technology era which involves human-AI collaboration, the products versus platform balance and inhouse company know-how versus contributions and participation from communities and multitudes of people.[vii] The three trends that they identify involve the significant progress in AI (as for example demonstrated by AlphaGo’s success in becoming the world’s top Go player), the dominance of platform businesses to dethrone incumbents and disrupt industries, and the emergence of crowds or communities that can contribute in development processes and markets. The authors observe that the three trends of AI, platforms, and crowds each have a counterpart that is respectively the human mind that has a significant role to play in human-machine collaboration, products or goods and services which have a redefined role within platform businesses as the value unit, and the core company expertise, knowledge, competencies, and processes that they have built up internally and across their supply chains. Andrew and Erik’s message for all businesses, organizations and industries is to rethink the balance between these trends and its counterparts as well as realize that there is likely not a specific success recipe but a spectrum of strategies that can be successful. Apple, Microsoft, and Google for example all leverage platform business models in different ways where the degree of openness and dependence on community or crowd involvement varies. Our choices in how AI and platforms are used, and the level of crowd participation can have very different outcomes such as focused hoarding of power and wealth or distributing affluence and decision making, an increase or decrease of openness and privacy, and business, organizations and work environments that have a sense of purpose, a mission, and a community as opposed to those driven by trepidation, distress, and greed. As I have mentioned before with great technological power that can unlock tremendous value and increase future prospects and choices, comes the need to take greater responsibility and think clearly and deeply about our purpose, goals, and values. That is why I am emphasizing the MTP for Humanity and goals so much to help us in charting our course towards a better future on an individual and societal level.
The platform business model trend has been extended to a super app or platform approach that provides an all-in-one multipurpose marketplace experience of services and offerings as opposed to a single-purpose platform play. Mike Lazaridis, the Founder of Blackberry seems to be first in using the term “super app” and described it as “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience”.[viii] The earliest examples of these super platforms are Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay, where WeChat hosts more than a million services and offerings where transactions happen within their ecosystem with $7 average revenue per user and a customer base of approximately 640 million users.[ix] WeChat is also becoming the interface to Chinese healthcare with features such as appointment booking and telehealth, personal health records management where Tencent’s is partnering with hospitals and local government, primary care access with Tencent’s trusted doctors, chronic disease management, consumer-facing knowledge platform with Tencent’s medical knowledge bank, healthcare provider knowledge and authentication platform linking almost 5 million members of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, group-buying healthcare product and services linking to JD.com, crowdfunding health insurance, and gamifying aesthetic medicine through SoYoung medicine marketplace.[x] The successful implementation of the super platform approach leads to lower product ownership and development costs as most of the integrated apps and services are third-party developed, reduced know-your-customer and onboarding costs with existing users already on the platform, and more finely-tuned and quicker launches of new products and services to an existing target market. There are many other examples of super platforms such as Grab that provides transport, delivery, lending, payments, telehealth, insurance and loyalty services to 144 million users in eight countries in Southeast Asia; Meintuan in China that provides food and grocery delivery, hotel and restaurant bookings, and local services to about 380 million users; Line in Japan as a social media platform and integrated services provider to 44 million users that provides music playing, video streaming services, freemium games, music playing services, sending money peer-to-peer, ride-hailing, food ordering, and direct-to-user advertising; Gojek/Get that provides ride-sharing services in Indonesia; Paytm in India that provides a mobile wallet service with merchant transaction capability to provide travel bookings and ecommerce services; PhonePe which is an Indian payment app owned by Flipkart and hosts service offerings such as MakeMyTrip’s travel booking service, Ola’s ride-hailing, and Oyo’s hotel booking; Reliance Jio which is an Indian telecom company with a substantial user base that has an offline-to-online platform with more than a hundred services; and Fave mobile payment and deals platform based in Singapore that also provides food delivery and microloans services.[xi] Similarly, although Google does not have a connected payment service yet, it seems that they are steadily building out their services linked to their Google Maps and search functionalities such as travel and restaurant bookings, ride-hailing, food delivery, and local services. Given Facebook’s move to add a digital wallet called Novi digital wallet (which is supported by Libra cryptocurrency that is driven by the not-for-profit Libra Association) to their existing portfolio offering such as their marketplace, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp, they are in a strong position to create a super platform.[xii]
In a Medium article The Age of the Super Platform, Stuart Mills argues that the big technology companies such as Google and Facebook have complex forms of monopolies that are difficult to break-up and are effectively already super platforms by providing some of the functionality of smaller platforms (e.g., Google Maps within the Uber app where Google is also a stakeholder) and allow logging in to online services through Google’s Gmail, Facebook or Twitter.[xiii] Even though these companies provide these kinds of services for free as they do with individual users, it provides them with the opportunity to collect more data which can later on potentially be monetized. Stuart refers to this as collecting digital rents. He further summarizes this conundrum with super platform companies by comparing it to the Victorian railways where similar to the railways that cannot work without connecting key locations with one another, super platforms also need scale to offer services, which in turn allow them to collect digital rents similar to private rail owners collected economic rents. If one now wants to split up a super platform, you will effectively dismantle infrastructure similar to disassembling railway infrastructure. However, if nothing is done to the platform business status quo, digital renting will continue.[xiv] He further makes a case for public ownership similar to how the Victorian railway problem was resolved through government taking control and taking a share of the wealth creation for its contribution to some of the underlying infrastructure and technology. The problem with this approach is super platforms operate across international borders which limits any national governmental actions as well as giving too much control to the state which is already a concern given the trust and privacy issues that we already have with digital surveillance. Stuart also comes to the conclusion that the answer might be in supranational digital organizations and a decentralized data commons which is also more in line with some of the recommendations proposed in this book.[xv] Another relevant book that speaks to this topic is The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World by José van Dijck, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal who analyzes the role of platforms in societies-disrupting markets and employee relations, side-stepping institutions, acting on democratic process, and reshaping social and civic activities.[xvi] They also accentuate how the battle between the market, government and civil society and the competing ideological systems play out with respect to who should be responsible for safeguarding public values as well as the common good in a platform society. The authors analyzed the impact of the platforms within the media, health, education, and city transport sectors as it pertains to conflicts over regulation between platforms and city governments, on a platform ecosystem level, and the broader geopolitical level between global markets, national governments, and supranational authorities.[xvii]
In an article titled Super Platforms in Africa: Not if, but When by CGAP, a global partnership with a leading development organization that works to improve the lives of poor people through financial inclusion, reckons that a super platform entry into Africa is unavoidable, especially with connectivity quickly expanding with close to 50% of the cell subscribers (almost half a billion people) on the continent estimated to using smartphones in 2020, twenty-four of sixty African countries where Facebook Free Basics currently offers access to a limited version of the internet, and Alibaba’s Ant Financial also looking to grow its global foothold in Africa.[xviii] We have already seen the successful rollouts of mobile money in East Africa with many Africans able to make digital payments from their cell phones as well as success with the Jumia e-commerce platform.[xix] Super platforms should open new income streams for low-income people as well as offer and sell local goods or services online, facilitate collaboration with local fintech companies and other businesses, and enable digital liquidity farming by utilizing networks of family and friends to assist with cash-flow issues. Given Africa’s agricultural needs and opportunities, the CGAP article Super Platforms: Connecting Farmers to Markets in Africa discusses strategic decisions with respect to agriculture-focused digital marketplaces which includes the type of business model (e.g., open, mediated or contract), what crops and value chains will be the focus, who will be the target buyers, how will transportation and logistics be managed, how will engagement with farmers work, how will the movement of goods to buyers be facilitated, and what financial services and payment solutions will be provided.[xx] Given that Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050 and the demand for food and rural employment will grow, CGAP not only sees super platforms playing an important strategic role to help drive meaningful farmer engagement and provide relevant product and service offerings, but forecasts growth coming from mobile money companies with strong countryside coverage, companies such as Facebook’s WhatsApp, as well as native African companies specializing in e-logistics and agribusiness.[xxi]
Francois Chollet wrote another excellent blog What worries me about AI that absolutely resonated with me on multiple fronts, and which are in line with my concerns about AI and how we can address this by democratizing AI with practical solutions where AI helps us – all in line with the proposed MTP for Humanity and associated goals. Francois states his concern as “the highly effective, highly scalable manipulation of human behavior that AI enables, and its malicious use by corporations and governments” and “if given algorithmic control over our minds, governments may well turn into far worse actors than corporations”.[xxii] That is exactly one of my concerns along with others that have been discussed in chapters 8 to 11. We can avoid this path by steering the use of AI towards a future that is beneficial and empowering for all of us on an individual and societal level. Francois specifically highlights how social media acts as a “psychological panopticon” that has sufficient information about people to develop influential psychological models of individuals, groups, or communities as well as the ability to control what algorithmically curated information is being fed to us. This is a dangerous combination that puts the social media companies in a position to use an individual user’s digital information consumption as a “psychological control vector” to effectively manipulate people with respect to their beliefs, feelings, and actions. So what’s really happening is that human behavior is approached as an optimization problem where a “sufficiently advanced AI algorithm with access to both perception of our mental state, and action over our mental state, in a continuous loop, can be used to effectively hijack our beliefs and behavior”.[xxiii] From a psychological control vector perspective the human mind is vulnerable to be attacked via identity reinforcement that only shows views with markers that you identify with to make you side with the target view, negative social reinforcement that shows posts of the opposite view, positive social reinforcement that shows posts that you would like, sampling bias that shows posts from your contacts or the broader media that supports the target view (and not necessarily representative of the actual broader support for this view), and argument personalization that shows posts that might change your view that is based on what worked for people with a similar psychological profile.[xxiv] So how can we turn this around? By handing over control to the user. An AI-driven portal or interface to our information can not only be a preferable but also an essential way for people to filter and make sense of information if the user has full control of the AI system’s goals and objectives and parameters that can be configured to personalize the flow, nature, outcomes, and time spend on the information feed. Francois concludes with a recommendation that we should reject products and services that take our control away and/or manipulate users and work towards developing AI-driven information interfaces that give users more agency and greater ability to direct the information management that affects their lives. More broadly speaking, AI will likely be the most beneficial to its users if it is owned and controlled by humans, and not by corporations or governments.
(For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
This provides an excellent prelude to the introduction of Sapiens, a Decentralized Human-centric, User-controlled AI-driven Super Platform with personalized AI agents that not only empower individuals and monetizes their data and services, but as mentioned earlier can also be extended to families, virtual groups, companies, communities, cities, city-states, digital nations and beyond. Besides that Sapiens embraces the MTP for Humanity and its associated goals, it addresses a huge gap in the market and society as there is currently no global solution of this nature at scale that makes life easier and more optimized for the user. We also have a very fragmented apps and platform business ecosystem world-wide, but especially so in the West. Nowhere do we have a solution where the user has full control of their own data with proper privacy and governance without being exploited, controlled, or manipulated in some way. Users also do not have their own personalized AI agents that work for them and help to optimize their lives. We also lack a global solution that helps the user to monetize their own data and services for their own benefit or for people that they want to benefit or for society more broadly. We also do not have AI agents that function in a similar way but support and create benefits for smart families, smart virtual groups, smart companies, smart communities, smart towns, smart cities, smart city-states, and beyond. Furthermore, there do not exist AI agents that try to optimize the connections between networked people that live within structures and even the connections across these hierarchical structures.
Sapiens for the Individual User is a decentralized, human-centric, user-controlled, AI-driven super platform that functions as a multi-sided platform with both centralized and decentralized components and puts the user at the center and in full control of:
Fully secured storage, management, access and use of personal data with built-in privacy and governance; enriches my data via my engagement with my digital connections and apps.
My AI Assistant
Next generation AI Assistant that proactively helps to optimize my life; monetizes my data and services; trains on my data; learns from my behavior; understands my needs, wants and learning path; supports lifelong and life-wide learning; helps with sense-making; proactively supports my communications, relationships, activities, safety, travels, accommodation, finances, purchases, decision making, health, wellbeing, and wealth creation; proactively provides guidance, recommendations, and alerts; helps to build virtues and character strengths; filters content, does proactive searches and provides personalized content.
My Digital Connections
Sapiens connects to my digital connections within a multi-sector digital ecosystem to get access to third party apps and platforms that currently handle my communications, social media, search, health, finance, education, retail, safety, security, entertainment, transport, accommodation, and travel needs.
Figure 1 illustrates a single node of Sapiens for an individual user being supported from a data governance, AI assistance and digital connections perspective, whereas Figure 2 shows Sapiens connecting to other systems and services within a multi-sector digital ecosystem. Monetization within the Sapiens ecosystem can for example happen through user-controlled advertising, selling of anonymized data and services, subscriptions and transactions between hyper connected users, businesses, and service providers via smart contracts in Sapiens’ decentralized distributed ledger-based ecosystem (see Figure 3). As shown in Figure 4 Sapiens can also be expanded to also include smart contract based services within a hyper connected network of businesses, organizations, rural areas, smart communities, smart towns, and smart cities, where each entity has its own data governance, AI Assistant, and digital connections and the ability to engage with other entities in the ecosystem.
Figure 1. Sapiens for the Individual User
Figure 2. Sapiens within a multi-sector digital ecosystem
Figure 3. Monetization examples within Sapiens’ ecosystem
Figure 4. Sapiens’ ecosystem – from users and business to Smart Communities and Smart Cities
An adapted version of Sapiens for smart communities (or smart towns or smart cities) could for example look as follows:
Sapiens for Smart Communities is a decentralized, human-centric, user-controlled, AI-driven super platform that functions as a multi-sided platform with both centralized and decentralized components and puts the community at the center and in full control of:
My Community Data
Fully secured storage, management, access and use of community data with built-in privacy and governance; enriches my community data via my engagement with my communities’ digital connections and apps.
My Community AI Assistant
Next generation AI Assistant that proactively helps to optimize my community operations, processes, activities and goals; monetizes my community’s data and services; trains on my community’s data; learns from my community’s behavior; understands my community’s needs, wants and learning path; supports lifelong and life-wide learning of my community as a collective; help with collective sensemaking; proactively supports my community’s communications, relationships, administrative activities, safety, travel activities, accommodation needs, finances, purchases, decision making, health, wellbeing, and wealth creation; proactively provides guidance, recommendations, and alerts; helps to build virtues and character strengths; filters content, does proactive searches and provides community related content.
My Community Digital Connections
Sapiens connects to my community’s digital connections within a multi-sector digital ecosystem to get access to third party apps and platforms that currently handle my community’s communications, social media, search, health, finance, education, retail, safety, security, entertainment, transport, accommodation, and travel needs.
As mentioned, Sapiens is also a vehicle that not only supports the MTP for Humanity, but a platform that can help to specifically implement components and achieve some aspects of the MTP goals. For example, Sapiens for the individual user directly addresses MTP Goal 7 about democratizing AI and smart technology from a use and benefits perspective to help society thrive through the personalized AI assistant that helps to optimize the user’s life and as well as monetizes the user’s data and services. It also supports MTP Goal 9 about implementing better collective sensemaking for all of humanity and better alignment with respect to our common goals and visions through supporting lifelong and life-wide learning and better decision-making as well as providing proactive guidance, recommendations, alerts, and filtering of personalized content. The personalized user-controlled AI Assistant can also be implemented in such a way as to support Maslow’s 8-stage motivational needs framework (which includes physiological, safety, psychological, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-fulfillment, and transcendence needs) to help an individual user to live a more meaningful life as stated in MTP Goal 11. Sapiens for the individual user can also focus on helping people to build and continuously improve on virtues and character strengths which includes wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence as stated in MTP Goal 12. Sapiens for smart communities, smart towns or smart cities can directly support MTP Goal 2 with respect to building a more local, more human city-state civilization with decentralized, community-based, and self-optimized governance and a more elastic, dynamic, and direct democracy with social structures that have polycentric and polyarchic elements. Just imagine a world where user-controlled AI agents that work towards beneficial outcomes for individual users within a community, town or city, can also interact with the AI agents and systems that help to optimize the community, town and city through decentralized, adaptive and agile economic, social and governance systems that reward active participation and positive contributions to society and civilization, but also help to keep peace and protect humanity from any potential harm in elastic ways that respect individual freedom and privacy. Just imagine a world where any community or city in the world can connect with one another to interact in mutually beneficial ways from an economic, cultural, and social perspective as part of a dynamic, empathic, prosperous, thriving, and self-optimizing civilization that benefit everyone in sustainable ways and in harmony with nature. The AI-driven Sapiens ecosystem can also help to drive MTP Goal 10 that is focused on building local and virtual empathic communities connected via a global network with more meaningful work and relationships, as well as MTP Goal 6 that works toward collaborating in optimal human-centric ways to use our growing knowledge base and general-purpose technologies in a wise, value-based, and ethical manner to solve humanity’s most pressing problems and creating abundance for everyone.
So where do we start and how do we launch the Sapiens platform and ecosystem? Once the first minimum viable prototype of the platform has been developed it can be first tested on an individual user level and within local communities before rolling this out more widely. We can then for example have a multi-pronged strategy where Sapiens can be tested within the most advanced smart cities in the world (such as Singapore, Dubai, Oslo, Copenhagen, Boston, Amsterdam, New York, London, Barcelona, or Hong Kong)[i] and/or the most digitized countries (of which Estonia is an example)[ii] and/or seeded at scale in Africa that anyway needs series leapfrogging and where there are plenty opportunities to disrupt the current status quo for the better of all Africans. For launching Sapiens in Africa (the birthplace of Homo Sapiens) to become Africa’s AI-driven Super Platform where the user is in control, the following factors can be leveraged: Africa is the continent with fastest growing population, growing from 1.3 billion people to an estimated 2.5 billion people over the next 3 decades; multiple large scale entry points such as 33 million small farmers (taking in consideration my earlier references to agriculture-focused digital marketplaces connecting farmers to markets in Africa), the youth in Africa of 226 million people between ages 15-24, and the growing number of smart technology communities across the continent; the possible integration of other African platform businesses and their services into the Sapiens ecosystem; and collaboration with the many mobile network operators in Africa that is helping to connect more Africans to the internet and one another.
From a technology stack perspective, there are many exciting building blocks currently available to implement such as a decentralized AI-driven user-controlled super platform with the required data governance, AI assistant agents and digital connections. Besides the fast growing and tremendously rich AI toolbox of APIs, libraries, frameworks, languages, cloud technologies, hardware technologies available, there also has been significant progress in building out the distributed ledger technology (DLT) stack of which blockchain is a key component to support decentralization through keeping a digital record of transaction securely using cryptography without the need for a central authority.[iii] Other advantages of blockchain technology apart from its decentralized nature, is its immutability, transparency, consistency and accuracy of authenticity, information and timelines as well as its security, resilience, and not having a central point vulnerable to attack.[iv] Even though there are ongoing efforts to democratize AI, the current reality is that impactful AI and its applications are still to a large extent centralized in single corporations such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu which limits collaboration and advancing society in meaningful ways. A recent Inside Big Data post about the potential of decentralized AI highlights some of the advantages of combining AI with a decentralized computing model such as blockchain to leverage the strengths of each to help scale resources.[v] With a decentralized AI model, processing can be done in an independent fashion on a variety of computing hardware that can lead to a greater variety of results, knowledge sharing and new solutions for creative problem solving. This is more similar to the decentralized path of scientific discovery and knowledge advancement with the potential of much faster testing and learning in a continuous manner via an evolving decentralized AI network with a proper security framework and appropriate computing power, storage and ultra-high-speed communications. Similar sentiments were shared by Oleg Brytskyi in his Espeo Blockchain blog post called Decentralized AI: Blockchain’s bright future where he highlights how the merging of blockchain and AI into a decentralized network can lead to benefits such as data protection, ensuring security, a more trustworthy and transparent system than a closed AI system, decentralized intelligence, an energy saving and cost efficient information technology infrastructure, and flexible AI solutions and new ways of using data.[vi]
Another major step forward in democratizing AI is the development of AI marketplaces that can for example share trained AI models, data and services which can also be utilized in a decentralized AI-driven user-controlled super platform such as Sapiens. In a Towards Data Science article titled 3 AI Marketplaces Everyone Has To Know [One Will Define The Century] three of the current AI marketplaces that were highlighted included AWS Marketplace, GenesisAI, and SingularityNET.[vii] The AWS AI marketplace has almost a thousand solutions (at the time of writing) within categories such as human review services, machine learning solutions, data labeling services, computer vision, natural language processing, speech recognition, text, image, video, audio, structured, and intelligent automation.[viii] GenesisAI is building a marketplace for AI products and services which they ironically describe as the “Amazon for AI” on top of their Machine Learning protocol. Their web-based marketplace connects companies in need of AI models, data and services with companies that provide those offerings that they want to monetize.[ix] SingularityNET has recently launched a blockchain-driven decentralized AI network which they call the global AI marketplace to allow the creation, sharing and monetization of AI services at scale.[x] This full stack decentralized AI solution allows the registration of organizations on the blockchain as a company or a developer who can create AI services that can be published and used to generate income streams. Monetize Your Services and Create Income Streams fully control the cost elements of your services, collect platform tokens, and transfer them to your preferred wallet and team members. The SingularityNET decentralized AI solution stack is also made available to third parties to allow them to create their own marketplaces and integrate AI services into their own solutions.[xi]
As distributed ledger technologies have a key role to play in the decentralized AI-driven user-controlled super platform stack, I will briefly share some of the exciting DLT related developments to just give a feel for where we are heading with this type of groundbreaking technology. One such example is Holochain, a framework for scalable distributed applications with data integrity, that already thinks outside the blocks of blockchain and asks what comes after the blockchain.[xii] Their decentralization solution not only enables a distributed web with user autonomy that is part and parcel of their architecture and protocols, but provides adaptable validation that does not appear to have bottlenecks, a peer-to-peer solution without centralized services or ledgers or any brokers, and agent-centric authority over data-sharing, access and storage. Holochain speaks to the spirit of Sapiens and the MTP for Humanity with their intention to help people own their own data, control their identity, connect applications to suit their personal needs, transact without centralized systems, and support the development of lighter, faster, and more cost-effective applications. Holochain is about emancipating people’s online lives from corporate control by distributing the storage and processing of that online data and keeping it under our control. This should effectively impact how we coordinate and interact with one another. I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with their sentiments about “each of us wants to have control over how and with whom we interact” and in order “to evolve and thrive, our communities must support everyone’s uniqueness”.[xiii] I also want to highlight Ocean Protocol, which is a decentralized data exchange protocol to unlock data for AI services and applications. I believe this protocol is an important building block for Sapiens as well. They see data as a new asset class where Ocean Protocol can help to unlock its value by making use of blockchain technology, smart contracts, and tokens to connect data owners (data providers) and consumers and “allowing data to be shared while guaranteeing traceability, transparency, and trust for all stakeholders involved”.[xiv] The Ocean Market application can be used by participants to publish, discover, and consume data assets in a way that is secure and protects privacy (where participants can earn by staking or curating on data and by selling data), whereas Ocean data tokens is used to turn data into data assets and Ocean libraries are used by developers to build their own data wallets and data exchanges by making use of decentralized finance tools.[xv]
I met Trent McConaghy, one of the cofounders of Ocean Protocol, at the AI for Good Global summit in Geneva Switzerland a few years ago where he also talked about democratizing data and developing a decentralized substrate for AI data and services through BigChainDB (that powers the Interplanetary Database or IPDB network) and Ocean Protocol.[xvi] Given Trent’s background as an AI practitioner before joining the blockchain world and combining AI and blockchain, he also has some interesting perspectives on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and the AI versions of this called AI DAOs as well as the future of humanity in the face of AI and blockchain type of technologies and even a proposal for a top-level design for the unbounded expression of humanity as mentioned in the previous chapter about beneficial outcomes for humanity. I first got introduced to AI Decentralized Autonomous Organizations through a series of articles and talks that Trent posted in 2016 and 2017.[xvii] A DAO in a nutshell is a computational process that runs autonomously on decentralized infrastructure with resource manipulation. It is an organization that automates management and administrative functions through running rules encoded as smart contracts that are built on blockchain technology and implements information transmission and enforcement of those contracts. The latter can represent any interaction between humans and organizations. An AI DAO is effectively an AI system running on a decentralized processing substrate or a DAO running with AI algorithms or agents that autonomously take decisions. A simple example is an Art DAO that runs an AI art engine to generate new images and artificial art using generative adversarial neural networks or genetic programming, sell the artificial art on a marketplace for crypto and continue the process.[xviii] Trent has proposed three different types of AI DAO architectures which involves an AI-driven central smart contract where decisions are taken by a central AI system, a DAO system with AI agents on the edges making autonomous decisions, or a swarm intelligence architecture with many simple AI agents that together creates an emergent AI complexity.[xix] It is even possible to give personhood to an AI DAO with today’s laws by starting with a corporation (which have rights) and then automate the corporations into an AI DAO which will result in the AI DAO to have rights. We clearly must be very careful with this type of technology that combines the strength of resources from DAOs with the autonomous decision-making capability that AI provides. I agree with Trent that DAOs can potentially catalyze the path to AI getting unrestricted access to resources, which would not be an outcome that we want or would be good for humanity. So, we must be very sensible in how we design these systems and ensure that it is human-centric, under our control and supporting our massive transformative purpose for humanity and its associated goals. Although Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future acknowledge that blockchain and decentralization might “enable a global crowd of people and organizations, all acting in their own interest, to create something of immense shared value”, they also identify some potential problems with completely decentralized organizations and believe that not everything can be captured in smart contracts, that we need human leadership and management to make decisions not specified in contracts, exercise residual rights of control, shape cultures and values, and set purposes, goals, visions, missions and strategies.
As we conclude our sense-making journey on democratizing AI to benefit everyone, I would like to invite anyone across the globe that wants to follow, participate and contribute towards developing, deploying and using Sapiens as a decentralized human-centric and user-controlled AI-driven super platform to connect with us on sapiens.network and our associated community groups and social media.
This Democratizing AI Newsletter coincides with the launch of BiCstreet‘s “AI World Series” Live event, which kicked off both virtually and in-person (limited) from 10 March 2022, where Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone is discussed in more detail over a 10-week AI World Series programme. The event is an excellent opportunity for companies, startups, governments, organisations and white collar professionals all over the world, to understand why Artificial Intelligence is critical towards strategic growth for any department or genre. (To book your tickets to this global event click the link below and enter this Coupon Code to get 5% Discount: Enter Coupon Code: JACQUES001 (Purchase Tickets here: https://www.BiCflix.com; See the 10 Weekly Program here: https://www.BiCstreet.com)).
The audio book version of “Democratizing Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Everyone” is also available via major audio book market place world-wide. See details on my website as well as below. You can also listen to audio content of this book on the Jacques Ludik YouTube Channel or Jacques Ludik Podcasts. This release is in follow-up to the e-book (Kindle) and paperback version of the book that was released earlier this year on Amazon with some further updates recently.
For some background, see also the following introductory articles Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone and AI Perspectives, Democratizing Human-centric AI in Africa, and Acknowledgements – Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone (as well as United Nations & Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone; World Economic Forum and Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone; OECD and Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone; AI for Good and Democratizing AI to Benefit Everyone).
For further details, see jacquesludik.com.
[iv] Geoffery G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary, Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them work for You.
[v] Geoffery G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary, Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them work for You.
[vi] Geoffery G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary, Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them work for You.
[vii] Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future
[xvi] José van Dijck, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal, The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World.
[xvii] José van Dijck, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal, The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World.