Blockchain and AI Technology: Benefiting the Ordinary Citizen Part 1

Blockchain and AI Technology: Benefiting the Ordinary Citizen Part 1

Blockchain and AI, particularly machine learning, are two quite recent revolutionary technologies that are being adopted by Governments and Businesses in all sorts of ways.  In a series of articles (in 4 parts) I reflect in what ways these technologies have the potential to impact the lives of ordinary citizens.

A lot of discussion has been going on about how blockchain and AI affects governments and businesses. If AI has been around for quite a long time, the more recent Blockchain technology, has taken the world by storm, as being a database system that provides us with a simple protocol that allows transactions to be simultaneously anonymous and secure, peer-to-peer, immediate and in constant flow. The beautiful promise of blockchain is that is distributes the trust which is currently allocated to centralized, large and powerful intermediaries, to a large global network of people engaged in massive collaboration, facilitated by clever coding and cryptography. Adding AI to the equation ( which is the only solution possible for the large amounts of data resulting from decentralization and mass collaboration) the possibilities opening up in front of our eyes,  are unimaginable.

But how is blockchain and AI helping Governments and Businesses focus on what is more important,  which is not returns on investment, but the well being of people ?

Technology is meant ultimately to make life better for every citizen. If this is not the case, then such a technology is not worthy of being made in the first place. So as is the case with all other technologies which were invented previously, AI and the blockchain are supposed to make the life of the everyday citizen much better and improve the world around him or her. But technology sometimes brings undesired or unforeseen changes which may not be accepted by all.  Lately, we have seen that happen, by fearful discussions about how  automation is wiping off so many jobs.

Potential for automation by sector and activity. Infographic
Potential for automation by sector and activity. Infographic. Image source:

Whenever an important innovation arises in the horizon, fear steps in,  as people find it hard to accept change. Acceptance around these new techs,  may thus not be uniform; depending on various reasons, some societies may accept certain changes brought by technology faster than other societies. So when it comes to citizen impact of the blockchain and AI, we can expect this to be the case as well. Where you live, conditions what types of needs you have. But regardless of that, again, with the massive number of people holding a phone, on a global scale, AI, is already widespread.

AI tends to be thought of as something quite futuristic that is not here yet. However, AI has been with us for a very long time; we may just not have realized it all this while. If you ever played a video game in the 70s and 80s, such as chess, AI was indeed already at work, especially in single player games where the individual would have to face the “video computer”. What has changed is that the complexity of tasks and functions performed by the simple AI continues to advance.

Andrew Bujalski’s film “Computer Chess,” (2013) tells the story of some early programmers who are determined to win a weekend-long tournament in the then-cutting-edge field of chess-playing software.

AI and the blockchain are now pushing the boundaries of yesterday’s limitations and turning them into today’s and future realities, and will affect how we live, work, study or play.

The everyday activities of citizens and residents of a country, border on living, work, study or play. AI and the blockchain are already disrupting how citizens live, work, play or study in more ways than one, and it is likely we will see a lot more of these changes in months and years to come. For years, AI and the blockchain have been the subjects of theoretical debates, discussions and discourse. Concerning Blockchain, it was hard to understand how such a complex technology could be put into practice in terms of projects that would truly improve the lives of people.

We are now at a stage where AI and the blockchain have become more mainstream, with the proliferation of devices that generate and distribute large amounts of data, as well systems and technology that interpret and utilize this data. As a citizen, you will feel the impact of AI and the blockchain in every facet of your human existence, even in ways that can still not be fully comprehended.

So how will AI and the blockchain affect the way a citizen will live, work, study and play?

Impact of AI and Blockchain on Citizens

Taking a visionary look at what the blockchain and AI can bring to the common citizen, is that these 2 technologies might be what we need, to implement the structural changes in the world,  enabling us to become a global society. Just look at wikipedia… Wikipedia is a system of knowledge, a gigantic encyclopedia, made by anonymous systems from all corners of the world.  Ideally, in that society of the future, blockchain in conjugation with AI, could enable us to make all citizens  to be intimately connected, and participating in a system which is not centralized and run by powerful institutions anymore, but by a decentralised infrastructure which is distributed, fairer and more democratic.

This grand narrative and vision is still far from reality, as first and foremost, one needs to tackle important disparities still happening in the world, particularly in terms of financial inequality. It is important to stress here that citizen impact from AI and the blockchain will not be on the same level as far developed and developing countries are concerned. This is because of the vast differences in structures, processes, systems and infrastructure in place. Some of these issues were highlighted in the 2017 Blockchain Economic Forum which held in New York. At this meeting, one of the speakers, Christian Ferri, identified the fact that citizens in developed countries already have many of these things in place, either provided by the government or through the organized private sector.

As such, there is a little bit of indifference as to what AI and the blockchain are supposed to add to services that provide citizens with everything they need. Ferri, who is a board member of the Blockchain Compliance Alliance, believes that most of the changes and impact will be felt more in developing countries, where these legacy systems and processes are either absent or where present, are underperforming. With a “what have we got to lose” mindset, providers of AI and the blockchain have a blank cheque to develop and try out solutions based on AI technology and the blockchain, which will be able to deliver discernible improvements in the quality of life of citizens of developing countries.

Evidently, blockchain and AI will also impact citizens living in developed countries, but that impact will just happen in a different way, as their needs are different.

Blockchain and AI Technology: Benefiting the Ordinary Citizen Part 2
Blockchain and AI Technology: Benefiting the Ordinary Citizen Part 3

Blockchain and AI Technology: Benefiting the Ordinary Citizen Part 4