How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech’s Hold on A.I.

The start-ups working toward this goal are applying blockchains in a number of ways. At the most basic level, just as the blockchain allows money to be moved around without any bank or central authority in the middle, artificial intelligence experts are hoping that a blockchain can allow artificial intelligence networks to access large stores of data without any big company in control of the data or the algorithms.

Several start-ups are setting up blockchain-based marketplaces, where people can buy and sell data.

Ocean Protocol, a project based in Berlin, is building the infrastructure so that anyone can set up a marketplace for any kind of data, with the users of data paying the sources with digital tokens.

Unlike Google and Facebook, which store the data they get from users, the marketplaces built on Ocean Protocol will not have the data themselves; they will just be places for people with data to meet, ensuring that no central player can access or exploit the data.

“Blockchains are incentive machines — you can get people to do stuff by paying them,” said Trent McConaghy, one of the founders of Ocean Protocol, who has been working in artificial intelligence since the 1990s.

The goal, Mr. McConaghy said, is to “decentralize access to data before it’s too late.”

Ocean is working with several automakers to collect data from cars to help create the artificial intelligence of autonomous cars. All the automakers are expected to share data so none of them have a monopoly over it.

Another start-up, Revel, will pay people to collect the data that companies are looking for, like pictures of taxis or recordings of a particular language. Users can also let their phones and computers be used to process and categorize the images and sounds — all in exchange for digital tokens. Over a thousand people already have put their computers to work.

These sorts of marketplaces are only the outer layer of the blockchain-based systems that are being built to handle artificial intelligence data.

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