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What can blockchain do for AI? Not what you’ve heard.

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Industries everywhere are asking “What can AI do for us?” 

But the blockchain industry, known for challenging norms, is also asking the opposite question: “What can blockchain do for AI?”

While there are some compelling answers, three narratives have emerged around this question that are frequently misleading and, in one case, potentially even hazardous.

Narrative #1: Blockchain can combat misinformation caused by generative AI

An expert panel at a recent Coinbase event concluded that “blockchain can counter misinformation with cryptographic digital signatures and timestamps, making it clear what’s authentic and what’s been manipulated.”

This is true only in a very narrow sense.

Blockchains can record digital-media creation in a tamper-proof way, i.e., so that modification of specific images is detectible. But this is a far cry from clarifying authenticity.

Consider a photo of a flying saucer hovering above the Washington Monument. Suppose that someone has registered its creation in, say, block 20,000,000 of the Ethereum blockchain. This fact tells you one thing: The flying saucer image was created before block 20,000,000. Additionally, whoever posted the image to the blockchain — let’s call her Alice — did so by digitally signing a transaction. Assuming that Alice’s signing key wasn’t stolen, it’s clear that Alice registered the photo on the blockchain.

None of this, however, tells you how the image was created. It might be a photo that Alice snapped with her own camera. Or Alice might have gotten the image from Bob, who Photoshopped it. Or maybe Carol created it with a generative AI tool. In short, the blockchain tells you nothing about whether aliens were touring Washington, D.C.—unless you already trust Alice to begin with.

Some cameras can digitally sign photos to authenticate them (assuming their sensors can’t be fooled, which is a big if), but this isn’t blockchain technology.

Narrative #2: Blockchain can bring privacy to AI

Model training is a data-hungry operation. The bigger and better the training data set, the better the resulting model. For many applications, training on private user data is essential. For instance, creating a good machine-learning model to diagnose medical conditions requires data from a population of real patients. Handling such highly sensitive data securely is a challenge. Some are trumpeting blockchain technologies as a solution.

Blockchains, however, are designed for transparency — a property at odds with confidentiality

Proponents point to privacy-enhancing technologies advanced by the blockchain industry to address this tension — especially zero-knowledge proofs. Zero-knowledge proofs, however, don’t solve the problem of privacy in AI model training. That’s because a zero-knowledge proof doesn’t conceal secrets from whoever is constructing the proof. Zero-knowledge proofs are helpful if I want to conceal my transaction data from you. But they don’t enable me to compute privately over your data.

There are other, more relevant cryptographic and security tools with esoteric names, including fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), secure multiparty computation (MPC) and secure enclaves. These can in principle support privacy-preserving AI (specifically, “federated learning”). Each has important caveats, though. And claiming them as blockchain-specific technologies would be a stretch.

Narrative #3: Blockchains can empower AI bots with money — and that’s a good thing

Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle, has noted that bots are already performing transactions using cryptocurrency and tweeted that “AI and Blockchains are made for each other.” This is true in the sense that cryptocurrency is a good match for the capabilities of AI agents. But it’s also worrisome.

Many people fret about AI agents escaping human control. Classic nightmare scenarios involve autonomous vehicles killing people or AI-powered autonomous weapons going rogue. But there’s another vector of escape: The financial system. Money equals power. Give that power to an AI agent and it can do real damage.

This problem is the topic of a research paper that I co-authored in 2015/6. My colleagues and I examined the possibility of smart contracts, programs that autonomously intermediate transactions on Ethereum, being used to facilitate crime. Using the techniques in that paper and a blockchain oracle system with access to LLMs (Large Language Models) such as ChatGPT, bad actors could in principle launch “rogue” smart contracts that automatically pay bounties for committing serious crimes.

Happily, rogue smart contracts of this kind aren’t yet possible in today’s blockchains — but the blockchain industry and crypto enthusiasts will need to take AI safety seriously as a future concern. They will need to consider mitigations, such as community-driven interventions or guardrails in oracles to help enforce AI safety.

The integration of blockchains and AI does hold clear promise. AI may add unprecedented flexibility to blockchain systems by creating natural language interfaces to them. Blockchains may provide new financial and transparency frameworks for model training and data sourcing and put the power of AI in the hands of communities, not just enterprises.

It’s still early days, though, and as we wax lyrical about AI and blockchain as an enticing mix of buzzwords and technologies, we need to really think — and see — things through.

Source: Blockworks

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Blockchain

Supply Chain Finance Market Forecast to Reach $9.4 Billion by 2029: Increasing Emphasis on Sustainable Sourcing

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Global Supply Chain Finance Market

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Blockchain

Web3 Startups Raise Nearly $1.9B in Q1 2024 Despite Overall Downtrend in Crypto VC Interest

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Venture capital funding for cryptocurrency and blockchain projects has seen a notable resurgence in the first quarter of 2024, marking its first quarterly rise since 2021. Crunchbase data released today indicates that Web3 startups secured nearly $1.9 billion in funding across 346 deals during this period. This represents a substantial 58% increase from the previous quarter, offering a glimmer of hope amidst the ongoing downward trend in overall crypto VC interest.

The recent surge in funding can be attributed to investors adopting a more long-term perspective on Web3, as opposed to the hype-driven “tourist investors” predominant in recent years. Chris Metinko, the author of the report, notes that investors are shifting their focus to the AI sector, indicating a change in investment strategy. There is a growing interest in supporting the foundational infrastructure of the decentralized internet, rather than solely concentrating on crypto wallets and lending platforms, which attracted significant investments during the peak period of 2021 to 2022.

While large funding rounds were relatively uncommon in Q1, several notable investments stood out. Exohood Labs, a company integrating AI, quantum computing, and blockchain, secured a remarkable $112 million seed round at a valuation of $1.4 billion. EigenLabs, an Ether token “restaking” platform, raised $100 million in a Series B round led by a16z crypto. Additionally, Freechat, a decentralized social network leveraging blockchain technology, secured $80 million in a Series A round. These investments, among others, contributed to the increase in valuations and the emergence of four new Web3 unicorns in Q1.

Despite the recent progress, the future trajectory of Web3 remains uncertain. Metinko suggests that the next few quarters will be pivotal in determining the industry’s direction. While investors anticipate a rebound in investment as the decentralized internet evolves, it may take another year for venture capital activity to stabilize after the exuberance of 2021. Factors such as the approval of U.S. spot Bitcoin exchange-traded funds and the upcoming Bitcoin halving could also influence the market, given the rising prices of Bitcoin and Ether.

A noteworthy example of significant funding in the Web3 space is Monad Labs’ recent successful funding round, which secured $225 million led by Paradigm. Monad Labs is a layer-1 blockchain compatible with Ethereum, offering faster transaction processing. This funding round harkens back to the golden era of crypto funding in 2021-2022, when L1 solutions attracted substantial investments.

Earlier this year, Balance, a digital asset custodian based in Canada, announced that it had once again reached $2 billion in assets under custody (AUC) amidst the recent market recovery. Similarly, Korea Digital Asset (KODA), the largest institutional crypto custody service in South Korea, has experienced remarkable growth in crypto assets under its custody, expanding by nearly 248% in the second half of 2023.

Analysts at Bernstein Research project that crypto funds could reach an impressive $500 billion to $650 billion within the next five years, representing a significant leap from the current valuation of approximately $50 billion. This forecast underscores the growing optimism and potential for substantial growth within the crypto industry in the coming years.

Source: cryptonews.com

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ASIC cracks down on blockchain mining firms

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Three blockchain mining companies – NGS Crypto, NGS Digital, and NGS Group – along with their directors, Brett Mendham, Ryan Brown, and Mark Ten Caten, are facing legal action from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for allegedly operating without a license, in violation of Australia’s Corporations Act. ASIC initiated legal proceedings against these entities on April 9, citing concerns about their non-compliance with financial regulations and their solicitation of Australian investors.

According to ASIC, the NGS companies promoted blockchain mining packages with fixed-rate returns to Australian investors, encouraging the transfer of funds from regulated superannuation funds to self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) for conversion into cryptocurrency. Approximately 450 Australians invested a total of around USD 41 million in these packages, raising concerns about potential financial losses.

The legal action filed by ASIC alleges that the companies violated section 911A of the Corporations Act, which prohibits companies from providing financial services without a valid Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL). ASIC is seeking interim and final court orders to prohibit the NGS companies from offering financial services in Australia without an AFSL.

ASIC Chair Joe Longo emphasized the importance of investors carefully considering the risks before investing in crypto-related products through their SMSFs. Longo stated that ASIC’s actions send a message to the crypto industry about the regulator’s commitment to ensuring compliance with regulations and protecting consumers.

In a separate development, the Federal Court appointed receivers for the digital currency assets associated with the NGS companies and their directors to safeguard these assets amid concerns about the risk of dissipation. Mendham was also issued a travel restriction order, preventing him from leaving Australia.

While a court date for the proceedings has not been set, ASIC’s investigation is ongoing, with the regulator continuing to gather evidence and build its case. It is worth noting that the investigated companies share a similar name with NGS Super, a legitimate Australian pensions provider, leading to potential confusion among investors. NGS Super clarified that it is not involved in selling cryptocurrency or related products and has taken legal action to protect its trademark and members’ interests.

Source: iclg.com

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