As we continue through this innovation-centric digital era, there are two buzzwords in terms of technologies that are constantly thrown around: AI and blockchain. AI is “the theory and practice of building machines capable of performing tasks that seem to require intelligence.” Meanwhile, blockchain is a “secure distributed immutable database shared by all parties on a distributed network.” While these two technologies are at the cusp of innovation, their individual powers can be further bolstered if they were merged. This will not only start a technical revolution of sorts, but one that has the potential to positively impact humanity, namely the safeguarding of digital identities.
The convergence of AI and blockchain is a double-edged sword in that AI has powers that blockchain should take advantage of and vice versa. Some of blockchains limitations that AI can help correct are energy consumption (AI is very efficient in energy consumption), scalability (AI can introduce decentralized systems), security, privacy, efficiency (AI could help diminish total costs), hardware, lack of talent, and data gates (AI can help “grant access, track data usage, and generally make sense of what happens to our personal information at a computer speed.”) At the same time, blockchain also has an impact on AI, by helping to “improve the trustworthiness of the data” and to help track and explain decisions made by AI. For example, this melding can be realized when it comes to Electronic Health Records. AI can “think like physicians to detect health trends and patterns,” while blockchain ensures the security of the information and the consistency of its presentation. And this intersection is not just hypothetical, there is a whole slew of technology companies focused on the merge currently.
A great example of the convergence of AI and blockchain in practice is with government documents. The whole idea that the government should only ask once, can be made a reality with the partnership of AI and blockchain. For example, the Indian government has high school grades available in a government database that is linked to a student’s number so students can forego sending transcripts with their college applications.
But perhaps the most important impact this convergence will have is on humanity. Many leading world programs already use blockchain, such as the UN World Food Program which uses blockchain to make “cash-based transfers to organizations who are supporting Syrian refugees.” Blockchain has also been used for humanitarian aid in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. Each refugee has been set up with blockchain, with the intended goal of walking out of the camp with a digital wallet so that they can more “easily enter the world economy.” Other similar projects include MONI, a Finnish blockchain startup where every refugee gets a “prepaid MasterCard – backed by a digital identity-number stored on a blockchain,” and Accenture and Microsoft pairing with nonprofits in a “public-private alliance called ID2020.” Despite these advances blockchain can have on humanity, critics have claimed that the use of blockchain on refugees is “ethically risky.”
The convergence of AI and blockchain will only help to strengthen the individual technologies, which in turn will help humanity. “Technology is at its best when it allows individuals to take control of their own destinies and when it unleashes a whole new era of personal innovation, creativity, free-thinking lifestyles, with recurring opportunities for continual development, and learning.” The intersection of AI and blockchain will enable technology to be at its best, so it in turn can empower those who need it the most.