AI & Blockchain for Good
How technology usage can foster trust
In the first week of July, along with 60 other listeners I attended the event "Artificial Intelligence & Blockchain for Good: Using Technology to Foster Trust" at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The goal of the event was to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to discuss questions relating to law and technology. It marked the start of the collaboration between the old Asser Institute (1965) and the new UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (2017).
Tonny Hurkens - 26 July 2018
During the event, audiences had a chance to listen to keynotes from people like Irakli Beridze, the head of this new Centre, and Prof. dr. Ernst Hirsch Ballin, president of this old Institute. They had one main thing in common – they all aim to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with new technologies, such as AI and blockchain. The fact that laws and regulations often lag behind with regards to innovative technology is also something that Deloitte often identifies as one of the key barriers to mainstream adoption. Although the main goal of the meet-up was to answer a question of how we can foster trust by using technology, for me, it did not become clear how the new technologies could be used to solve distrust e.g. between state parties when implementing international treaties such as the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Humans in command
Catelijne Muller, President of the Permanent Study Group on AI of the European Economic and Social Committee, stressed the importance of the relation between law and technology in cases where individuals fall victim to technology. For example, prejudice can be hidden in algorithms used to release someone on bail or to freeze someone's bank account. Quality standards are needed to avoid the use of biased data. Transparency and the obligation to explain decisions could be required to avoid the risks of using black boxes: for example a judge should not rely on the outcome of an algorithm designed by somebody lacking knowledge of law, unless the outcome can be explained. Muller did not consider it a good idea to give a legal status to autonomous AI tools: product liability for natural and legal persons has been well thought-out in the course of centuries and still suffices; humans should stay in command!
With regards to blockchain technology, there was only one keynote specifically, by Toufi Saliba . Saliba is the co-author of "TODA Protocol - A Ledgerless Blockchain". He did not think AI should be brought into blockchain, but rather the other way around, since AI is probabilistic and blockchain is deterministic. He seemed to consider the Bitcoin blockchain as an actual example of autonomous, distributed AI, a crypto-HBGA (Human Based Genetic Algorithm). His argument was that machine learning results in a private, black box algorithm (centralizing power, giving the owner the possibility to cheat), whereas the power in the blockchain is decentralized (each node in the network uses the same, fixed algorithm and keeps all other nodes honest). An example Toufi mentioned is the case of (unjust) freezing of bank accounts by powerful banks (using algorithms based on biased data). This freezing of accounts would not happen for a crypto-currency, which is neutral and censorship resistant.
The Red Cross and the World Food Programme
In conclusion, new technologies, when applied appropriately, could be used to monitor compliance of treaties and to foster transparency and privacy. The Deloitte blockchain community is already connected to several concrete applications of technology for good, such as exploring blockchain for use by the Red Cross and blockchain based food vouchers distributed by the World Food Programme. Last year the SIDN Fund also provided 14 pilot projects in the area of Blockchain for good with seed funding.
But the real transformative power of blockchain and AI to shape trust in the society of the future goes much further than these initial, small-scale pilots. And although the event did not provide many concrete answers, it certainly made me aware of many questions raised and made me look at new technologies from different angles.