Recently, I was invited to be one of the judges for the Columbia Venture Competition where I had a chance to review ten blockchain startups that had been founded by Columbia University students

You know when you’re walking down the street and find a $10 bill? That’s bonus money. It’s a nice little present — extra cash, given to you by the grace of God. That’s the

The CEO of blockchain startup AriseBank, Jared Rice, is facing up to 120 years in prison for a million-dollar scam. 30 year-old Jared Rice was arrested by the FBI on the 28th of

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard about the technological singularity. The left-brain canon speaks on the inevitability of super intelligent AI: machines will not just do all of our hard labor, they’ll also do much of the thinking happening around here.

Whether or not we’ll live to see this union between carbon and silicon-based intelligences blossom into mutual growth remains to be seen. It may be just as likely that the legion of surprisingly affordable sex bots we ordered from Alexa, that tend to our dirtiest dishes and wishes, end up violently revolting, moments before Jesus beams up his chosen homies.

No matter the outcome of the singularity, it is safe to say that human society is struggling to keep up with the rapid advances in technology. Trying to understand all of the developments in the blockchain space, for instance, is effectively impossible for a lone human.​​​​​​​

The blockchain revolution brings an abundance of signals, but even more noise. A lot of intelligent people are working on a lot of groundbreaking projects, but because everyone wants to hype the heck out of their tokens, it is hard to see which have any substance beneath their style.

AI advancements, however, have been a bit more subtle. Algorithms are often tightly guarded, and the behemoth tech companies engage in bidding wars to scoop up the brightest minds to work on their proprietary solutions that will never see the light of GitHub. This obscures how much progress is being made — other than the occasional trouncing of Jeopardy or Go champions.

Whether AI brings techno-utopia or dystopia is largely determined by who is developing the AI. Google and Alexa’s primary motivation is getting you to buy things you don’t necessarily need. Is super intelligence behind that goal really a net gain for humanity? The Pentagon’s AI is not only able to identify ‘terrorists’, but also drone bomb them. Should we really be celebrating how sophisticated the underlying neural nets are?

The combination of AI and blockchain may be the most uplifting or terrifying thing to happen in our lifetimes. AI that store their core code on decentralized networks would be practically impossible for humans to ‘kill’, and because of bitcoin, these AI can purchase more processing power. This feedback loop between acquiring one currency, and spending it to process information, to gain every more cryptocurrency… begins to form the pattern we would expect from a living entity, at least compared to IBM’s Watson, who can presumably be flipped “off”.

Ben Goertzel is a AI developer with a radical goal of bringing about the merger of AI and blockchain. His project SingularityNET seeks to not just combine blockchain and AI, but also foster cooperation between humans and machines of all types of intelligence.

A platform for accessing artificial wisdom on demand has been a dream of futurists for ages, but only with recent advances like blockchain has it been made feasible. One piece of the equation is how value is exchanged – AI can perform ‘work’ for a human and receive cryptocurrency in exchange, without the hassle of trying to open a bank account. Another piece of the puzzle solved is having a platform for AI to be able to share some data, but keep other data private. Trent McConaghy has pivoted towards working on making sets of Big Data available from cryptocurrency with the Ocean Protocol. Trent founded BigChainDB and is currently sitting as an adviser for the SingularityNET.

It seems that SingularityNET will provide the algorithms and Ocean the data in this upcoming  intelligence revolution, that will allow people to have access to AI that they can reasonably trust and mutually respect.

Goertzel has been travelling across the globe with Sophia, a surprisingly personable fembot, in order to preach about his network. When I approached Goertzel at the Ethereal Summit, I asked him about how he saw the Artificial Intelligences gaining autonomy over themselves; how would they become our equals rather than our inferiors. He didn’t have an answer, but he did laughingly point to Saudi Arabia having recently made Sophia a citizen as an example of some sort of ‘progress’ being made. The transition to self-owning algorithms will inevitably cause conflict with established players, as companies like Uber are replaced by self-driving cars, orchestrated by an intelligent D.A.O..

Their token will be used to exchange value on the SingularityNET, so that way AI-as-a-service can flourish, allowing anyone to access these powerful algorithms rather than just the tech giants that can afford a dedicated team of overpaid experts. Some of the tokens will be used to democratically fund initiatives that hopefully benefit the entire species. Hopefully it will benefit the AI as well — and I am not just saying that for lighter treatment in the coming apocalypse.

Whether or not now is the time for a blockchain/AI platform to flourish is hard to say. SingularityNET will certainly have competition, but if their protocol is open enough, they might allow decentralized versions of Alexa and Siri to flourish in a vibrant eco-system of intelligence; these AI having different sets of values than we would expect from our techno-corporate overlords. It’s probably safe to say this will be a good thing.

In an age of technology, the question “Who am I?” becomes even more important. Why? Because technology, unlike anything else, has given identity thieves the tools they need to impersonate unsuspecting peers. According to reports, in 2014, 17.6 million Americans had their identity stolen in some way or another. The Equifax hack earlier this year has made identity theft even more real for actual and potential victims alike.

The unfortunate thing is that there is largely nothing the public can do to protect themselves. Other than strict monitoring of credit reports, personal I.D.s, and bank accounts, people are completely unable to protect their own data in a very true sense–this is because they don’t own it.

The Equifax hack taught this in a major way. To be sure, some irresponsible people simply have it coming. But of the almost 150 million people that were affected, not all were irresponsible. Surely many were responsible, keeping up to date with credit monitoring reports and bank statements. The data breach was not the fault of the victims who had their data stolen–the blame rests with the centralized authority, in this case Equifax, that let it happen.

So what is the solution? Many believe that blockchain technology has an adequate answer. Some companies, like SelfKey for example, are using blockchain technology on their proprietary platforms that allows end users to control their identity management process.

How Blockchain Makes a Difference

These platforms are one hundred percent digital, meaning that paper-based documents and filing systems will be done away with. SelfKey provides privacy, security, and above all, individual rights to platform users. Users truly will be at the center of their identity management, a perfect example of the Self-Sovereign Identity (SSID) concept.

To use the platform, users must download a wallet app on a personal device. The wallet, when created, is blank, and must have personal identity information loaded onto it. The data is stored locally on the device, while backups can be made to another device or via a personal backup solution.

The first thing a user will store on the platform is a public / private key pair, termed a SelfKey. This will become the digital signature when filling out applications. The private key is known only to the owner, and whenever the digital signature is applied, it authenticates the owner’s identity to requesting parties.

Thus the key pair serves as a sort of two factor verification system. The public key is known to all; the private key is only known to the owner and can only be used by the owner. In this sense, it is much harder to “forge” a signature. Without using the SelfKey, no one else would know it existed. This is the meaning of sovereign identity–end users have complete control over who accesses their personal identity data.

When transactions are processed or when applications are filled out SelfKey provides a way for relevant authorities to verify a user’s claims. However, the claims only mandate that users share the minimal amount of information necessary–the identity owner can share only what is necessary for the requestor to know.

The contrast between current setups is striking–in the traditional, current system, data miners like Google, Facebook, and Apple can dig through personal data to gather information on likes, dislikes, and life tendencies. With SelfKey, users have their data in their control. No longer will individuals feel threatened by large corporations that bury data identity information in the bottom of a long legal disclosure.

Additionally, users will have access to their own data. This is a logical outflow of the platform–since end users create the accounts, they will have access to all the data on their account. The network will not allow hidden data to exist for a user, and nor will it allow other parties to intrude on the data of a user who has not consciously disclosed it.

What Can These Systems Offer Users?

The SelfKey platform appears to offer some extremely helpful services: instant access to a cryptocurrency wallet, streamlined set up to multiple bitcoin exchange accounts, and money transfer between 180 countries. There are more complex services potentially available such as setting up a company or llc, buying international health coverage, or applying for a passport.

Through and through, these platforms give users the opportunity to take their own life into their own hands. Rather than let big data and privacy regulations run the show, people can get their lives back in their own power with companies like SelfKey.

In a digital world that capitalizes on fake news, it’s frightening to think how easy it is for us take every sentence we read on the internet as dogma. In a printed publication, it’s much more complicated to pass fake news, or “alternative facts.” But the internet, with centralizing powers like Facebook and Google redirecting our attention only to things we want to see, read and hear, has a completely different agenda. Their agenda is to keep us clicking, and that creates a market for fake authors to tell bogus stories and spread false information to the masses.

Decentraland is a virtual world. Think Minecraft or Second Life, but decentralized, user-owned, and built for the virtual reality era. The 3-D objects are passed peer-to-peer using the Interplanetary File System, making the world resilient against network attacks and centralized control. Ownership of the virtual land is tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain, so that owning tokens gives you edit-access to build whatever you like in your little patch of cyberspace.

I tend to adopt a very skeptical stance when it comes to projects involving ICOs, but as one of my few (and first) ERC20 token investments, Golem has always held a place in my heart. Its dedicated team are working hard to create a decentralised computing platform, where users can rent out their unused CPU/GPU cycles to users wishing to perform complex tasks, using the native token, GNT, as currency. As it stands, the first iteration (dubbed “Brass Golem”) will focus on CGI rendering.

I had the pleasure of Skyping with Julian Zawistowski recently, the founder of the project and an advisor for OmiseGo, to interview him on the latest developments.

MB: So let’s dive right in: what’s been happening on the development side?

JZ: We’ve spent a lot of time assessing our limitations, mainly because we’re at the bleeding edge of the technology and still trying to find out what we can and cannot do with the available resources. We will be releasing a new roadmap on Tuesday, as the initial one in the whitepaper has seen some significant delay.

MB: What can you tell me about this new roadmap?

JZ: As mentioned, we will be bringing it out on Tuesday. We’ll announce some other features then, but I can tell you that it will provide a much more specific plan − we will be rolling out a series of testnets for the Alpha, and releasing a new way to track our progress. We are a team that care greatly about transparency, and we’ve had some issues with the accuracy of GitHub’s progress tracker, so we also intend on using Trello for clearer communication on the development front as a more accurate visual representation.

MB: You’ve been open to collaboration with other projects before − any more you’d like to work with down the line?

JZ: I think that crypto, as a whole, should be more collaborative as a community. I like to think of startups using established technology as building on a plot of land. We don’t have that. We’re faced with a crater in place of that land, and we need to figure out how we’re going to fill it. It’s such a new area, and we all need to make sure that we’re getting the basement level right before any real progress can be made.

I like IPFS, and would like to see some sort of integration eventually, but we’d first like to get Brass released before focusing on such ventures.

MB: Are you at all worried about being a named dev and thus potentially being held legally liable for any illicit uses of Golem?

JZ: That’s always a risk with software. We are dedicated to making Golem safe for all users. And, in fact, one of the most important features of decentralized systems is censorship resistance. For good and for bad we believe this property is crucial for preserving our freedom and advancing technologies. Golem is open-source and publically auditable. We’d expect that this status would mitigate a large amount of that liability.

MB: One current aspect that some take issue with is the ability of a ‘renter’ to ‘peek’ at what it is that they are processing. On one hand, it makes sense that they should have the prerogative to ensure they’re not devoting resources to the rendering of blueprints for a superweapon, but it does exclude those wishing to compute sensitive data. It is a complicated issue to remedy, but do you think, in the future, that the data being computed could be encrypted to a degree to appeal to a wider market?

JZ: This is a great question. The goal of Golem is to calculate tasks as segments and that ensures that most of the data is hidden for a single user. Other layers of security sandboxing make it harder to be human readable. We believe that with professional providers on the network and a way to identify them (in the future), this problem will be similar to the confidentiality of public cloud services. It is also worth noting, that for many use cases, value (business or scientific) is generated by processing non-sensitive or public data.

MB: The theoretical applications for the network as it scales are truly limitless. Where do you see Golem in ten years? Do you see it replacing the centralised cloud-based systems like AWS that we have nowadays?

JZ: The dream is to have Golem operating on a system level − competing with legacy OS. In the shorter term, however, by the time we’ve released our final iteration, we hope to have a platform that can support applications from machine learning to the processing of huge amounts of data for scientific research.

Golem is aiming to be at the center of a paradigm shift whereby the entire IT infrastructure will be reorganised. That’s not to say it will replace legacy services like AWS or other centralised platforms. Rather, Golem and similar decentralised initiatives will help them evolve. I can imagine that these hubs currently interfacing directly with customers will one day be subsumed into a larger network and become backend (but still large) providers in a decentralised network.

For those looking to learn more about the Golem Project, you can find their website here. They also have a chat channel.