The Rise of Decentralized AI: How Crypto and AI Are Shaping the Future Together

Decentralized AI has rapidly evolved from a niche concept to a pivotal topic in the Web3 space, driving innovation and challenging the dominance of Big Tech

by Sededin Dedovic
The Rise of Decentralized AI: How Crypto and AI Are Shaping the Future Together
© Curiosity Stream / YOutube channel

Almost exactly a year ago, CoinDesk published an article titled "10 Ways Crypto and AI Can Enhance Each Other (or Maybe Make Things Worse)." At that time, the idea of "Crypto + AI" was still new and even marginal. To many, the development of artificial intelligence seemed, at best, tangentially related to the Web3 world.

To others, "Crypto + AI" looked like a cynical combination of two trendy terms, akin to a buzzword game for investors. Ultimately, this brings us to the essence of the matter – decentralized AI. Nearly a year later, decentralized AI is arguably the most popular topic in the Web3 space.

Dozens of projects — maybe hundreds, it's hard to keep track — are now racing to combine blockchain tools with harnessing artificial intelligence. The space is flourishing. By the time you finish reading this article, another DePIN startup will have launched.

The architects of this movement are gathering in Austin for Consensus 2024 at CoinDesk's inaugural “AI Summit”. Why is this happening and why is it important? It could be argued that the stakes of decentralized AI are higher than those of decentralized finance.

In some ways, the principles are the same. Satoshi Nakamoto was wary of centralized financial institutions mishandling and endangering people's money. As AI becomes a larger part of our lives — and this seems inevitable — it will have the power to shape how we see the world, how we communicate with others, and how we present ourselves.

It could even shape how we think. Should this be controlled by today's billionaires? Let's look at two concrete examples, one simple and one frightening. The next frontier for Gen AI is likely the rise of AI agents, which can do things like book flights, pay phone bills, or invest your money in stocks.

(“Hey Siri, invest $1,000 in the S&P”. ) Do we want Big Tech to control not only our data but also what we do with it? Millions of people will likely use AI chatbots one day — maybe via audio or even video — as coaches or even therapists.

Early versions are already here. Millions of people will share their deepest thoughts, desires, fears, confessions, and shames. Do we want this controlled by Zuckerberg and company? Blockchain technology that is decentralized and privacy-preserving could potentially give us the benefits of AI without the poison of Big Tech.

These are the stakes of decentralized AI, as well as the topics that will be covered at the three-day AI summit organized by CoinDesk from May 29 in Austin, Texas. Other topics include how blockchain can help preserve truth in the era of "deepfakes," combat censorship, make "AI computing" more inclusive, fight bias, lead to AI alignment, and more.

Nvidia Holds Its GTC: Artificial Intelligence Conference© Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Decentralized AI

While the explosion of AI + Crypto projects has been underway since 2022, some have been around for years, quietly working on development.

One of them is SingularityNET, founded in 2017 by Ben Goertzel, a prominent artificial intelligence researcher, with an early vision of building decentralized AI. "My initial vision for what became SingularityNET happened in '95 or '96 when the internet became a thing," Goertzel said recently in Panama City at an AI conference organized by Singularity.

"It seemed to me that the internet shouldn't be centralized. The internet is a decentralized network. Why would we want to have a centralized search service?" The beginnings of this idea involved AI (which he's been studying since the '80s), and Goertzel has evidence: his 2001 book "Creating Internet Intelligence" which ties together all these concepts.

Goertzel will share his thoughts on how to actually achieve this vision at the AI Summit, along with other pioneers trying to create the infrastructure, pipelines, and protocols for decentralized AI. This brings us to DePIN (decentralized physical infrastructure networks), where communities of token holders are incentivized to participate in building “online” services.

Decentralized AI is the future most of us desire

Gensyn, for example, is building a decentralized network that will enable the use of unused computing power from individual users to train AI data, similar to Filecoin for cloud storage.

"We're slowly running out of places to build massive data centers," said Gensyn co-founder Ben Fielding last year, before this became a popular topic. If Gensyn succeeds, Fielding says, "You won't have just one big data center.

Now you have every data center on the planet." (Fielding will also be a speaker at the AI Summit, along with executives from DePIN projects IoTeX and Grass.) While many Web3+AI projects are infrastructural, there are now attempts to build decentralized GenAI models that directly compete with the likes of OpenAI.

This brings us to another example of where crypto meets AI, Erik Voorhees, a Bitcoin OG who has been a vocal supporter of Morpheus (decentralized and open-source AI) and recently announced the launch of VeniceAI. In his Twitter/X posts, Voorhees claimed that Venice is similar to centralized chatbots like ChatGPT and Claude, and even Grok, but "without all the Orwellian stuff" and that "Venice doesn't spy on you," "Venice doesn't censor your conversations," and "Venice doesn't inject bias, safety, or political propaganda." Just 10 days later, he demonstrated Venice in action and said, "No ads on and you get basically the same response as MSFT Copilot," reports CoinDesk.