Owen Vaughan and Alessio Pagani

Owen Vaughan and Alessio Pagani: Blockchain can bring accountability to AI

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Blockchain technology is starting to impact other fast-developing tech fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). That was the message from two senior representatives of nChain, who are both organising conference events that will bring experts from the different areas together to learn from each other.

Owen Vaughan, Chief Science Officer of nChain Licencing and Alessio Pagani, Research Director of nChain were talking on the latest episode of CoinGeek Conversations. Owen is convening a workshop on Blockchain and AI at IEEE Coins 2023 in Berlin in July. And Alessio is doing the same in relation to IoT at the Global IoT Summit, to be held in October.

Neither conference is focused on blockchain but these sessions will bring the expertise of nChain, the London blockchain development company, to a wider audience, as Alessio explained: “That’s our role. That’s why we are organising a workshop to help those experts in IoT to understand more about blockchain and also for us to have feedback about our research in that field and discuss with the experts—and hopefully share more about BSV and blockchain in general.”

In relation to AI, Owen says “it’s a time when I think a lot of people are asking the question how can these two great advances in computer science in the twenty-first century talk to one another?” Owen’s conference, COINS, sounds as though it would be crypto-related but that’s just a coincidence. It’s been running since 2019 and COINS stands for Conference on Omni-layer Intelligent Systems.

Owen is confident that nChain’s work will be useful to AI developers—even if they are not aware of that yet. “They might not realise the technology we’ve developed could support what they’re doing. I’m particularly interested in blockchain for data usage and auditability and things like that or identity management and decision making. And these things are very relevant in AI at the moment.”

With IoT, Alessio says it’s not just about remote sensors feeding back data from the field—traffic information, for instance, or from actual agricultural fields—but also the personal data that we collect on our phones. Use of the blockchain would remove the third party from that system. So instead of sending the information to one of the tech giants “it gives you back the ownership of the data and it allows for everyone to have access to that data—if you want.”

A blockchain system would allow for that kind of control of personal data—so, for instance, Alessio says, you could provide health data for research if you chose to, or restrict the level of detail you allow.

There is concern about the power of AI, but Owen says that incorporating blockchain into systems could help provide much-needed accountability—or ‘decision auditability’: “So if an AI ever makes a decision, maybe it advises you to make a particular financial trade and you question that in the future it’s very convenient to have an audit trail. Why did it make that decision? And this is a whole field of research now called AI Explainability. So I think the blockchain will be very useful in checks and balances …so that we can be sure why [AI) is making decisions and make sure it’s compliant with legal, ethical and moral standards.”

Hear the whole of Alessio Pagani and Owen Vaughan’s interview in this week’s CoinGeek Conversations podcast or catch up with other recent episodes:

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