Trent McConnaghy: AI is a wonderful tool for human creativity.
Nothing, particularly regarding data-sharing, is risk-free one hundred percent of the time. Where do we draw the line between private and public data? How can we democratize data and move towards a digitally-structured, data-centered world economy? What do elements like equal opportunity and privacy look like in the future? Trent McConaghy founded Ocean Protocol to help answer such striking questions.
Ocean Protocol is a public network of libraries and services that help build marketplaces privately and securely, in which developers and businesses are able to publish, exchange, and consume data. Ocean acts as an internet-level infrastructure to develop a democratized data to equalize access to data, which then helps to ensure economic opportunities around data. In so doing, Trent told Sonophilia, Ocean Protocol provides a pathway for opportunities going forward into an increasingly digital future. However, his foray into the field of technology and AI did not begin with Ocean Protocol, nor does he expect it will end with it.
“I had done AI for 20 years myself, doing a lot of data, building AI models where they use a lot of data. I was well aware of the fact that AI really loves data and the more data you have, the more accurate the AI model is. It can make the difference between the AI model being feasible for use in production versus not.”
In 2013, Trent, along with colleagues Bruce Pon and Masha McConaghy, co-founded a blockchain project called ascribe, which helped creators of a particular type of IP get compensated for their digital art. Eventually, the project of ascribe evolved into something called BigchainDB, a decentralized database that offers immutability and native assets. BigchainDB progressed into the Ocean project.
“A lot of our interests kind of coalesced into what is now Ocean Protocol. We were thinking about and exploring applications of blockchain, how blockchain can help AI, how blockchain can help big data. These are spaces we know, and all roads led to the idea of a decentralized data marketplace. We looked at all these different applications, and everything pointed there, so that was the main impetus for Ocean.”
Ocean has many mechanisms for leveraging blockchain that can help secure data or permissions to access data. People can also build on a marketplace cleanly with blockchain-level security. Ocean allows you to preserve privacy while accessing data where personally identifiable information is present. It’s not necessary for human eyes to look at that data, because they have AI eyes looking at it, working out the training algorithms for the data itself.
AI and blockchain are two extremely powerful tools that help drive society forward. The field continues to advance daily. Trent explained how creative AI is gaining unprecedented ground in many fields, such as in genetic programming, where people are twisting neural networks for various purposes. There’s a whole host of projects and experiments being done in the realm of creative design and creative art.
“I’ve always seen [design] as complimentary to what an engineer is trying to do… I find it funny, I guess now they call these things centaurs, where it’s part human, part AI, but this is the whole field of CAD, or computer-aided design… CAD was all about tools for engineers to design electrical circuits initially, but now it’s being used for mechanical designs and otherwise, and it’s always about man and machine working together, and now that machine includes more advanced software including AI.”
It was through his wife, Masha McConaghy, another Sonophilian, that Trent first encountered Sonophilia. As someone with a PhD in machine creativity, he confessed he’d been enthralled at the nature of the initiative, moved by the depth of conversations, and driven to reconsider his thinking and notions of how human creativity and AI-based machine creativity relate.
“I still think there’s tons of opportunity for human creativity. The best art in the world asks new questions that touch the human soul, if you will. AI can be doing that… When we see AI art, it’s usually well-defined art that isn’t considered world-class, and I think it’s really important to distinguish that it’s more like commercial art… That’s where human creativity still has benefits. AI is a wonderful tool for human creativity. We shouldn’t be scared of the AI. We should be embracing it and working with it.”
As the conversations surrounding AI evolve and move past the all-encompassing, purely fear-inducing images of the Terminator, Trent predicts that AI will undoubtedly replace many blue-collar jobs, white-collar jobs, and many professions in between. He wholly believes, however, that we must separate the idea of our work from the more pressing issue of leading a meaningful life.
“As with any general purpose technology,” he said, “they are double-edged swords. They bring great benefits, but they also bring great risks. If the main aim is to find ways where you can get as many benefits as you can and minimize the risks, it’s hard to turn the risks to zero.”