The Combinatorics of Crypto & AI
February 4th 2023

I’m increasingly of the opinion that the story of crypto is the story of governance and the story of artificial intelligence (AI) is the story of influence.

I researched the field of machine learning in my undergraduate so I’m familiar enough to speak with some degree of confidence. Let’s first, deprogram ourselves about this new buzzword “AI™!” The term AI has been claimed by the elite technologists to mean something like… (my own words) a non-deterministic computational model for predicting or generating outcomes, built by applying statistical & machine learning techniques over large training datasets. That already is… very much a type of… “it’s too complex for your brain so just trust us.” Which, fine that’s actually true, but it rids the possibility of pragmatism!

Instead, let’s frame AI in a much simpler matter — that is, “any software which comes to a conclusion immediately which I could not come to myself in a reasonable amount of time.” We lay people have zero interests as to what a Turing Test is — all we care about is, “is this piece of software intelligent enough to give me a usable answer which I myself could not already find?” It’s software, so it’s artificial. It does something we cannot, so it’s intelligent.

Through this framing, the consumer has had AI in their digital tool belt for well over two decades now — Google. Or all of the recommendation algorithms used across the wide swath of advertising hellscape — YouTube, Netflix, Facebook (yes I still refer to that thing as “Facebook”).

There is a distinction between convenience and intelligence. For example, Amazon’s retail storefront is primarily an engine for convenience which is to say, the service isn’t doing something the average consumer couldn’t already do, it’s just making it easier. Although, Amazon does use a recommendation engine, and that is intelligence.

To me, what I’m describing here is known as the discovery problem. Which is, the internet is this humongous library of information, but it’s so gigantic that I cannot reasonable parse through all of it by hand. And if that’s the case — that I can’t reasonably parse through the information — then the information may as well not exist at all. This is where AI comes in. AI’s primary role is to solve the discovery problem, which is to assist humans in sifting through the ginormous amounts of informational pay dirt to help us find gold. (You may be thinking, “well what about generative AI?” Same thing. It’s still about the user discovering information. The difference is, the AI isn’t pointing you to a real human relic, it’s creating the answer without references. And by the way, we should be probably be careful about this particular solution…)

Okay so… bear with me…

Crypto, on the other hand, is something different. Crypto is about assurances — or more pragmatically, about solving the confidence problem. You’ve probably been told crypto is about “Ownership™!” or “Trustlessness™!” Meh I don’t think so. I think crypto solves the problem of confidence. Crypto is about grounding us — about settling our nerves from the uneasiness from the infinite nature of virtual reality.

I think the new age religion is Quantum Mechanics. The oddities of the double-slit experiment is the boundary point where science meets mysticism. This is deeply disturbing (at least to some of us). And it’s disturbing because there is no ground-truth. There is no single-source-of-truth repository which we can point to and say, “everything is based off of this truth.” And if we have these high-tech & super-complicated AI models generating novel information, then who’s to say that isn’t the voice of god itself?! One of my favorite moments in the film Ex Machina is when Ava (the AI robot) says “would you like to know how old I am? I am one” and then Caleb asks, “one what? One year or one day?” Then Ava responds with, “one.”

Cryptography doesn’t solve trust, it solves assurances that the underlying information wasn’t manipulated (or tampered with). Trust IS the valuable asset which we want to hold near and dear to our hearts. We just want to be sure that we can trust.

So, okay to summarize, we have…

Now, for all the forward looking people (all of the entrepreneurial spirits out there), this is where I will leave this piece. Think about the real world use cases of these particular problems and find excitement in the possibility that these two new technologies — crypto & AI — can be a force for good.

Crypto & AI aren’t adverse, they’re complimentary.