Are neuromorphic chips the future of AI and blockchain?

There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is the driver of a revolution in automation akin to the influence of coal and factory machines on previous industrial revolutions. Jayshree Pandya, writing for Forbes, makes a very interesting point when he suggests that the increasing importance of AI also goes hand in hand with a need for more computing power.

He suggests, “There are indicators that raw computing power is on its way to replacing fossil fuels and will be the most valued fuel in the rapidly emerging intelligence age.” The question of course is — where will that computing power come from?

The need for more computing power

AI also needs massive amounts of data to produce useful tools. One of the sources of both power and data is potentially the blockchain. Alongside the much-needed power, blockchain technology can add structure and accountability to AI algorithms, “and may help in much-needed areas like security, quality, and integrity of the intelligence AI produces,” Pandya says.

What we are really talking about is Big Data. It is the fuel of AI and blockchain produces that fuel, so it is entirely logical that the two have a future together.

However, there is another important question to be answered. Can the current blockchain technology infrastructure support the needs of AI, when it appears to be struggling to meet its own needs?

Prof. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a Research Affiliate at MIT Sloan School of Management offers some insights into the situation. He points to the environmental concerns about the amount of electric power blockchain technology uses, because of its core process and security, which necessitates that all users require permission to write on the chain. He believes the amount of computing power the blockchain requires is unsustainable, and that it is one of the most critical challenges facing the industry.

But it isn’t only blockchain that is fuelling the need for more computing power: it is AI and all emerging technologies. As these evolve, there needs to be a solution to this issue. As Berger says, “there is a need to not only process computation more efficiently but also to evolve both hardware and software to meet the demand for increased computing power.” The solution he points to, “is a clear need to move away from traditional blockchain chips to low energy, scalable, and sustainable chips.”

Neuromorphic chips

The answer may be neuromorphic chips. These do all the processing and functioning without having to send message back and forth to the cloud etc. In fact, they function in a similar way to the human brain, conserving energy by only functioning when needed. Berger believes, “neuromorphic computing chips will likely be the future of not only artificial intelligence but also of the blockchain, as they give us an ability to develop low energy consuming cryptocurrency as well as distributed systems.”

What he is also suggesting is that in recent years there has been more emphasis on developing software than hardware. He says, “Neuromorphic computing and chips bring the much-needed evolution in computer hardware,” and that if we follow through with developing this, then AI and blockchain can have a sustainable future together.

We know that the demand for AI is increasing rapidly, and we need to find a power source to feed that demand. It seems the answer is neuromorphic chips!

How AI can help you

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is operational in a lot of services these days, from automating processes to delivering a pleasing customer experience online. It is something we are living with and come to accept.

As Jim Sinur argues in his Forbes article, “How can AI help me?” we all have “to deal with living with AI,” and we also have to figure out how to make the best of AI in our lives. Sinur asks, “Will it be like other technology that I have to learn to for life success or will it be more like a person that I have to get along with to thrive in the future? Will AI make our lives better or should we be practicing for those apocalypse scenarios I keep reading about?” How many of us have even raised these questions?

AI can do the drudge work

Of course, responses depend on the individual’s life circumstances. For example, if you are an employee, AI has the potential to do the drudge work, leaving you free to do the more meaningful, creative tasks. And AI can assist you with that. This is a more positive view of Ai in employment and is the opposite of the scenario in which AI and robots will steal all the jobs. Sinur says, “I see AI giving us an edge in boosting our ability to consume and leverage knowledge on a grand scale even outside of our native skillsets, culture bases, and language capabilities,” and this view creates a vision of an exciting future relationship with AI.

A more personalised customer experience

Consumers can also benefit from an enhanced relationship with AI. Sinur points out an important factor that should encourage us as consumers to welcome AI: “With the advent of customer journeys, combined with AI, the complexities and company needs can fade in the background while customer needs are being represented within organizational systems, interfaces, and constraints.” The potential to offer a more personalised customer service is vital, as it is becoming evident that the consumer wants to come first more than ever, and is not prepared to kow-tow to the needs of the business. What is happening in the banking sector is a good example of this: younger customers are gravitating towards neobanks precisely because they offer a personalised service.

AI — your personal assistant

And AI can help us develop personal skills and become a more global citizen. In the case of multi-cultural interactions, AI can help us with language translation and to avoid subtle cultural errors. It may help us to be better communicators in any number of settings and it could even be a life coach and personal trainer.

I agree with Sinur that as it develops we will see that AI adds value to our lives, and that there is so much further to go with it. One day we will be amazed that we were ever afraid of this dynamic technology.

Protecting humanity as AI grows

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going through the process of evolution. To date we have seen the emergence of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), and artificial general intelligence (AGI) to artificial super intelligence (ASI). Those working in the field predict that it won’t be long until AI is able to “combine the intricacy and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence,” as Jayshree Pandya writes in his recent Forbes article.

One of the upshots of this progress is that people feel less insecure and fear what this may mean for their future, particularly with regard to employment. After all if AI can replace most manual and mundane work that will affect a significant number of people in manufacturing industries. As Pandya points out, “with all these new digital assistants and decision-making algorithms assisting and directing humans, more complex day-to-day work for humans is being greatly lessened.” It would be nice to think that this will mean humans can put their feet up and relax, but who will fund that? The robots won’t pay for sure.

Of course, there is hope for humans, because no mater how much AI technology is hyped, it simply can’t replicate the human brain, because elements like memory and conscience are as yet a long way off and are only a part of some computer scientist’s dream of a human-like artificial intelligence.

Super scary Super ASI

Pandya believes that the “potential development of artificial super intelligence points to a frankly scary scenario in the coming years.” He thinks that the processing power of the human brain may not be able to match that of ASI in the long-term, which is indeed a frightening thought. It may well be inevitable that AI will reach a point where it will be able to improve its own software design and capabilities far beyond what its designers envisioned: like the monster that Dr Frankenstein could not control.

Will AI overtake human intelligence?

Another concern is that human intelligence may dumb down as AI takes over tasks. If the human brain is not allowed the opportunities to learn new skills, how will its development suffer? That is a tough question to answer. And the answer to it may define the future of humanity, which has for all of recorded history relied on the sophistication of human natural intelligence for survival. Pandya says, “the question everyone across nations needs to evaluate today is whether our efforts should be towards enhancing human intelligence or artificial intelligence.”

We need to start planning now for the future when our intelligence may be seen as inferior to that of AI. It sounds like science fiction, but we can no longer dismiss it as a scenario created by a novelist or Hollywood.

Don’t be afraid of robots, says World Bank

The World Bank has published a report annually since 1978. Each report focuses on a detailed analysis of one aspect of economic development and for 2019 the topic is robots and automation and how it is impacting on the world of work.

Bloomberg interviewed Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, about the report and one of her first statements was: “This fear that robots have eliminated jobs — this fear is not supported by the evidence so far.”

The fear arises from the fact that in the first world a substantial number of jobs have been lost in the industrial sector, while in East Asia the there has been a rise in employment in industry. The World Bank report notes the anxiety about job losses, but claims “the number of jobs lost to automation is about equal to the number of jobs created, even if technology is changing the nature of those jobs in several ways.”

In the World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said:

“The nature of work is not only changing — it’s changing rapidly. We don’t know what jobs children in primary school today will compete for, because many of those jobs don’t exist yet. The great challenge is to equip them with the skills they’ll need no matter what future jobs look like — skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration. By measuring countries according to how well they’re investing in their people, we hope to help governments take active steps to better prepare their people to compete in the economy of the future.”

Koujianou Goldberg also commented on the changing nature of work, telling Bloomberg: “This is the fourth industrial revolution, there have been three before, and in each case we managed to survive so it’s not the case that machines completely eliminated humans.”

However, not everyone agrees with the World Bank’s assessment of the situation with regard to a radical change in the types of jobs available. Gizmodo argues that the World Bank has not considered the quality of the jobs available, or the social and cultural impact of the loss of certain jobs and responds to the idea of robotics bringing a fourth industrial revolution as an idea to be treated with caution. Gizmodo also says, “There is a reason that many of the regions hit hardest by automation voted in the largest numbers for Trump.”

It also points out that reports like the one from the World Bank are useful as a window into how elites — i.e., those doing a lot of the automating — view mechanization.

What is clear that there are good arguments from both viewpoints and that what we need is dialogue between the two, so that we plan for an industrial revolution that is less harmful to those communities most affected by automation than in the past.