In the last couple of months, that Benjamin Franklin quote which talks about compromising freedom for security and consequently deserving ”neither liberty nor safety”, has been far-flung on social media in the wake of the global COVID-19 lockdowns.
While certainly a legitimate concern, the focus on privacy loss in the general data landscape needs to be addressed while balancing the value gained against such privacy losses.
The perfect data provenance trail
Founder and board member of Ocean Protocol, Bruce Pon, believes that blockchain and AI solutions might provide an even better answer to this conundrum.
Started in 2013 as one pioneer in the blockchain and Web 3 space, Berlin-based Ocean Protocol is a decentralized data exchange protocol that unlocks data for AI while maintaining privacy and security using blockchain technology.
The concept of a data economy where data is transferable and shareable without centralized intermediaries is the core of Ocean Protocol.
“Blockchain technology gives a unique and perfect provenance trail of where the data comes from, who owns it and if there’s a problem with the data, how to take it out of the analysis,” explains Pon.
“The problem today is that many of the AI researchers spend a lot of time cleaning as well as sourcing the data and not as much time perfecting their algorithms and models… blockchains would be particularly useful to solve that part of the problem — the audit, the trust of where the data came from as well as the cleanliness of the data… if you found that certain data sets were not clean, you could easily identify them just like a product recall and remove them from your analysis very quickly,” he adds.
On the other hand, centralized data marketplaces around the world act as a custodian and actually have a copy of the data on their servers without providing the auditability and transparency to know how and to whom the data is sold, and what happens after it is moved off their servers.
“Having a central intermediary hinders the growth of data sharing around the world,” points out Pon.
Unlocking value without unlocking data
In the Ocean Protocol network, data is shared in ways that does not expose it.
Everyone operates with an Ethereum address which is recognized by the smart contracts deployed and hence pseudonymity is protected. The smart protocol enables algorithms to run on top of the data with checks and balances to ensure proper execution.
In this way, you can improve AI models while sharing data in ways that do not expose it. So until these addresses are tagged with a real world identity or organization, the privacy goal is accomplished, which is maintaining pseudonymity with Web 3.
While the core base layer of the protocol is pseudonymous at the marketplace level, it is up to the data publishers, users, sellers and buyers to conduct the relevant KYC (know-your-customer) processes.
Every data provider can fine-tune the conditions for data sharing.
“Typically when you have a pharmaceutical or researcher with really valuable data, if you're another researcher or a hospital, then it's free, as long as you don't expose the data,” observes Pon. “But if you are competitive or profit-making, then they are typically going to be charged as much as the market will bear.”
While Ocean Protocol’s utility token is used as a unit of exchange for buying and selling data and AI services, DeFi (decentralized finance) tools like Ubisoft and others allow for quick and frictionless swapping to USD or a tether type.
“The beauty is all our code is open-source, auditable and people can look straight into the smart contracts and see if there are any vulnerabilities,” says Pon. “We audit it, road test it, and then over time, we keep improving the code, so that the Ocean token can be used like a public utility.”
Privacy-centric solutions for COVID-19
In the areas of diagnosis, research and data sharing, the ongoing pandemic provides a chance for “decentralized technologies to be in the spotlight.”
Organizing a “Covidathon” with other collaborators such as SingularityNet in the decentralized space, Ocean hopes to build a 360-view of the potential capabilities in a decentralized data economy.
With the intent of supporting researchers by matching them up with developers and managing the technology conversation through collaboration, Pon believes the power of decentralized tools will point to a novel way of data sharing.
The road to true decentralization
Currently, enterprises love Proof-of-Authority networks while developers prefer to work with DeFi tools that focus on interoperability.
To solve this challenge, Ocean plans to move the smart contracts onto the Ethereum network and make it the primary platform to leverage the Ocean Protocol. This will result in the PoA network becoming subservient where, by forking the main code, one can create his own PoA network using Ocean Protocol tools.
In the future, a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) will be activated for governance that allows for funding of the project. Network rewards can ensure a certain amount of sustainability and fresh resources in the network at all times so that people are incentivized to build on top of the Ocean Protocol.
“Ideally, this takes us as progenitors of this idea out of the central aspect over time,” says Pon. “This is very important for us because ultimately we should not be the party driving most of the innovation then. Instead, it should be the community.”
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