On the tragedy of the commons, ownerless ecosystems, and redefining the energy sharing status quo.
Today’s article is about a particularly inspiring AGI Podcast revolving around decentralized efforts to achieve synoptical systems for social good, and which ties in with a new endeavor undertaken by the SingularityNET team. This week we interviewed a prominent figure in the European blockchain and AI innovation scene: Jan-Peter Doomernik. Jan-Peter is Nature 2.0’s Lead Architect and a Senior Business Developer working in one of Holland’s leading distribution service operators (DSO) Enexis Netbeheer. In the podcast, we discuss the “demystification of complexity”, the upcoming Odyssey hackathon, and the efforts that civil society, academia and industry can make to introduce new autonomous systems imbued with humanitarianism.
“In forests, you have big trees and little trees and those trees are connected like a network in which the big trees share resources of sunlight and water to the little trees so that the little trees do not have to become competitors.” — Jan-Peter DoomernikThe Green New AI Deal
At the heart of Jan Peter and Nature 2.0’s vision, you will find a genuine interest to redistribute resources in an efficient and sustainable way. That interest, however, has led them to new approaches that inevitably clash with existing systems of economic organization. These same systems, which range from the fossil fuel industry to venture capital, have been structured in such a way that the very purpose pursued by Nature 2.0 becomes an existential threat to their current operations.
To better capture the argument at hand, it is useful to reflect on recent observations made by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) and relayed by several news outlets, on the cost of production of renewable energies compared to that of fossil fuels. Indeed, we are already in a scenario in which “renewable energy is less expensive than conventional energy.” These findings are supported by previous analyses as well. Based on data from the Renewable Cost Database of the International Agency for Renewable Energy (IRENA) and UN Environment, one analysis found that fossil fuels “generated energy costs in the range of $49 and $174 per MWh (Megawatt hours) in G20 energy markets in 2017. Over a comparable period, renewable energy production came in between $35 and $54 per MWh”. So how can these increasingly obsolete systems of energy production and distribution, that are terrible for our environment and our health and which are becoming less profitable, persevere? Why is the pace of change so unsatisfyingly slow?
The reason might be that these systems are too important to current forms of human economic organisation to be promptly disrupted. Yet, as Jan-Peter argues “these systems which are deemed normal by all of us… are actually crazy”. Logically speaking, much better systems could be devised to serve humankind, and Nature reminds us of that every day. According to Oil Change International’s report, “while the G20 makes up more than 85% of global GDP, these top economies are spending $452 billion every year to subsidize fossil fuels”. Indeed, these systems of production are intertwined with every layer of the global (and national) economy and changing them is costly, can be detrimental to the “growth economy” and to established institutions. Every cog in that large system that we just described can, to some extent, feel threatened by change, by new industries, new ideas, even if these are fundamentally sustainable and positive for our world as a whole. So where do we start and what model do we follow? “Nature”, says Jan-Peter. “We share this planet with 8.7 million animal species who all have working ecosystems… that are not based on ownership, identity or money. In nature, it adds value to cooperate and re-use resources that are already abundantly available and easy to access; this helps nature build resilient structures.”
The paradigm shift necessary to create symbiotic ecosystems for human beings can be conceptualized but not solely left for humans to run. We are now at a stage in humanity’s development where we are “building another species that can work with concepts as we do in the end, and that is artificial intelligence.” Jan-Peter points out. The promise of artificial intelligence implicates an exit from the current paradigm deadlock we find ourselves in. Indeed, we can start building AI that is void of any attachment to financial profit, power structures, social hierarchies and control systems. As Jan-Peter urges “we want to start rethinking society and the mechanisms underlying society […] we want to play with them to discover what are also other ways to build solutions.” The Odyssey hackathon will be the ideal place for both Nature 2.0 and SingularityNET to experiment with unorthodox approaches and come up with novel solutions. That buzzing environment of field practitioners will provide us with the perfect opportunity to crash test both our narrative and AI service.
Casey Horner on UnsplashNew systems, new assumptions“[New beneficial systems] are unimaginable only because of our frozen mindsets and not because they are not technologically possible” — Jan-Peter
However, a problem subsides and erodes the possibility for new systems to benefit a greater part of the population. Even the new environmentally friendly industries which are emerging are absorbed by quick growth and profit maximization. This is not to say that seeking growth and profit is enough reason to discard these new systems, but rather an attempt to point to a reality which is effectively constraining newcomers and new ideas on the market. Our vision of growth is fundamentally flawed, says Jan-Peter. The growth economy has certainly produced wonderful products and services for the world to enjoy, but at what cost? Equal access certainly seems to be one of the first victims of such an economic model. Alas, the current state of human organization evokes what environmental scientists would call a tragedy of the commons: “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action”.
Yet, we know that there is enough energy on this planet to serve everyone’s needs. Actually, there is enough energy on anyone’s house rooftop being generated by the sun. Next time you wake up and the sun is shining, says Jan-Peter, think about this: “the sun is delivering 1500 hundreds times the amount of energy that you need”. However, he continues:
“We humans have created a whole ecosystem where we export energy nationally and internationally. We have created a super complex system where almost all the players are not there to create a working solution but to create solutions that generate money”.
In turn, we as consumers make that system work by purchasing energy for various essential things. In response to that long standing problem, Nature 2.0 suggests building, instead of the current system, a system where you only have to pay “not the units of energy you use, but if you ask the system to operate beyond a certain threshold”. In other words, if the 1500x energy on your rooftop is enough then that system would be free, but if you force the system to go beyond that and thus generate more, transport more and store more, then you would start paying.
The purpose of Nature 2.0’s track at the Odyssey hackathon is to create that necessary infrastructure which will muster the abundant energy emanating from natural sources and make it available to all.
Artificial intelligence could be the missing component for us to create a robust ecosystem that is “so cheap” that competing with it would be impossible with the current growth mindset. A priori, that AI-driven system would use already available energy and rely on autonomous relayers “like self-driving cars” to distribute it to everyone. On a conceptual level, these systems have already been established; these would be Decentralized Autonomous Organisations (DAOs), or AI DAOs. Central to the efficiency of these systems would be a high level of transparency and possibility for feedback. Building, for example, the new generation of critical energy infrastructure in an open source environment would allow for a greater number of people to contribute to the good health of that system. It is important to acknowledge that these disruptive systems, which Nature 2.0 and SingularityNET hope to build, will not be perfect from the get-go and will require many iterations before they start operating as intended.
In that respect, Jan-Peter celebrates the mechanisms already familiar to the blockchain industry such as forking and community proposals/feedback. Forking, for example, allows people to rest a certain idea and build upon an older version of that idea that does work or which offers room for more/better development. In the blockchain space, this is done relentlessly; it is a major virtue that ought to be replicated.
SingularityNET and the other teams participating in the Odyssey hackathon will thus discard any attachment to financial incentives when building their disruptive systems. The core goal will be to re-design ecosystems so as to make them beneficial for all, autonomous so as to free them from control structures that tend to be reproduced by human beings, and most importantly, freely accessible. SingularityNET’s platform can also serve as the substrate for all the ideas and systems that will be devised during the hackathon and allow them to connect with each other. Our API of APIs use case, currently being perfected on the Beta platform, is specially designed to enable collaboration between any number of services and give way to holistic solutions. Like the soil to our forest.
Naturally, there is a need at this point of time for money to fund research, Jan-Peter acknowledges. However, as Dr. Goertzel has pointed out, the primary funding sources for new AI research at the moment are the military agencies and large commercial firms. The first is motivated, to put it crudely, by finding new ways to “kill people” and the other “to trick people into buying stuff they do not need”. The paradigm shift that is being advanced by Nature 2.0 and every participant of the hackathon is also mindful of developing new AI and nurturing the growth of AGI within a benevolent framework. While we cannot abandon systems of funding at the moment, we can already start by ensuring that new research is focused on ultimately positive contributions to our species. The AIs that will be powering “our self-sustained human forest” as Jan-Peter calls it, need to be free from nefarious incentives that these dominant sources of funding are currently incorporating in their AIs. Our forest can only be robust and fair if its driving force is radically humanitarian.
Credit: Robèrt Guérain, Designer Nature 2.0“Unlike the corporate tech giants, SingularityNET has an explicit goal of applying and advancing AI for the good of all humanity, and this includes leveraging its decentralized AI network to optimize the world’s AI infrastructure, not just in the server farms of large corporations but for everyone. Application of AI to energy infrastructure will lead to an AI-driven economy that is both more intelligent and more friendly to humans and the environment.” — Dr. Goertzel
Jan-Peter also described a recent project that came out of their efforts to achieve robust autonomous systems at a smaller scale. He tells the story of “a self-learning AI that can do energy planning on its own” and which his team inculcated with “elements of the energy system” while sidelining any financial and other human-centric considerations. That AI was in charge of organising energy generation and distribution on the scale of a small city. In fact, as a clever way to test it in the real world and on a short timescale, the experiment was run for a festival. You can think of a festival as being a small city that is created and disassembled within a few days and which serves the needs of all its new citizens. The experiment was a success and proved to be an encouraging real-world application for any project aspiring to the same goals.
Ultimately, what Jan-Peter and his team, SingularityNET, and every single participant of the Nature 2.0 track for the Odyssey hackathon are trying to achieve, is limitless cooperation aimed at social good. The issues raised by Jan-Peter are clear and recognised across the world, yet these are so complex and perennial that only shy attempts have been made to tackle them. Today, with AI and blockchain, we are presented with the technological tools necessary to take these issues head-on; the only thing holding us back are deeply rooted assumptions about the world. Let’s break them together.
“If you want to become part of this new amazing and unimaginable world… reach out, ask how you can help and you will see that if you want to become a millionaire you’ll be alone, but if you want to save the world you’ll find a lot of friends here ready to help you” — Jan-Peter DoomernikResources/concepts recommended during the podcast and where to find them:
SapiensHomo DeusNature 2.0 founding articleStory of stuffBuffaloBuilding the unimaginable
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