04.13.2018
By Terry Flanagan

Agorai Aims to Democratize AI

Leveling the artificial-intelligence playing field is the raison d’être of Agorai, a startup that aims to democratize access to AI via blockchain based marketplaces for AI tools and the data assets that power them.
AI’s value proposition is in processing and analyzing troves of data much faster than a human brain can. It is expected to disrupt a wide range of businesses over the next decade, among them financial services, advertising, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation.

Josh Sutton, Agorai

As Agorai CEO Josh Sutton sees it, the bottleneck in the current landscape is that artificial intelligence and its applications are largely in the hands of a few giant companies — whose need to look after shareholders first doesn’t always align with broad development of the AI market.

“The potential for artificial intelligence to transform nearly every industry on the planet is absolutely massive. There’s no debate that it’s a big deal,” Sutton said. “The problem is that AI is being controlled and driven by effectively an oligarchy of organizations — the Googles, the IBMs, and the Microsofts of the world.”
Those companies “directly or indirectly influence the investment in, and advancement of, nearly every AI solution” either via financing or by acquiring smaller AI developers, Sutton said. “There’s no real distribution channel or growth vehicle otherwise.”
Agorai likens itself to an app store that allows individuals and corporations to tap into the AI resources they need to compete in an increasingly AI-driven world, whether it’s to provide diagnostic and clinical healthcare solutions, create personalized media, or apply deep learning to data processing.
Agorai will be comprised of two marketplaces – one for AI tools and one for Data assets. The AI Marketplace enables people building AI tools and applications to access and share assets otherwise unavailable to them. The Data Marketplace keeps data ownership in the hands of those who create it and delivers a verifiable value for data assets.
These marketplaces will enable people from around the world to contribute their own AI tools and data assets and receive payment based on the usage of their contributions, which they can securely and transparently track via the blockchain. Company executives say the offerings will rival much more expensive solutions that only the largest firms have access to today.
While it may seem fanciful that an everyday Joe can develop an AI tool, so too was the notion 20 years ago that mobile application development would catch on. AI observers expect a comparable ramp-up.    
‘Productizing’ AI
“We will start seeing more and more people from all kinds of backgrounds participating in building, developing and productizing AI,” George Shih, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, said in a December 2017 Nvidia blog post. “Tooling and infrastructure will continue to improve and make it easier for more people to translate their data and algorithms into real-world usage.”
The data assets in Agorai’s data marketplace is meant as fuel for the AI marketplace engine. “To do open access and open distribution well, you need more than just the AI tools, or the data tools — you need a relationship between the two, so they can create an ecosystem,” Sutton said.
“With data, you need to provide a degree of transparency and security, and centralized ownership by a few corporations, was never going to be that construct,” Sutton continued. “You need a structure that provides decentralized, distributed ownership in a way that is secure and protected and can be transparently observed. That is a use case that just cries out for blockchain technology.”
Sutton, who will deliver a keynote address at the World Blockchain Forum in Dubai on April 16, was previously Global Head of Data and AI for Publicis.Sapient. Other senior executives at the startup include Data Lead John Edge, a fellow at MIT and co-founder and chairman at decentralized-technology provider ID2020; EU Lead George Zarkadakis, a thought leader in AI and its impact on the future of organizations; and CFO Sean Rice, a 20-year veteran of building and managing structured product and derivatives trading businesses.
“AI is transforming nearly every industry in the world,” Sutton said. “We created Agorai to ensure that corporations and individuals everywhere can have access the AI tools and data that they need in a cost-effective, one-stop shop.”

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