Developments in wireless connectivity have allowed computing devices and smart appliances to be part of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Gartner, 20.4 billion devices will be connected to this global network by 2020. Add these to the 4.5 billion people who are now able to access the internet and it seems that we now truly have a connected world.
However, despite this increasing connectedness of people and computing devices, the internet still operates in a fragmented way. Each dominant player in the technology sector looks to build its own proprietary ecosystem.
These ecosystems are designed to have limited support and compatibility with components built using other platforms. Unfortunately, limited interoperability stymies the potential of having a truly interconnected world.
Fetch.ai looks to solve this problem. The project aims to build a decentralized connectivity platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology to allow devices and software to autonomously interact and transact with each other.
This would allow for complex tasks to be automated, opening up a wide range of potential applications including the creation of cohesive global “ecostrustures” (ecosystems + infrastructures) of connected devices.
The Problem with Centralized and Closed Systems
The prevalence of centralized and closed systems is grossly evident in how most technology giants come up with their products and services. Often, they force developers and tech manufacturers to exclusively support their platforms and use their tools.
This applies even to newer technologies such as the IoT. Most devices are limited within their manufacturers’ respective ecosystems meaning they have limited interoperability with other devices and systems.
For example, smartphones are still clustered mainly through the Android vs. iOS dichotomy. App developers have to develop and publish their apps to support each one to reach the majority of smartphone users. Tech giants also hold sway over big data. When it comes to mapping and navigational data, Google Maps holds over 60 percent of the market. Most apps that feature maps use Google’s data to function.
In a sense, centralization is self-serving for these tech giants. As businesses, it is good for their bottom line for users to be dependent on what they offer. However, a lack of choice for developers and consumers isn’t the only downside to this. This also limits the potential of technology to be a means for positive change.
Decentralization and Autonomous Agency to the Rescue
Over the years, various efforts have been launched to combat this growing centralization. Fairly recently, the rise of distributed ledger and blockchain technologies gave a glimpse at how people are now willing to embrace distributed and decentralized systems.
Various projects like the thousands of decentralized apps (dapps) that were released and developed in the past three years showed that access to computing resources can be decentralized, transactional data can be made immutable and transparent, and business decisions and actions can be democratized.
Fetch.ai takes these concepts of decentralization further by creating a protocol and framework that would allow sensor-enabled devices and software to function as autonomous economic agents (AEA). The framework includes algorithms that would allow devices to connect to and interact with each other.
As AEAs, they are able to automatically exchange data and perform transactions. All transactions are handled by a smart ledger for security and transparency. AI and machine learning (ML) enable them to either independently and collectively make decisions for the benefit of individuals and organizations.
Earlier this year, Fetch.ai concluded a successful token sale, raising $6 million. These FET tokens give holders the ability to generate native Fetch.ai tokens that provide access to the node, the digital entities that use the framework, and the various AI tasks. The native tokens are also used as a means to exchange value on the framework and as operation fuel or “gas” for executing tasks.
Fetch.ai’s AEAs can operate independently with minimal or no interference from their owners. They can represent a data source, a piece of equipment they inhabit, or people they act on behalf of.
They also actively look for opportunities to generate and maximize economic value for their owners by continuously learning new skills and finding other agents that provide the services needed. As such, AEAs can be used in various business and consumer spaces including:
Agents can automate many menial tasks in offices by communicating with smart devices. For example, smart thermostats and lighting can interact with weather sensors and smart security door locks to gain accurate data and adjust settings accordingly based on projected ambient temperatures and a number of people on the office floor.
Traffic congestion and long commutes are among the biggest problems of cities around the world. In 2018, Americans lost $87 billion due to traffic. These costs include the value of time spent in traffic, extra fuel, and other indirect costs. Long commutes are often associated with higher rates of obesity, divorce, and work absenteeism, and low employee satisfaction.
Agents can ease the stress of commuters and make their transportation experience more convenient and efficient. Agents can connect private and public transport and inform them about gridlocks and other delays, enabling them to change routes.
Agents can also alert private car owners who still have available space about commuters who want to share a ride. They can also be notified along with half-empty delivery trucks about couriers who need to deliver small packages within the same location. These can drastically improve traffic flow and reduce the hours of commute.
Finding parking spaces is also a common problem for commuters in metropolitan areas. Motorists in the US spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for a parking spot. And yet, there are actually plenty of parking lots distributed in cities. According to a report, there are around 1.9 million and 1.6 million parking spaces in New York City and Des Moines respectively.
The problem is not the availability of parking spaces but the lack of data about these spaces. Drivers struggle to find a spot and bounce from one parking lot to another because there’s no available information about parking spots that are still free. This encourages on-street parking and increases the number of cars on the road looking for available parking spots, resulting in traffic congestion, loss of time, and higher costs due to the increase in fuel consumption.
Agents can detect the availability of parking space on a street or in a city to help motorists find the best available parking options based on their context more efficiently.
These applications are only a few of the many possible applications for the Fetch.ai protocol and framework. Users will definitely benefit from the enhanced interoperability of devices. In addition, since data and information can be exchanged directly between agents, users do not have to be restricted to what tech giants make available.
By putting intelligent AEAs to a task, people may also be freed from dreary and mundane concerns. The incentives that Fetch.ai’s economy provides should only encourage more stakeholders to participate. This will ultimately help create global ecostructures that can have devices work as agents that could solve the world’s complex problems.
A more interconnected and decentralized world is surely a stark contrast to the current landscape that’s very much controlled by a dominant few.