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NEAR.AI Master Plan

NEAR.AI will build towards Open Source and User-owned AGI (artificial general intelligence).
Here is the plan:

  • Teaching machines to code: AI Developer
  • Use AI Developer to teach machines to do research: AI Researcher
  • Use AI Researcher to advance science towards AGI that is owned by all

We commit to building in Open Source as a non-profit organization, the NEAR Foundation, driven by the vision of user ownership. The NEAR ecosystem is best positioned to achieve this vision at scale by combining user distribution in the tens of millions, a Web3 developer ecosystem that includes a growing number of AI projects, and ample financial resources required to succeed in AI.

NEAR's initial product is a scalable blockchain that is easy to use and develop on, with more active users than any other blockchain today. But the long-term NEAR vision has always been to enable all people to control their assets, data, and power of choice by transforming how we interact with computing.

Critical to achieving this vision is to enable User-Owned AI with capabilities that serve on the user’s behalf, able to access all the users’ data without leaking it to third parties and while optimizing for users’ benefit. User-Owned AI means offering users the ability to customize their computing experience to the deepest level without any compromises on ownership, privacy, or security. Beyond individual users, it works across communities and brands while facilitating direct transactions without intermediaries.

The NEAR.AI team, led by Alex Skidanov and me, will first build an “AI Developer.” We are attacking the core problem of how to build end-to-end applications from user intents. This includes Web3 applications, which require a high degree of precision and security given that they deal with user funds.

At NEAR, we started building an AI Developer in 2017. My work on Transformers got me excited that we could make progress on this world-changing problem. We tried building a co-pilot (video from 2017 of first AI-driven autocomplete) but this approach didn’t accomplish what we wanted. We tried to go directly for mobile application building, but the problem space was too broad for models at the time. When we first looked at smart contracts, we felt they were an interesting subset of coding, but they were overshadowed by too many other challenges with blockchains at that point in time.

Those challenges eventually became interesting to us. So NEAR went through a transition in 2018, pivoting to build a decentralized development platform that truly works: scales to billions of users, easy to use and program. This included a sharded blockchain protocol, decentralized frontends, and middleware/indexing to create an end-to-end application framework. We felt this was the best way to make an impact and empower developers at the time––we also thought it would take about six months and then we’d go back to AI.

Now in mid-2024, there is a whole ecosystem of infrastructure and application builders who are expanding what is possible using NEAR. NEAR has onboarded tens of millions of users, 2 million of whom are daily active users, which creates a perfect substrate for the next stage of innovation: combining Web3 and AI.

But there has been a major limitation in the blockchain space: products are fragmented across hundreds of chains while the number of products developed today is not enough to truly offer a competitive landscape to existing systems. There are fewer than 7,000 full time developers in all of Web3, which is fewer people than a single department at Google.

Web3 code is very valuable, meaning that it is expensive to develop and it supports multibillion dollar projects on top of quite small codebases, composing with other applications. This is in contrast to the current Web2 software paradigm where a billion-dollar codebase contains orders of magnitude more code and complexity. By removing the expense to build Web3 products and instead generating them from simple language inputs, AI Developer will enable a major efficiency leap in creating valuable Web3 applications, unlocking a lot more value overall and enabling nearly anyone to be a developer.

NEAR.AI development will always be Open Source, providing software, datasets, and models to the broader community to further develop other products. NEAR.AI will not be the only team working on this effort, but will combine forces across both the AI and Web3 ecosystems in the Open Source spirit. This will be important in order to execute faster than any centralized effort can, while using resources more efficiently via collaboration and incentives frameworks.

To achieve this, we will need to engage the creativity of the community to unlock the range of new applications people want to build. We will need a range of infrastructure that goes beyond core blockchain primitives: peer-to-peer communication, on-edge data and inference, decentralized data storage, private computation, and more. We will need more developers than ever to actually write code to train the model. All of this is only possible by engaging the entire NEAR ecosystem and by leveraging the existing NEAR token-based economy.

As we make progress, we will in turn make the NEAR ecosystem more attractive for users. More applications and more value created means there are more incentives to use and build in this ecosystem, benefiting from novel experiences, economic opportunities, and network effects across both.

Advancements in reasoning through chain of thought, search, and combination with formal methods, will allow us to break through the current state of AI models. Just by recombining existing information, this technology will be uniquely able to uncover new insights and knowledge. We call this step AI Researcher.

The research end goal for NEAR.AI is User-Owned AGI: general intelligence capabilities where AI for any task is better than an expert human. This will transform the way we interact with computing and enhance overall productivity in the world, enabling people to focus on creativity, innovation, and novel economic opportunities. Critically, this must serve, and must be owned by, individuals and communities rather than large companies or governments. Therefore, in order to benefit everyone, all AI and eventually AGI must be Open Source and User-Owned.

--Illia Polosukhin, June 2024

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