Project PAI (Personal AI) sounds like it comes straight from a Black Mirror episode. In essence, the project, run by ObEN, which raised $23.7 million from many renowned firms such as Softbank Ventures Korea, HTC Vive X, and from Tencent’s VC branch, aims at running decentralised peer-enabled AI identities, where users will be able to create avatars in their image – looking, sounding, and more importantly thinking like their creator – representing these people in the digital world.
These avatars will be hosted on a blockchain to allow authentication – ensuring that there is no identity theft – and to ensure that users control their personal data. PAI is the token used to power the network, a transaction means within the network. as well as to authenticate the avatars, and is currently available on Huobi.Pro, with PAI/BTC and PAI/ETH trading pairs.
Similarly to Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana, a PAI will be able to perform many tasks such as acting as a secretary – with the incorporation of the avatar for features such as instant translation using one’s own voice, virtual shopping, representing an individual at a virtual meeting, among other things. For instance, the avatar might enable one to check how a piece of clothing might fit and look on the avatar before cashing out and receiving the goods offline. Use cases of PAIs are described more extensively in the sections below.
Creating a PAI is simple; the user takes a selfie with a smartphone and their PAI doppelgänger is ready on their mobile device. Then, to allow for their voice to be matched to the avatar, the user will have to read a few sentences of a provided script. Once this is done, the user needs to send the PAIs into the blockchain, paying a fee in PAI. The authentication part is crucial to ensure that the PAI really represents the person who created it.
The PAI Blockchain (already up and running) is being used in order to allow users to be in full control of their own avatars and in full control of the data being disseminated by it, as unlike other AI assistants such as Cortana, Siri, or Google Assistant, the data belongs to you, and you have all the rights on how to use and deploy it, as long as it uses the soon-to-be open-sourced Project PAI blockchain. Blockchain technology also enables the protection of the avatars – as no one will be able to “copy” them – as well as allowing for trustless and transparent verification.
Additionally, the PAI blockchain will allow a decentralised AI economy to develop, where application developers can create DApps evolving around Personal AI, and where users can decide to who and for which service fees are received in return for this data. Moreover, some tasks such as authenticating other people’s data and providing computational resources, as the blockchain uses PoW, allowing for improvement of the AI algorithm. With the protocol being open-source, anyone can develop a DApp on top of it.
PAI relies on four pillars: Identical and Realistic Representation, Verification, Delegation, and Collaboration. The first principle of the project is Identical and Realistic Representation, given that PAI will be a representation of the original owner. These representations are unlimited and range from the behavior to voice intonation; the more data that is supplied, the more the PAI will respect this principle.
The Verification principle has been explained while discussing the use of the blockchain while Delegating and Collaborating concerns the usage of the PAI by its owner, with the payouts in PAI when contributing to the network.
Project PAI use cases
Understanding the value added of owning a personal avatar is best explained with examples, with the whitepaper containing dozens of them. Currently, ObEN, the company behind project PAI, is working with Tencent to allow for simple offline-to-online applications such as the integration of the PAI within Tencent’s Wechat using a HTC Vive, allowing for VR communication and interaction within the multifunctional app.
Another use case of the PAI concerns the creation of digital avatars for celebrities. The company partnered with S.M. Entertainment, the largest K-Pop production company, to create a new venture, AI Stars Limited. The venture will use the technology to “create interactive and highly personalised experiences for fans”, allowing celebrities to further monetise their influence. At first, the technology will only re-create avatars similar to the celebrity in tone and in speech, but later will allow for Q&A type of interactions, and more. Within the celebrity industry, ObEN also announced a collaboration with Tencent.
Another highly interesting use of the avatar is the live translation feature (English/Chinese only as of now). The user would speak their language over a microphone, and the avatar would instantly translate, using the user’s voice, accent, and intonation – particularly useful for cross-border negotiations and other social and business settings.
An example extremely close to a different Black Mirror episode, which is currently more science fiction than anything else, concerns the usage of the avatar on dating applications. The PAI could frequent dating platforms and search for other people, with whom you might potentially match, based on your PAI and the PAI of the match. Finally, the DApp will propose you to select the profile with whom you would like to go out with, and the PAI will arrange all the details for the date, regarding the restaurant choice and the timing. Of course, the PAIs involved will have been verified to ensure that the other person is genuine, and that the digital representation is accurate enough.
Team and Partnerships
Co-founder Nikhil Jail has an MBA in Finance from the University of Southern California and already has some CEO experience from Artilient (VC) and OnGreen. Dr. Adam Zheng, the second co-founder and COO of ObEN was the co-founder of Baihe.com, one of the largest dating platform in China. Prior to working on ObEN, he was Director at a VC managing over $4 billion. Concerning his education, he has a Master of Financial Engineering from UC Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UC Davis. Lastly, the technical lead, Alex Waters, held many positions in the blockchain industry, with, for instance, an important role in Bitcoin Core’s development. He is also the founder of Coin Apex, a New York-based incubator that facilitates the creation and growth of tech startups.
ObEN is also part of HTC’s Vive X accelerator program alongside 33 other companies. The program focuses solely on VR companies with more than 1,200 applicants and $100 million in investment funds. Another program in which ObEN is in is the third Innovation Program held by Softbank, a program aimed at conducting tests and considering future commercialization, among 7 other companies. Additionally, according to ObEN, Softbank has not only invested in the project but also “was particularly interested in the opportunities for integrating ObEN’s technology within the VR/AR space”.
Lastly, ObEN partnered with China Merchants Lippo Hospital Management to help them to adopt the PAI blockchain towards healthcare and health insurance applications.
Given the current market conditions, we did not enter a position in PAI; however, given strong VC backin, a strong idea in itself, partnerships and the ongoing integration with WeChat, we believe that in the long-run the project has potential and room to grow. However, the challenges which the team will have to meet are numerous, starting with attracting developers to develop DApps on the Project PAI platform and services to run with the PAIs.