AI & Web3: Democratizing Opportunity

Sam Peurifoy
8 min readDec 21, 2022

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The implosion of centralized blockchain entities (FTX and others) and broad concerns around ethical training and implementation of AI has left a certain stain on public opinion around emerging technologies. But innovation has always been two steps forward and one step back. Regardless of current sentiment, the combination of AI, blockchain, and 3D printing will lead to a restructuring of market forces and redistribution of innovation globally, democratizing opportunity for millions.

Source: Midjourney

The Failures of Emerging Technologies

Blockchain, AI, and 3D printing are three of the most important technologies of this century, and yet public opinion around the adoption of these into the mainstream is mixed at best and outright vitriolic at worst.

The distrust of emerging technologies is understandable — blockchain, or “web3” as a whole, has overwhelmingly materialized in the public domain as scam after scam, with a seemingly endless supply of grifters lining up to sell the next “hyper-decentralized mega-fungible inflation-proof supertoken.” But it’s worth a reminder that, allegedly, the first deal ever done over the primordial internet in 1972 was a weed deal. That doesn’t stop ecommerce from being one of the biggest industries on the planet today.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is frequently lambasted for either the unethical consumption or production of data or images. It’s inarguable that human utility should be preserved above the dramatic pursuit of increasingly high computing power, but it’s also unfair to expect the first version of an emerging technology to simultaneously solve world hunger and remind me that I really need to consider the third derivative ethical implications of doing so. Even Edison’s original light bulb was derided by the English parliament as “unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.” And yet, again, that imperfect invention runs much of how humans live globally today.

But it’s unfair to draw strawman comparisons versus previously successful inventions and imply that simply because something is derided, it must be the next light bulb, as doing so invites extreme survivorship bias. These examples simply serve as a helpful reminder that not all great things come in perfectly formed little neat packages. Instead, let’s consider the potential role that these three new-age technologies, (i) blockchain, (ii) AI, and (iii) 3D printing may play in shaping global trade and politics in the coming decades, after we shake out the growing pains of early commercialization.

Information in a Digital-First Era

The world is drunk on a sea of information. Searching the Internet feels like wandering a nightmare where you’re locked in a classroom with a terrible math teacher who refuses to give you a straight answer. Yet, the logic of that absurdity is clear — we’ve created the tools to create and share data en masse, but we have few robust tools to understand or parse the data in a human-meaningful way.

The deployment of retail-available AI tools (ChatGPT foremost among them) has completely flipped this reality on its head. Instead of parsing StackOverflow for hours trying to resolve intermediate-level Python bugs, easy-to-use AI friends will not only deliver the theoretical path to an answer, but they’ll often simply code the entire response.

The question becomes not “What do I know?” but “What should I ask?”

The implications here are enormous. Mastering a single skill may take ten-thousand hours (if you’re a fan of the pop writer and journalist Malcom Gladwell), but iterating through lines of questioning and observing outputs across a number of disparate disciplines with a robust AI holding your frail biological hand may make skill mastery necessary only at the point of an idea’s ultimate refinement. You could, in a sense, “80/20” your way through life — the “Rise of the Generalists,” thematically.

But, note: this is not a death knell for specialized labor, and this is not a carte-blanche key to the kingdom for every human on the planet. You can 80/20 your way through life or a product only up to the point of extrapolation that your “dumb” AI friend is capable of predicting given its limited historical dataset and physical transistor constraints. You will still need a mechanic to fix your uniquely 1994 off-market dragracing vehicle. And you will still need the world’s top backend engineer to decipher the connections between two new cutting-edge cloud database frameworks that for whatever reason just aren’t quite in the AI’s model yet.

Human ingenuity is safe and valuable, for now — and so we work hand-in-hand with the machines.

Production in a Siloed-Yet-Connected World

Launching software ideas from ivory towers is a marvelous fantasy that works in an ordered world with orderly people and organized systems. But the worldstate is not always so picture-perfect, and, by humankind’s own inevitable proclivity for exploration (i.e. space as the “final frontier”), in the not-so-far future humankind will once again fragment and become disconnected, even beyond the state of affairs in current global politics.

The means of production have historically been owned and operated by the largest entities in the world, shared between oligarchies, veiled kingdoms, and corporations. But the advent of additive manufacturing (aka “3D printing”) again sets a new paradigm in place, enabling every level of the food chain to own their own piece of the means of production.

This is a new framework beyond modern capitalism or communism. The neo-independence afforded to individuals with access to the world’s treasure trove of information is compounded by the ability to physically execute on that information. The ability to print your own widgets, create your own homes, and build your own supply chain anywhere in the world cannot be understated. Computing power grows exponentially according to Moore’s Law, but that digital power is meaningless if it has no capacity to act inside the physical.

3D printing (additive manufacturing) gives individuals and computers the power to access the means of production, and democratizes opportunity into real-world impact.

Financialization Beyond Borders

Ultimately, the ownership and financialization of the ideas and assets created en masse by both man and machine will require a new digital-native framework that can be consistently standardized, applied, and recognized regardless of geography or creed. Blockchain technology conveniently solves for this third pillar by bringing trustless, publicly verifiable, and self-sovereign ownership of assets into the mix.

An individual creating widgets in Azerbaijan and a software developer in Canada can collaborate to produce a working product owned and financialized entirely using on-chain tokens and accounting. And their work can be verified and observed by an unrelated third-party in New Zealand, who happens to find inspiration in their developments and builds off the material. If the system has baked-in fees or royalties on-chain, that New Zealand builder is now seamlessly paying fees to the original Azerbaijani and Canadian pair, without necessitating the use of payment providers or banks. The three parties just formed an open economy complete with software, physical goods, and financialization, without any external interactions.¹

This open-source and decentralization-first ethos makes more sense in a world with blockchain. Traditional rails may not be available in certain geographies, or may erode too much of an already-thin sole proprietor’s operating margin. Currency conversions and complex legal ownership structures may be difficult to manage across borders, and lack standardization necessary for clarity. Blockchain addresses these.

The ability to take ownership of your creations and push them out to the world without third-party intermediaries is the final piece of the innovator’s stack, and will incentivize and enable mass decentralized production of software and assets.

Democratizing Opportunity: Rise of the Generalists

The “Innovator’s Stack” is composed of information, production, and financialization. This trifecta of (i) massive information availability via artificial intelligence, (ii) distribution of the means of production via additive manufacturing, and (iii) security of ownership and financialization via blockchain is a unique conflux in history that will massively accelerate the democratization of opportunity globally. Over the next decade, we‘ll see a phenomenal torrent of diverse ideas and people entering the marketplace from all angles, leading to substantial competition against entrenched players who cannot move as nimbly as a chaotic hive of creation.

The world has never been so connected and yet so socially distant. Loneliness and depression are reaching a fever-pitch, despite us having more humans within our immediate reach than our ancestors could have possibly imagined. The world is going through growing pains as it transitions into a new digital-first format, with younger generations rapidly adapting to purely digital relationships and ideologies. These broad social trends complement the macro shifts and technology developments that underpin the increasing digitization and decentralization of the world, and push us towards democratization of opportunity for millions.

Human technology is “coming of age,” and there’s no going back now. Welcome to a future owned by the individual.

¹ This is not to brush over the complexity of tax and legal structures that all law-abiding citizens are bound by — decentralization does not preclude taxation or prosecution. Distributed builders should abide by the local and international frameworks that apply to them.

Sam is the CEO of Playground Labs, a web3 protocol dev organization, and Partner & Head of Interactive at Hivemind Capital, a crypto-focused multi-strategy fund. Follow him on Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the individual personnel quoted and are not the views of Hivemind Capital Partners or its affiliates. Certain information contained may have been obtained from third-party sources, including from portfolio companies of funds managed by Hivemind Capital Partners. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, Hivemind Capital Partners have not independently verified such information and make no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. In addition, this content may include third-party advertisements; Hivemind Capital Partners have not reviewed such advertisements and does not endorse any advertising content contained therein.

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Sam Peurifoy

Investing in & building new worlds. Views mine, not advice. Gaming VC @HivemindCap, chief tinkerer @xPlaygroundLabs.