How NEAR Is Optimizing To Become AI's Favorite Blockchain

NEAR co-founder Illia Polosukhin explains why he's always been building for AI since the beginning

By: Zack Guzman

June 13, 2024

In a rapidly evolving landscape where blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are intersecting in unprecedented ways, NEAR Protocol is emerging as a favored platform among AI developers.

Coinage caught up with NEAR co-founder Illia Polosukhin to dig into how that specific effort has helped propel NEAR's token more than 400% over the last year.

"We saw an opportunity to build a blockchain that could efficiently support AI applications," Polosukhin said in a new interview. As he explains, the project stemmed from him realizing market shortcomings back from his days working on Google's early AI efforts before he quit to found NEAR in 2017.

One of the standout aspects of NEAR is its infrastructure, designed to cater to AI's demanding computational needs. NEAR's sharding mechanism, Nightshade, ensures scalability by distributing the network's workload across multiple shards. This not only enhances transaction throughput but also reduces latency, making it ideal for AI applications that require real-time processing.

With an eye on scaling to 1 billion users over the next two years, NEAR has impressively added about 15 million monthly active users in its first three years by attracting consumer-facing projects, like Sweatcoin, which rewards users for being active. According to Polosukhin, a lot of that growth can be attributed to NEAR's efforts to help developers abstract away painful Web3 experiences. "You need to create an experience that abstracts a blockchain and offers them an extremely easy kind of onboarding," he said.

NEAR has impressively added active users in 2024. (Source: Messari)
NEAR has impressively added active users in 2024. (Source: Messari)

As a founder who started by building in the AI space, Polosukhin is somewhat unique for bucking the trope of everyone leaving crypto for AI. Instead, he went the other way, by quitting a focus on AI to build with the best parts of Web3 in mind. To that end, Polosukhin echoed similar concerns increasingly voiced by big names in tech, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey — that AI controlled by large corporations is not incentive-aligned to protect users.

"I think this kind of centralization where only like one or a few companies have that kind of access and they pretty much gatekeeping everybody else... that's when we get the most corrupt outcomes," he said. "I think the fundamental piece of Web3 for me is actually not decentralization. Decentralization is a tool to achieve low to zero switching cost. And ... zero switching cost is probably the fundamental piece to give people power of choice."

By enabling developers to create open-source alternatives to early AI models, Polosukhin hopes NEAR can emerge as the place where more user-controlled alternatives rise. "That's kind of what we're trying to solve, like we're trying to solve the fact that there's massive centralization that's happening where a few companies are pretty much controlling everything."

With the ability to own data directly and a rapidly expending Web3 user base, Polosukhin boldly predicted that one or two major Web2 competitors playing catch-up to OpenAI might leverage Web3 tools in the back half of the year.

Coinage members can watch our full interview with NEAR founder Illia Polosukhin above. To support our community-owned outlet, own it with us, and unlock other exclusive benefits, mint one of our Membership Passes today! Chat with Coinage in our Discord.


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