After making his fortunes as head of innovation at blockchain platform Fantom, which went from a value of US$2 million to US$3 billion during his tenure, Ashton Hettiarachi has since turned his attention to decentralising data infrastructure through open-source project Openmesh.
In just three years he has spent US$8 million on the initiative which he claims is now the 'largest open data lake in crypto and web3', covering almost 80 per cent of all the data on web3 today worldwide.
Openmesh has a variety of offerings catering to different levels of expertise, whether it's UnifiedAPIs for developers to access license-free data, Pythia which responds to questions or gathers specific data in a way that is in real-time unlike ChatGPT and draws on different sources to Google, and Xnode, a provider of all-in-one decentralised data infrastructure.
There is no immediate return on investment in sight either for Hettiarachi, who clarifies Openmesh is not a private company, has no registration, no trademarks, and no board of directors. Instead, its future relies on token economics - think Bitcoin and Ethereum - with revenue and valuations coming as a byproduct of the technology's usage.
"I wouldn’t think about it as an investment. Personally, I want to do something good," says Hettiarachi, who tonight will kick off the OpenD/I Summit, a virtual conference bringing together a global who's who of web3 experts across matters technical, regulatory, philosophical and more, followed by a Hackathon to both tackle problems and find new talent for Openmesh.
"We don’t have a corporate structure; we only have something called decentralised autonomous organisation. The whole project lives and breathes in a smart contract.
"Right now based on our token economics, we’ve got five to six years' runway, and it could facilitate around 100 to 200 people full-time."
Openmesh's raison d'etre is about addressing the information asymmetry that has arisen in the tech world through the concentration of resources amongst a powerful handful of companies.
"For the last few decades if you look at the traditional cloud space, or database space, these large companies like Google, Facebook, AWS (Amazon Web Services); they all started on a mission to rebuild technologies for the users," he tells Business News Australia.
But he explains the problem today is that around 90 per cent of this data, and 90 per cent of the world's entire IT infrastructure, is controlled by six companies.
"With this huge AI race, these same six companies that control pretty much 90 per cent of the world data also happen to have a large concentration of resources and capabilities for general AI, which is very scary to me," he says.
"I think everyone should be concerned about this, because centralised systems have significant choke points and failure – that can have a huge impact on everybody.
"The idea of decentralisation or web3 space, what people are looking at is instead of one company or a small group of people making decisions that can impact billions of people, you rely on open and distributed systems."
He is quick to clarify that these corporations are not inherently 'evil' and he does not see himself as some kind of hero fighting against a villain. Indeed, experts from some of these leading global tech companies will be participating in the OpenD/I Summit, including speakers from Microsoft and AWS.
"The big flaw that I see in all these big corporations is that they won’t be able to do greater good because if their bottom line is shareholders and survival, survival equals keeping yourself competitive so you have to generate revenue, so the chances of these corporations focusing on the greater good is very little," Hettiarachi says.
"I think it’s great to hear from different perspectives. I believe centralised systems are good if you want to do something cheap and scalable, but if you want to do something more secure, more permissionless and then have this fairness, then you have to choose the web3 space.
"True web3 projects are where the fairness and transparency come from. I'm not talking projects like about FTX that are private companies; they are not web3 projects or web3 protocols.
"Without having a middleman, long-term it has a significant adoption compared to centralised systems backed by private companies. Instead of putting trust in individuals or the brand, we put the trust on cryptographically secured digital systems, or distributed systems."
Given these decentralised systems by definition do not have a registration or home base, the Openmesh founder admits this makes regulation a challenge.
"I don’t think governments will be able to regulate – they’ll either have to catch up or get along, so it's similar to when the internet was invented as web2," he explains.
Another issue is physical infrastructure. AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Meta Platforms (owned by Facebook) are also the world's largest providers of data centres, but Hettiarachi's open-source vision works differently.
"When it comes to data storing, the decentralised systems have a very different design. We chose something called a mesh design," he says.
"When it comes to network topology, how you store information is kind of architectural. Most of our current systems are under a centralised design, which means all the data centres are pointing into one, single server.
"The idea of mesh architecture is basically you break down a file into smaller, smaller pieces and distribute across multiple nodes, similar to how a torrent network works; not a single computer owns that file, but collectively as a network you share that movie or that music."
He says the design of Openmesh allows users to run what are known as nodes.
"When you use the node, by default, you have to donate a certain percentage to the network – that percentage will come in the form of storage and compute; we will collect all these available resources to provide a free service to the public," he explains.
Hettiarachi says Openmesh currently has a 'decent amount' of startups developers, data scientists, quant firms and hedge funds using its UnifiedAPIs, while the Pythia platform - with the products Pythia Pro and Pythia X - has also proven popular.
"When you go to Google or other search engines, the data that you find is actually servable data, which is probably 4 per cent of what exists today," he explains.
"The remaining 96 per cent is basically private databases, which you and I don’t have access to, like financial data, public health records, private health records, cancer research, data about species, traffic data, weather reports, etcetera. We’re targeting those data sets – not data like movies, music, documents, none of that."
He says Openmesh has developed the necessary infrastructure to extract data, meaning the use of blockchain data is free.
"We collect data from multiple sources, we have consensus algorithms to validate data, and that data is being stored in this global network where anyone can access," he says.
"So with Pythia, you can talk to this data lake, you can ask questions of it. For example, you can ask it to give me the most active games in blockchain in the last seven days, or 'tell me a city where you have the highest traffic concentration while having a natural disaster between this date to this date' - these are very specific questions you can ask.
Hettiarachi says Pythia does not need artificial intelligence because of the way the data schema is organised.
"We use a concept called a knowledge graph, so you can ask questions which we use a natural language model to convert into a sequel query, basically drawing a relationship between the data points; it could be two data points, it could be billions of data points," he says.
"One use case for Pythia would be let’s say you’re a student and you want to build a data dashboard about space objects and share with your peers, to understand how many space objects are out there – it’s more analytics information.
"Or a scientific student could download raw data about cancer research and can adapt that report on the user’s laptop. Or maybe a financial forensic officer wants to investigate a crime - they can track a wallet to investigate what happened in a financial crime, like a crypto being stolen."
Hettiarachi is excited about the three-day OpenD/I Summit which starts tonight, noting eight people have been working full-time on putting the event together, attracting 60 prominent web3 speakers and expectations of 2,000 people attending.
"The conference is all about gathering industry leaders around the world talking about these innovations and how this will shape the entire internet for the next 10 to 20 years.
"That’s the main theme – our event is one of the largest in the open source community focused on building open data and open infrastructure. That’s why we call it OpenD/I."
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