Small AI: Launching of a new humane technology field

Small AI versus Big AI

Small AI: The TL;DR

Small AI applications are:

  • Personal agents that are based on small technology principles, and run on small servers and devices.
  • Private-by-default that only communicate personal information with full consent of the owner.
  • Applications that require much less personal information to function in the first place.
  • Applicable as alternative to centralized and intrusive reputation systems.
  • The destroyer of social credit systems if they are widely and smartly adopted.

Announcing Small AI to the Fediverse

Yesterday I made the first announcement of Small AI to the Fediverse in this toot thread where Christopher Lemmer Webber (co-creator of the Fediverse open ActivityPub protocol) found out that OpenAI (hint: not so open) exclusively licensed GPT-3 to Microsoft. Here are my follow-ups to that toot (formatting improved): “What kind of impacts could machine learning advancements make on FOSS, programming in general, art production, and civic society?”

My prediction: Nothing much good! Not for normal people anyway

This is a good opportunity to announce that - building on @aral SmallTech and SmallWeb - I and some other people started pursuing SmallAI. Or AI-for-People. The FOSS and friendly open kind.

Small AI is personal AI that could run on-device or on small servers, whereas Big AI is Datacenter AI that is owned and run by the Molochs. And as we use their stuff, we’ll be owned by them too. The Big AI will then decide what’s left for us humans to be involved with, leaving us husks of our former selves.

Arts? With Big AI we are allowed to fiddle with some AI params and with a printer attached it will oil paint Van Goghs, or 3D print Michelangelo’s sculptures.

Small AI are personal assistents of all forms and kinds that process personal data from encrypted vaults, without broadcasting it around. They support a skill, help form a habit, encourage you to learn and socialize both offline and online, and take boring tasks and other chores off your shoulder.

They are enrichments to your life, that give more space where you might flourish.
They are Open Science, consume Open Data from the web, and are FOSS all the way!

Note also that Small AI can be used to replace Reputation Systems and their massively scaled-up cousins: The Social Credit dystopic hellscapes that are everywhere on the rise.

But maybe that is only feasible in places where the latter have not yet become commonplace and accepted, and when Small AI gains sufficient popularity and traction ‘under the radar’.

“Social Credit” … the whole notion is disgusting and typical of the hypercapitalist society we find ourselves in.

As if the social fabric of humanity is a debit / credit system, and you can lend and borrow. Become tremendously rich in social credit as well, by exhibiting capitalist behavior. Buy yourself a new ferrari and a highly esteemed status?

No thank you. We have to rekindle real humanity, before this space is occupied with social credit plutocrats.

For Small Technology see: Aral Balkan: The antidote to Big Tech is Small Tech

Help make Small AI a real thing!

We will launch this as an #focus:solutions-program and create regular posts with campaign-like actions to follow-up on so that we’ll introduce Small AI to the wider world. For now you can help by boosting (the fediverse word for a ‘retweet’) the following toots (i.e. ‘tweet’) on the Fediverse:

And just posted now, with a heads up to boost the previous toots:

In addition to the above, if you know about Open Science, Open Data and FOSS related Humane AI / Small AI resources, then suggest them as candidates for:

Or discuss them here with me @aschrijver and @schmidtke. We are both maintainers of that delightful list.

(Photo by from Pexels)


Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like good ideas.

I think this movement will need a robust transparency and credentialing system to prevent the Big AI equivalent of “corporate green washing.” So much of the rhetoric used by Big AI companies also revolves around the concept of personal (personal assistants, personalized results, etc.). I’m interested in hearing some ideas of how this idea can be presented to the average consumer in a way that helps people understand the differences between personal AI and personalized results provided by big AI.

“Small tech” and “small AI” are catchy terms, but I also think we could work on developing more descriptive terms for these concepts.

As a side note, but along the same theme of intentional language, I think it is important to stop calling companies “tech companies.” I think we should describe companies based on how they make money. Google or Facebook should be described as advertising companies or auction houses.


Agreed. Just now the ‘Small AI’ term is just that: a term. The field is still empty and must be defined carefully while filling it in.

I envision these to become more or less generic umbrella terms that, when filled in, contain more concrete, real subfields. Small AI is then just an idea. A philosophy for a certain kind of AI category, if that makes sense.

This is a good point, and indeed it would be much better if we promoted more appropriate terminology like that, so the businesses involved cannot hide under the cover of just being a ‘cool and innovative’ tech company.