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Forget Girl Talk—the coming mashup revival belongs to AI x blockchain

  • Justin Caffier
9/29/2022

If you haven’t noticed, we’re in a bit of an aughts revival. “Y2K fashion” is big among Gen Z and grown folk alike. The Sopranos are back at the forefront of the discourse. Even the Strokes, The Killers, and all your favorite emo bands are back on tour. And if those are the music acts getting top billing today, it can only mean one thing: the mashup revival is lurking right around the corner.

While it seems unlikely that DJ Earworm, The Hood Internet, and Danger Mouse will capture our collective imagination the same way they did in the back half of the 2000s—the one exception being Girl Talk’s albums, most of which majorly hold up, especially if you’re looking for some good workout music—the next round of mashups might take on an altogether novel form. I’m talking of course about the “A plus B” mashup of two of the tech industry’s favorite (relatively) nascent concepts: AI and the blockchain.

More specifically, I’m referring to Seattle’s Spice AI, a startup dedicated to helping developers inject some AI-based applications into the blockchain. While discussing their recent announcement of a $13.5 million seed round with GeekWire, Spice AI CEO and co-founder Luke Kim lamented that the sort of recommendation-centric UI experiences enjoyed by customer of products like Amazon, Netflix, and Youtube are more challenging to build “in the Web3 space because the infrastructure for it does not exist.” Web3?! You got some mashup in my mashup!

But someone has to do the hard work and build that infrastructure to get the ball rolling. So Spice AI decided to pick up the mantle and give all the underutilized data they’re already indexing in their data warehouses for blockchain networks like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Solana the nurturing it needs to reach its full potential. One could say they’re “not the step-startup, but the startup that stepped up.”

Madrona Venture Group partner Aseem Datar echoed my above sentiments in a statement about his Spice AI investment on another entity from the aughts that’s due for a renaissance: LinkedIn. He noted that “Spice AI is building the foundational platform for Web3, so developers do not have to invest in standing up their own infrastructure,” which is pretty much verbatim what I just said.

We likely can’t yet conceive of all the cool ways that AI and the blockchain will work in harmony to make our lives easier, more productive, and—dare one say—based? But just a few ideas that come to mind include: fraud detection when you’re about to buy a screenshot masquerading as an NFT, movie recommendations based on stuff other Bored Ape Yacht Club members have pirated, niche meme accounts to follow on social based on which Elon Musk posts you’ve liked. The possibilities are endless.

Right now, Spice AI’s 10 customers are testing the platform and getting it ready for a wider release. But don’t let that low number fool you. At a time when venture capitalists’ love affair with crypto-centric companies seems to be waning, a cash infusion as sizable as the one Spice AI just got coming from serious players like GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke and Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich may be worth even more than its weight in gold and signal to the other whales that this scrappy young startup is in it for the long haul.

Like all nostalgic endeavors, the current turn-of-millennium retro revival is merely a distraction keeping us from confronting the inevitability of entropy and our own fragile mortality. So if Spice AI can find a way to use AI and the blockchain to keep our focus off those things after this fad is over—preferably with Feed the Animals blasting—they might just have a future.