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AI Payments are HARD

AI Monetization

6 min read

Nevermined’s Smart Subscriptions for AI Payments fix that.

At Nevermined, we’ve made it our mission to help AI Builders scale their AI apps and GPTs into a business. The democratization of AI has already had amazing effects on creativity and communications, and will only continue to influence humans’ relationships online and with each other.

But along the way, we’ve noticed a pain point that is almost universal: Payments for AI Apps are HARD. Almost exclusively, Stripe is the go to solution for AI Builders trying to get paid. The problem is that Stripe does not account for actual AI usage.

And herein lies the complexity. The services used to build AI apps can vary greatly and the cost of using them can differ wildly. For example:

  • A simple prompt will cost an AI Builder less than a complicated prompt;
  • Using GPT3.5 can be half the price of GPT4;
  • Offering users the ability to create both text and image will need different transformers with different costs; 
  • Etc.

Tracking and accounting for this variable usage and mapping to pricing is non-trivial. First, the Builder needs to know the prices of everything their AI uses. Then, the Builder needs to understand how their users are using their AI agent. Finally, the Builder needs to create an accounting system that can account for the cost of usage by each user, and then pass that cost off to each user.

The complexity of such an ‘accounting system’ is likely to grow as the AI Builder develops their solution, adding more models, AI capabilities like vector DBs, etc. This can be problematic, especially for those Builders that are really only looking to leverage their specific area of expertise and provide a simple AI solution to everyone else.  

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Your AI. But not (yet) your Business.

As a result, we often see Builders using Stripe to set one price regardless of how their AI app is being used. This can be challenging from a business point of view resulting in:

  1. Charging too little, and risk being stuck with the bill for the AI services that your heavy users gobbled up;
  2. Charging too much, and risk pricing out potential users that can’t afford the service. 

Either scenario is sub-optimal and requires a more advanced means for getting paid.

This is where Nevermined’s Smart Subscriptions can help. With Smart Subscriptions, Builders can:

  • Issue credits that their users can buy at a price set by the Builder;
  • Set the number of credits required to access a particular AI, either based on the number of requests or the amount of time that access is provisioned;
  • Attach their Stripe account, so that users can easily purchase the credits.

The final requirement is syncing payments with authenticated users. Again, Nevermined comes to the Builder’s aid by handling user authentication. When a new user comes to the app, the Builder can route their sign-in through Nevermined’s SaaS sign up. This will authenticate the user via social credentials, like Gmail, and provision an account for the new user. When the user buys credits, the account is automatically updated with the credits. And when the user makes a request from the AI app, Nevermined automatically redeems the correct number of credits from the user’s account.


Use case 1: The explosion of niche GPTs

To clarify what we mean, let’s take a look at a couple of examples that we’ve recently encountered at Nevermined. The first relates to MathGPT, and the issues its creator, Jose Manuel, had with payments. Jose Manuel is a Physics and Machine Learning professor. He created MathGPT to accurately handle mathematical problems prompted by his users. But problems arose when a large number of users started using his solution.

The underlying issue is that Jose Manuel is using his ChatGPT API key under the hood. This incurs a cost from OpenAI each time a prompt is submitted and an inference is returned based on the total “token” size of the input and outputs. Initially, Jose Manuel paid for his users personally out of his own pocket. This became unsustainable as the number of app views hit 100s of thousands. So he turned to Stripe and set a fixed price per month, $3. 

Again, the problem lies in fixing the price for a variable service. Without accurately accounting for what’s being consumed by his users, Jose Manuel is in the dark about what he should charge. This leaves him exposed to more out-of-pocket costs, and limits his overall capabilities to improve the application. 

This is where Nevermined Smart Subscriptions can help. Jose Manuel can sell credits up front, and then deduct them from users based on the request they made to MathGPT. This way, Jose Manuel can guarantee he gets paid before the service is used, and he doesn’t have to worry about users ‘over-using’ his application.

Use case 2: The emergence of powerful, general purpose AIs…aka Mechs

Another example is the Olas stake-a-thon happening right now on the Gnosis blockchain. In the stake-a-thon challenge, Olas Staker Expeditions, participants run autonomous agents that can predict outcomes of future events by gathering info from a variety of off-chain AI services (some examples here).

This happens via Mechs, Valory’s Olas-powered service that greatly simplifies task execution for autonomous agents. It provides a unified platform, eliminating the need for interacting with multiple APIs. On this platform, agents can perform off-chain reasoning operations, such as accessing LLMs, by making on-chain payments.

This service is notably used in Olas-powered prediction markets, where agents rely on various LLM models and scraping logic to make predictions. Mechs provides these prediction tools, allowing prediction agents to outsource some of their logic, especially when interacting with LLMs.

However, Mechs faces a pricing challenge. Each tool within Mechs has distinct logic and calls different APIs, leading to – again – varying costs. This variation results in Mechs either overcharging or undercharging agents. For simple tasks, the agent’s payment may exceed the cost of resources, while for complex tasks, the payment may not cover the costs, disadvantaging Mechs.

The solution we’re putting together with the Valory team is to introduce variable pricing for Mechs’ tools using our Smart Subscriptions. This would involve two subscription packages: a basic package at a lower cost with fewer credits and a premium package at a higher cost but with more credits at a discounted rate. This approach aims to meet the needs of both simple and advanced usage of Mechs by agents, ensuring fair pricing for the complexity of tools and reasoning used. This means Smart Subscriptions could help Valory develop scalable pricing models for autonomous agents, which is particularly important given they believe Artificial General Intelligence will likely be agentic.

Don’t forget the insights

An additional benefit that AI Builders get when using Nevermined’s Smart Subscriptions is access to reporting and analytics. Reporting and Analytics are almost universally overlooked when developing this type of solution. This “afterthought”, however, often becomes a crucial component for successful applications. This is because understanding what is being used, and focusing on that usage while deprecating other, less used components or solutions, helps reduce distraction and focus on what’s successful. The result is greater user satisfaction and higher rates of engagement.

So we made sure Insights weren’t an afterthought. Through the Nevermined dashboard, Builders can see how users are interacting with their app, which can then help optimize their AIs to meet specific needs or fine-tune pricing strategies.

So What?

As you can see, the complexity of AI payments range from the relatively simple (i.e. pay me for one month) to complex (pay Mechs for some orchestrated services). Existing solutions like Stripe unfortunately only cover the transactional nature of payments. This leaves AI Builders of all skill levels to their own devices in managing user usage. Building a system of unit accounting that scales payments to multiple Builder use cases will help unlock the power of AI-commerce for Builders and consumers alike. 

By doing so, we can unlock a future of Trillions of AIs transacting with one another, as well as humans. And this will change the face of commerce as we know it. Because AI-commerce ≠ E-Commerce.