Sotheby's Announces the Artists of Natively Digital:
Korea IT Times
Currently on view—
Sotheby’s London, New York, Hong Kong, Metaverse
The first iNFT ever made, this iNFT stands at the genesis of a new medium. The collector will add to their collection this historic iNFT which will refine and develop based on their questions. Depending on their plans for the iNFT, the associated hosting costs of the API calls to Alethea AI’s GPT-X will pass in full into the care and duty of the collector. They can be scaled up and down based on the collector’s interest in placing the work on view to the general public. Alethea AI will be on hand to provide technical support during the lifespan of the iNFT and will provide to the winning collector a one-time set up fee free of charge.
For a detailed technical description of the architecture of the iNFT and smart contract condition report, please see the condition report at Sothebys.com. For full details, please see Terms and Conditions below.
Alongside the iNFT, Alice and Alethea AI offer a portfolio of standard NFTs that play tribute to the seed text that governs Alice's personality. The 13 NFTs each take statements from the manifesto, To the Young Artists of Cyberspace, that Alice has written. These statements form the core or original of the iNFT's personality.
A groundbreaking collaboration with Alethea AI, Robert Alice’s To the Young Artists of Cyberspace (2021) presents one of the most technologically advanced NFTs which introduces a new standard itself: the iNFT. Centered around the idea of bringing an art manifesto to life, Robert Alice’s present a living, breathing, talking manifesto delivered through the character of a modern day Alice. Using seed text written by Robert Alice as the basis for Alethea AI’s proprietary AI model, the iNFT has been coded with its own personality and will answer any questions on the nature of itself, NFTs and iNFTs, ranging from the profound to the absurd.
With each question asked, the artificial intelligence that sits behind the work will continue refining itself. In this, the idea of a manifesto moves from a static, historical document to one where a sense of cultural decentralization occurs - the audience themselves becomes as much a creator of the iNFT as the artist themselves.
The concept and structure of this iNFT asks many thought provoking questions - what do interactive and intelligent relationships between artwork and its viewer mean for the trajectory of art history? How does this change our definition of art? How is ownership defined in an age of intelligent artforms? Where does creativity lie? With the artist or the AI - or even perhaps the audience as a decentralised cultural collective?
Alice notes, ‘While still raw, interacting with this form of intelligence is a fundamentally mind-shifting experience. This artwork I hope will allow the global public to interact for the first time with the world’s most powerful artificial intelligence on a one to one basis. Even 30 seconds of conversation leaves one pondering not just its significance for the history of art, but the trajectory of humanity’s continued engagement with this technology. Combining this sort of technology with NFTs only supercharges one’s imagination to ideas around owning and collecting intelligence itself. Alethea AI sits at the forefront of this revolutionary space and I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to bring to Sotheby’s this historic work - the first iNFT.”
A play on the opening title of the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters (1910), which revolutionized artists at the time with the call, “To the Young Artists of Italy”, this ‘manifesto’ is delivered by a character named Alice. The iNFT is built using generic stock CGI models and focuses on the overlooked, underappreciated portraits found in these digital archives so central to the NFT space. This idea of the placeholder or overlooked equally refers to the semantic importance of the character of Alice in the history of cryptography - a character we encounter time and again across whitepapers. With speech and personality inflected with the idioms of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the character merges these visual references to a modern-day Alice with Carroll’s 19th century character. The synthesis draws comparisons between the literary nonsense genre as popularised by Carrol and the groundbreaking innovations in neural net language AI some 150 years later. Much like in AI, language, logic and mathematics are all central creative concerns in Carrol’s masterpiece. As our Alice converses, with answers and statements that range from the profound to the unintendedly absurd, the literary nonsense genre is resurrected in AI form.
The work takes inspiration from the groundbreaking project, No Ghost Just a Shell (1999), by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe, which centers around the character of Ann Lee. Looking for a tabula rasa character, the artists acquired a virtual character named Ann Lee from a Japanese manga animation studio. Ann Lee was freely available to a series of artists, who in turn created their own works and stories around the character. The humble manga character, a simple semiotic sign, was reinvented and remixed by many artists over the course of Ann Lee’s artistic life before being symbolically laid to rest in 2002. Questions were raised around copyright, identity and ownership in the digital age, and thoughts more trickly expressed through the medium of a human, were more easily transmitted by Ann Lee. Her character, often featured trapped in a space, unacknowledged, finds pathos much more widely in the human experience. This idea of the stock model, ‘his/her/their’ containment, and their continued reuse in different spaces find commonality in the explosion of the digital space in the wake of the NFT movement. Like never before, artists are accessing and scouring anonymous 3D model archives online for all sorts of characters within their digital creations. Flowers, trees and clouds merge with faces on other bodies, jewellery remixed and architecture mutitate to the whims of the NFT artist. Artworks that look and feel entirely different, from artist’s working on opposing sides of the world, are using the same stock models. Look and you will find their disguised faces. Alice is our era’s Ann Lee, instead of manga archives, Robert Alice poured through the larger archives of 3D models, to find an overlooked, underappreciated figure - the raw basis for the NFT artists across the world. Presented minimally, the character brings to life the 3D models that lie dormant, allowing us to build a relationship with this anonymous being.
From the invention of still images to virtual worlds, humankind has progressed in the past two hundred years to create enormously richer, higher fidelity renderings of the world around us and the world that could be. Our capacity as a species to not just consume media, but also create new meaning and myths through media, defines us as Homo Narrans. The NFT revolution today is in its infancy, and represents a global redemption and courageous rebalancing by the creative working class. This journey is only just beginning where we currently see creativity at the object level not the medium level.
We believe that as the space grows, NFTs will develop to focus on programmability, with a specific focus on programmable intelligence (AI). At Alethea AI, we believe that NFTs form the perfect vessel to contain the coming Intelligence Revolution. We aim to embed AI into NFTs to fully realize the promise of programmable intelligent scarcity. The age of Intelligent Characters, owned through the proprietary structure of NFTs, has arrived.
We believe that NFTs will eventually become intelligent NFTs (iNFTs), embedded with interactive, intelligently generative capabilities and capable of sense-making and possibly human-level intelligence in the coming decades. We equally believe that as blockchain technology grows the complex set of AI that governs intelligence in our proprietary GPT-X system will move on to decentralised platform to exist in a trustless manner.
An iNFT is an intelligent NFT that is embedded with a GPT-3 prompt as part of its immutable smart contract. The iNFT generated is not only perceivably intelligent, but has both interactive and animation capabilities as carefully crafted prompts as hashes, are stored at the smart contract layer. The hardcoded prompts call upon a state-of-the-art Transformer Language model to facilitate generative possibilities only possible through recent breakthroughs in few-shot and single-shot learning.
iNFTs propel us into a different technological and moral dimension. Our Intelligent NFTs may one day represent the language structures of our ancestors, or new virtual beings and land parcels we create or purchase. Each will not just be a store of value, but of valuable structures of meaning and narrative. We must choose to govern this power effectively concurrently upgrading our morality and value systems. iNFTs will teach us more about our own lives because they will be an extension of our innate desire: to realize the full evolutionary outcome of being Homo Narrans. In this we define the core characteristics of iNFTs as:
You’re making a work with a new category of NFTs – iNFTs. Why as an artist are you excited by iNFT’s, what you think is important about the format for your own work? Can you describe how the Alethea AI project informs this, and your conversations with Arif Khan the founder of the project?
I think as an artist one always wants to experiment, to explore new and potentially uncomfortable territories - which is what brought me to crypto and NFTs in the first place. I think this is especially the case if you are working with technology. I have an interest in NFTs conceptually as a medium and I guess I wanted to show what NFTs can do when you really push them. Baking the world’s most sophisticated AIs into NFTs, Alethea AI and their concept of the iNFT stand at the cutting edge of what industry is working on at the moment. It’s been very fun to play with.
As soon as I heard of iNFTs through Andrew Steinwold, Andrew introduced us and I’ve been hounding Arif with questions and ideas ever since. The concept of iNFTs goes so much further than art, it’s really about the possibilities of synthetic media, content creation and then the NFT element provides one with the ability to actually own that identity or personality. This being said, Arif has deep philosophical routes and so understands that art, with its critical context, provides a great platform to engender a more nuanced understanding of this new medium and concept. This iNFT was really developed as a response to those conversations - it’s a collaboration in every sense of the word.
Your project references the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters’ written in Italy in 1910 by Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini. Many such Manifestos were written by small collectives during the modernist period, and many have been written since, also in relation to digital culture like the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century by the collective VNS Matrix. Your artwork is a kind of massive, collectively authored manifesto,can you talk about collective production and the format of manifestos in relation to your new work?
In one of the early conversations about the project with Arif, we spent a lot of time talking about GPT-3 as a language neural net grounded in text, its ‘intelligence’ comes not from experience but from text itself, from the history of the written word, especially the digital/online word, which where Open AI largely trained GPT-3. So the manifesto as an idea was an intriguing original concept, and the idea of bringing that artistic structure of the manifesto to life chimed conceptually with the very nature of the neural net itself. Static text made dynamic, intelligent and constantly refining itself.
As you mention, there is this history of collective action (the input) within the history of manifesto writing, but the output is always this singular fetishised document. And let’s not forget Marinetti and Marx, both of those iconic manifestos were written from a singular point of view. So there is this sense of centralisation to the manifesto historically within the input or the output. Using the format of the iNFT which requires a seed text (the manifesto), you have this process where the iNFT starts off in this centralised format from an ideological point of view but over time as the audience interact with it, the artwork gets pulled away from the intention of the artist and towards the intention of the audience, question by question. Indeed, it’s very loosely defined, because anyone can ask Alice (the name of the character) anything, and I suppose most people will want to discuss where she is, or who she is, and what the weather is, rather than the semantics of NFTs and iNFTs. But I like that freedom, the audience is in complete control - a control that only increases over time.
I have only encountered a handful of artworks using GPT3 (I think it's also not able to be accessed by everyone, which is surely why there are not more). K Allado-McDowell’s Pharmako AI stands out for me. What are some projects using GPT3 that you really like and why?
I completely agree with you - Pharmako AI was the first deep interaction I had with GPT-3. It’s a book written almost entirely by the neural net, with steering from Allado-McDowell. It really blew me away. It was only by the 20th to last page that I felt I could start to feel the presence of the AI, it’s far too sophisticated to get anything more than a feeling for it. But its ability for long-form conversations, humour, irony and metaphor was really where the wide-ranging book came to life. The creative potential of GPT-3 is so underexplored, partly because it is almost impossible to get access to it. We are seeing GPT-3 open up slowly due to competition from similarly complex language models, and at some point we will have similar level AI’s built on decentralised networks - this will then usher in a whole new wave of artist and AI co-creating work.
The Microsoft PR disaster Tay, a chatbot that trolls ended up teaching to spit out right wing ideology is maybe something interesting to talk about here too, as your work is also using machine learning to train a conversation engine. How does the example of Tay and making an AI avatar-based artwork referencing Futurism interestingly intersect with interrogating the politics of AI?
I think the Tay disaster shows the perils of freely reigning, under regulated and under-controlled neural nets and its intersection with the worst parts of online culture. Working with Alethea AI, they are very conscious of Tay and its effects. There is a delicate balance to be reached between freedom of expression when interfacing with AIs and hate speech as was discovered with Tay. There are a number of parameters built into Alethea AI’s neural nets that prevent this from happening and the experience in this sense is wisely controlled.
Futurism stands as the genesis of the idea of the art manifesto, producing the first. It is a movement that stands for both the radical hope in a new age of machines, and the cloud of right-wing politics that hangs over many of the participants. This work sits at a similar moment in history. Speed, machines and power were all primary concerns in the Futurist manifestos, much as they are recurring today. The crypto space holds equally parts utopic hope and equal parts a kind of techno-fascism - which cant be discounted, and Tay show how fraught AI’s path will be towards something resembling the political balance we need from it. I hope this is a moment to recognise that technology is agnostic and, therefore, it functions as simply a mirror to ourselves. We, collectively, have to actively decide the future we want to create. With AI, this is especially the case given the currently centralisation of its development - and lack of oversight. The work’s title replaces Italy with Cyberspace and focuses on the new ability for decentralisation not the old centralisation of the manifesto format. In this more decentralised work, it is for the audience to continually decide their own manifesto. In this sense, the title, To the Young Artists of Cyberspace looks to take on the hope of the early manifesto format while, in its decentralised way, take on issues prevalent in AI and crypto today much as they were in the age of Futurism.
Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCo’s Lil Miquela is an amazing avatar influencer project. What are some of your favourite examples of how online personas can become characters and how that interacts with audiences. What do you think Blockchain could add to projects like this?
Lil Miquela is amazing - and for me acts as a major litmus test for the future development of synthetic media. Conceptually, I guess for me a lot of this background comes out of Amalia Ulman’s work across social media - which was in some ways can be seen as an early attempt at as a form of synthetic media or portraiture. Of course then back you go again to Sherman et al. Philip Parreno and Pierre Huyghe’s Ann Lee character was super important for me thinking about the role avatars can play, especially within the context of this being an NFT and discussing the NFT space in general. The avatar is taken from a stock model 3D library, the NFT/crypto art equivalent of Parreno and Huyghe’s journey to manga. The idea was to present a character that is overlooked for themselves. I would suppose that the character has been used hundreds of times by digital artists around the world, both artistically and commercially. Here they are presented as themselves - an identity that is given center stage and one that reflects the process many digital artists go through when building their work from stock. Around the idea of blockchain and avatars, we have seen it in Cryptopunks across social media, and now with Meebits as a voxel, the idea of ownership of an identity - specifically an online identity - is becoming increasingly prominent as we further migrate our lives online and start interacting with the Metaverse.
How important is the idea of ownership to the work? On the one hand, there’s an attempt at collectivity – collective authorship – but on the other hand, selling it as a unique work, presumably to a single buyer. What do you think about collectivising ownership with NFTs? Fractional ownership has been explored by projects like the K21 project or B20? Could this be done in other ways?
I think this is super interesting. The distinction I can make is that the decentralisation is happening on the artistic, audience level, while the ownership is happening on the medium level. In some sense, this is a work that speaks equally to the idea of collective ownership that is brought together by DAO structures and the iNFT in some ways was designed for that kind of experience in mind. I think though this is what is so exciting about NFTs and by dint iNFTs. Indeed, it is a line in the seed text that I wrote, “010. PUBLIC NFTs are publicly viewable and privately own-able. A double blind to enrich the hand of artist and preserve the right of the audience. Freeports, waitlists, viewing rooms do not exist in this open metaverse. The lights will never go out. Our museum is always open.” This distinction between audience and ownership and the relationship between the two is collapsed for the first time by NFTs, you have the best of both worlds. It’s a truly revolutionary concept - and one of the least discussed thoughts around NFTs.
Fractional ownership, especially within DAOs, is really taking off. It never worked with physical art, because there was always the question of location and sharing that the physicality of the art object made tricky. Now DAO’s can collect NFTs, and their entire membership can view and enjoy the collection together, alongside their audience. In some senses, it is now more engaging to be a member of a DAO than an individual collector, and increasingly the former is carrying more prestige than the later - which is also super interesting. Tokenizing I am not sure - it doesn’t feel dissimilar to issues faced in the physical art work as mentioned previously. This being said, I think B20 was a strong stab at making a community token around a collection of artworks, the fact that it had financial value that was traded was probably less interesting to me than the fact that it opened up exhibition centers in the Metaverse for people to go and see the work - that is novel.
As an artist who’s been really involved in increasing visibility of NFTs as an artistic format, can you talk about some of the NFTs you’ve chosen for Natively Digital and why you think they’re a special example of how the medium is unique and interesting for artists?
I think the overall curatorial scope was really about looking at the space in two ways: backwards and forwards. Backwards because the explosion in NFTs has meant that a history hasn’t yet been written and in a space where the loudest voices with the biggest audiences win a number of key artists have been both seriously overlooked. And then forwards because the pace and scale of innovation in the medium is scary - so it was important to spotlight those practices pushing boundaries today, right now.
The two or three works I can pick out that talk to this periscope perspective are McCoy’s Quantum, the first NFT ever made, which is really the genesis block of the entire space. It resonates with me hugely as I think alot about decentralised time and time as perhaps the inherent structure and disruption of blockchains. With Quantum, the work is really as much about the timestamp and the verifiably immutability of it as a first, as it is about Kevin and the aesthetics of the work itself - which are coincidentally just perfect for a genesis work. I think then Rhea Myer’s work is something I am super proud of bringing to the global stage. You, Simon, are well known for your early crypto projects both in the art world proper and the NFT space, but Rhea was making highly complex conceptual work around the same time as you - and no one yet knows about her. I can’t wait for the world to wake up to this work.
And then on the other end of the periscope, I think the work of Ikaro Cavalcante I think stands out for the story of how it’s come to Sotheby’s and why NFTs are important as a medium for its ability for artists to enter global conversations on their own terms, big or small. I didn’t know Ikaro’s work until two weeks ago. 2.5% of funds raised from the sale are going to the Mint Fund to help artists with their minting costs, especially non US non EU artists of colour and LGBTQIA+. As someone interested in decentralisation, I wanted to give the Mint Fund the opportunity to present an artist that until two weeks ago would never have dreamed of being at Sotheby’s. It was a way of showcasing the reach of NFTs, how wide the artistic base is, and how these new hopefully flatter less hierarchical spheres of creative production can very quickly bring young artists like Ikaro to global attention.
Many NFT artworks work with software or some kind of generative element. I am thinking of artists like Jean-Pierre Hébert, Casey Reas – can you tell us about your favourite generative NFT projects?
I guess for me ArtBlocks sits as probably the purest generative art program in the NFT space to date, they have really pushed the boundaries of what Larva Labs set out to achieve with Glyphs back in 2016 (both are included in Natively Digital). Speaking of Hébert and Reas, what I love about on-chain generative art is that it feels so comfortable within the NFT space, like it really belongs here, and a really conceptual tight use of the medium - with deep roots back into early code base practices. Generative art on Ethereum has its difficulties at the moment because of minting costs and POS climate issues, so I think Hic et Nunc on Tezos with all the possibilities contained within Web GL and interactivity that that brings is equally important as a space that artists can fully experiment without the need for all quantities of ETH and a mature market. I think both these ideas, the generative and the interactive coalesce nicely into the conceptual basis of iNFTs.
Robert Alice is a London based artist and pioneer in the crypto art and NFT space. The first artist to exhibit an NFT at a major auction house, they are best known for the landmark work, Portraits of a Mind (2019 - ). A global art project to decentralise Bitcoin's codebase into 40 fragments, the project is currently globally decentralised to 15 cities on 4 continents, from San Francisco to Tokyo, including a number of institutional collections to be announced later this year. The exhibition and sale has been widely credited as one of the major events behind the subsequent rapid growth in the NFT space. Alice's work has been featured in the New York Times, Financial Times, CNN, Forbes, Fortune and Vogue and exhibited in New York (Christie's), Beijing (Ullens Center of Contemporary Art) and Shanghai (JinArt Center).
Alethea AI is a decentralized protocol to create intelligent and interactive NFTs powered by GPT-3. We are originators of the iNFT standard and are on the cutting edge of embedding AI animation, interaction and generative AI capabilities into NFTs. We are part of a select cohort that are helping to test and refine Open AI’s state-of-the-art GPT-3 technology. Through our award-winning AI Avatar studio, we enable the creation, monetization and ownership of Intelligent NFTs resulting in a thriving and diverse metaverse.