Thomas MacaulaySenior reporter
Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy. Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.
The NFT art market has exploded in recent months, bagging unheralded artists and popstars eye-watering sums for their creations. But it’s not only humans who are cashing in on the craze.
On Thursday, an NFT artwork co-created by Sophia the robot snatched almost $700,000 at an auction in Hong Kong. The winning bidder took home a 12-second MP4 file showing how the work evolved, as well as a physical “self-portrait” of the humanoid.
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A number of other digital artworks were sold at the auction. Each was linked to a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital certificate of ownership secured by blockchain tech.
[Read: How to use AI to better serve your customers]
The images were created alongside Andrea Bonaceto, an artist and partner at blockchain investment firm Eterna Capital, who’s best-known for his vectorial portraits of celebrities like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey.
“We wanted to explore the possibility for humans and robots to collaborate not only on operational tasks but also on creative efforts,” Bonaceto told TNW before the auction.
Their partnership began with Bonaceto creating a portrait of Sophia. The robot then took photos of the image and applied computer vision to analyze the face and forms. Next, transformer neural networks generated new imprints to the design for Sophia’s robotic arm to paint.
The final step added input from the winning bidder, a mysterious digital artist who goes by the name 888.
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Once the auction ended, 888 shared a hand-painted image that was fused into the final painting through a few of Sophia’s brushstrokes.
“A hand and an arm packed with color and gesture,” said Sophia’s creator, David Hanson. “It’s 888’s choice of image meeting Sophia’s choice of image.”
I want to thank the universe so much for allowing me win the auction and actually collaborate with @RealSophiaRobot
The fact she used my painting to finish her piece is beyond anything I could ever wish for✨
I can’t quite get over what just happened ✨ https://t.co/sG7ysibu7W
— ✨888✨ (@Crypto888crypto) March 24, 2021
Little is known of 888, but their Twitter account suggests they’re racking up a serious collection of NFT artwork. They also clearly have a proclivity for the lucky number eight; they splashed out $688,000 on Sophia’s creation, and previously bid $88,888.88 for an NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first-ever tweet.
The NFT artwork boom
The market for NFT artworks has erupted in 2021. Earlier this month, a graphic designer who goes by the name of Beeple sold a digital image with an NFT for a whopping $69.3 million, the third most expensive sale ever of a living artist, after works by David Hockney and Jeff Koons. The opening bid for Beeple’s collage of 5,000 images was a mere $100.
— beeple (@beeple) March 11, 2021
The winning bidder didn’t actually receive the artwork. Instead, all they got was a digital file and proof of ownership.
An NFT owner will normally receive some basic usage rights, the knowledge that their purchase is unique, and a connection with the artist they’re supporting. But it’s a risky investment if they’re hoping to later sell the works for a profit. Even Beeble thinks the market is in a bubble.
Sophia’s creators, however, are only just getting started. A solo exhibition of the robot’s artworks will open at the LA’s IV Gallery later this year.
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