Ethics in AI art, Otherside's outsized outing, and why Minecraft hates NFTs (Issue #31)
If you want something done right... don't bet on Microsoft.
It was a very good week Yuga Labs, AI artists, and Nickelodeon… and a very bad one for NFT Worlds and Coinbase. But then, that’s life, isn’t it? One degen’s practical joke gone wrong is another’s 100 ETH gain. In the words of the thespian, bearded traveller, and dad-joke-maker Russell Crowe, “Are you not entertained?”
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Right, let’s get straight into it!
The founder of the world’s most boring social network (LinkedIn) and coiner of the awful term “blitzscaling,” Reid Hoffman, is releasing a collection of NFTs on Solana created using DALL•E 2, the artificial intelligence-powered tool that can create images from natural language prompts in various artistic styles — like “Nosferatu in Rupaul's Drag Race” (hilarious) or “A still of Homer Simpson in The Blair Witch Project” (disturbing).
You’ve probably seen some examples online in recent months while the service has been in closed beta. Well, DALL·E 2 is expanding the beta to a million people (is that still a “beta”?), and while it previously blocked commercial use of its output, that’s no longer the case (including for images created under the previous guidelines), so Hoffman is totally within his rights to blitzscale a go-to-market strategy with them. Perhaps in an effort to pacify those calling it a “cash grab” or perhaps because he’s already obscenely wealthy, Hoffman is giving 50% of the takings to charity, and the other 50% to his team who helped with the project. But should he be minting NFTs of AI art at all?
Using a prompt, which can include style descriptors (like “in the style of Picasso”) DALL·E 2 spits out multiple images rather than just one. The user can then opt to run the algorithm again, this time giving heavier weighing to certain traits from the original outputs so that future outputs are further refined. Are Hoffman’s prompts and subsequent selections “art”? Well, as with all such questions, the market will decide. But as usual, Twitter has views.
Some people think AI art is cheating, that it’s devoid of substance, and that it’s a travesty. Some also argue Open AI (the company behind it, which Hoffman backs and where he’s a board member 👀) should get any proceeds from commercial use. Others think AI is the natural progression of digital art, no threat to “real” artists, an irrelevant sideshow… or some combination of the above.
We’d argue Hoffman using AI to create art is no different from Damien Hirst or other artists getting their assistants to create artwork from their instructions... which is common practice, especially at large studios. It’s also not that different from “Readymade” found objects of the Dadaists where selection and context imbues meaning.
What’s going to change is how AI is used to create art. In the early days of photography you could take a photograph of almost anything and it was inherently interesting because the medium was new and its outputs were rare (ditto the halcyon pre-Facebook days of Instagram). But today digital cameras are ubiquitous and affordable, so taking photographs is easier than ever, but making art with a camera is getting harder as the world becomes more saturated with imagery and truly innovative uses of the medium become more elusive.
Similarly, as AI-assisted art moves from the realm of novelty to the quotidian, standing out with it is going to require artistry. Whether that’s creating the sorts of prompts that produce outputs that push the limits of the medium and continue to surprise and delight, or using AI as part of the creative process, rather than the whole process in and of itself, the AI alone will not be enough.
The creators of DALL·E 2 seem to have the same thing in mind. Announcing the move to the expand the beta, Open AI says, “DALL·E allows users to create quickly and easily, and artists and creative professionals are using DALL·E to inspire and accelerate their creative processes.”
Are you not inspired?
“What DALL-E 2 can and cannot do” from LessWrong.
How Open AI thinks about guardrails and mitigating harmful content.
Dr. Ivona Tau discusses AI/GAN art on the podcast Waiting to be Signed.
🪐 The Times they are a-changin’ 🧑🚀
Probably nothing 🤔
Fortnite for simian degens is a go 🙊
Yuga Labs, the company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, hosted a demo of its Otherside metaverse-in-progress last weekend. More than 4,300 holders of “Otherdeed” NFTs were able to participate using nothing more than their web browsers, and the results were utterly chaotic… and wildly impressive.
Attendees (dubbed “Voyagers”) were generally not only pleased with the demo, they were elated, and they gave Yuga plenty of free PR by sharing screen recordings like the one above to their social media channels.
Yuga in turn rewarded Voyagers with a proof of attendance token of sorts, which it’ll do for all future demos… making it appealing for those feeling FOMO to buy into the project so they, too, can play in the Otherside (and share their experience to social media, obvs).
RTFKT gets it wings clipped 🦋
This week we learned that just because you got acquired by Nike doesn’t mean all of your future endeavors are going to be hassle-free. RTFKT yesterday began letting holders of some of its previous projects mint a virtual hoodie with wings for ~$320, which will also entitle them to an actual hoodie (without actual wings)… but the process went poorly, to say the least.
The inventory system (called Moralis) that checked to see if participants held an eligible NFT got overloaded which saw some people stuck in a digital queue but unable to mint. RTFKT then started encouraging people to mint directly from the smart contract, but that led to opportunists and scammers posting fake links and many people being scammed. Still… wings are cool. We’d like to see more of that, please, but maybe without the headaches or the $300+ price tag. Thanks.
Dubai has a plan 🏝
Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum this week announced something called the “Dubai Metaverse Strategy” which is light on specifics but seems heavy on (top down) goals. The aim is to create 40,000 new jobs and add $4 billion to Dubai’s GDP in five years.
How exactly that’s going to work isn’t clear yet, but there’s a focus on education, training, and making Dubai an attractive place for web3 creators or businesses. Dubai is no stranger to cryptocurrencies and the fields that overlap with them and has already created a crypto-friendly business environment that’s attracted the likes of Binance, FTX, and Crypto.com to either set up shop there or commit to doing so soon.
Bag boosters 💰
The week that was (July 15 - 22, 2022) 🗓
CryptoPunks absolutely dominated NFT sales over the last week by volume, with Otherdeeds managing to secure second spot, and Moonbirds Oddities seeing renewed attention on the back of its artwork reveal. The most notable entry from our perspective was Factura by Mathias Isaksen, a generative art collection the market loved… and which we did too (more on that below).
🤦 Muck about, find out 💰
(For added insult atop significant financial injury, the person behind Franklin’s misfortune has absolutely zero chill — but undeniable style).
Microsoft takes the pickaxe to NFTs ⛏
If you think you’ve had a tough week, spare a thought for NFT Worlds, an NFT project selling parcels of virtual land that can be used on a custom Minecraft server. This week, Microsoft — which annexed Minecraft’s creator Mojang Studios in 2014 — issued an edict banning all NFT-related services from Minecraft (and prohibiting the use of Minecraft imagery in NFT projects). There’s no deadline for when the iron curtain will descend, but unsurprisingly, NFT Worlds’ floor price plummeted from around 3 ETH (~$4,500) to 1 ETH (~$1,500) when the news broke.
In a post shared to Discord (and then on Twitter), the project’s founders outlined three potential solutions: pivoting NFT Worlds, acquiring a gaming company with a Minecraft-like product that can be repurposed, or building a game itself. Whatever it opts to do, as Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz pointed out, this is “why you shouldn’t build on corporate-owned (web2) networks. They change the rules on developers on a whim.”
Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, meanwhile took the opportunity to announce it “definitely won’t” ban NFTs.
Cobie 1: Coinbase 0 🕵️
Coinbase announced it had cottoned onto some insider trading/frontrunning of new token listings and it looks like Crypto-Twitter celeb Cobie was to thank for it. The good thing about blockchains is people with sufficient interest (like Cobie) can track down dodgy wallets doing nefarious things. The bad news is, Coinbase should be doing so itself… but clearly hasn’t been.
Cobie says various “powerful crypto industry people” have asked him not to talk about Coinbase’s longstanding problems because it’ll invite more regulatory scrutiny and isn’t good for the industry. But as Cobie points out, “The problem is not my tweets, the problem is Coinbase.” Uncomfortable facts ≠ FUD.
To the moon 🌜
Nickelodeon launched an NFT collection of packs of collectible virtual cards featuring a dozen of its most memorable characters and varying degrees of attribute rarity. And yes, there’s a slime component.
Polygon and others launched zkEVM solutions, which aim to reduce the cost of Ethereum transactions, and thus NFT projects.
The United States Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued new policy guidelines for NFTs.
Holders of the “The Currency” NFTs from the aforementioned Damien Hirst have less than five days left to decide whether to burn their NFTs for physical artworks or hang onto their digital pieces instead.
The owner of Amazon.eth has studiously ignored an offer of ~$1 million for it. Or perhaps they simply didn’t notice it.
Meanwhile, former Amazon exec turned metaverse swami, Matthew Ball, released a book entitled “The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything,” and said NFTs and crypto are essential for an open metaverse.
🪡 Thread of the week 🧵
Bedtime reading 📚
Game7 interviewed over 100 leading game developers building web3 games. It turned its findings into a report where it outlining the key findings, which include the importance of chain selection, the virtues (and vices) of on-chain and off-chain mechanics, and why most NFT marketplaces suck for game makers.
Goats only 🐐
Whether you had most of your net worth in NFT Worlds or you always worried Minecraft might pull the plug, you should be watching or listening to Goats and the Metaverse.
In each episode, collectibles OG and entrepreneur Stan “The Goat” Meytin and Metaversal co-founder and CEO Yossi Hasson talk about digital and IRL collectibles, NFTs, and the week’s news worth knowing. This week, Stan’s flying solo while Yossi’s on vacation, and he’s taking a deep-dive into the Otherside demo… and wondering if the signs of life in the price of ETH mean the bull market is over? He also takes a look at Nickelodeon’s NFT drop and considers the power of combining nostalgia and storytelling.
Check out the latest episode here:
Aside from providing invaluable insights into digital art and collectibles, Stan and Yossi are also putting together a collection of NFTs dubbed “The Goat Vault.” When the show hits 5,000 subscribers on YouTube, one of those lucky subscribers will win the contents of the vault which — at last count — was valued at over 14.2 ETH ($22,500).
Money <> mouth 💸
Each week we offer you a look at an NFT project we’ve invested in and the motivation behind it. This week we’re looking at “Factura #13” by Mathias Isaksen.
“Factura” is Isaksen’s first major NFT collection, but he’s been making generative art since July 2020 and has previously dropped 1/1s on Foundation. The “Factura” drop happened on GM.Studio, a relative newcomer to the space that describes itself as “a generative art platform by artists, for artists.”
We love the range of geometry and palettes in “Factura” and the incredibly diverse outputs in the series (which comprises 999 editions). To see more of our collection, and our thoughts on it, check out the thread below:
Until next time, see you in the Metaverse.