Digital Workbooks Gold – Editing

Robbie Barratt is a researcher and artist in artificial intelligence. His works harness the power of neural networks and question the creativity of machines. Naturally, he soon became interested in “NFTs”: this technology allows digital objects to be bought and sold — virtual artwork, collections, images, sounds, and other items — in a decentralized and secure manner. Early in 2018, he teamed up with Christie’s, a popular auction company, to offer 300 gift cards to event participants, allowing them to collect exclusive NFTs from the artist. Problem: The majority of attendees had no idea what an NFT was. Only a dozen of them finally claimed their due and the other works may have been lost (the card code was not used). The Lost Rubies has become a popular tale among digital artists, as a symbol of the traditional art world’s inability to care about the digital revolution.

Three years later, the popularity of NFT spread and took over the art world. French startup Sorare, which is developing an online soccer game doped with NFTs, has just received $680 million (about €580 million). This is the largest fundraising ever by a French startup. But as you fantasize about the NFTs, Robbie Barratt has given up on everything. “I don’t want to do more non-financial testing until the environmental and speculative issues are settledwrote on his Twitter account, in April. Nobody talks about my business except to discuss their prices […]. It’s as if my work is no longer art.” This crisis of faith is a good example of the fears this burgeoning market is causing. Some people see in NFTs the future of art or intellectual property and, more generally, new technological frontiers that must be crossed. Others criticize the absurd, even dangerous speculative race for the planet and society.

Contemporary art and “filth”

NFT is an abbreviation for non-replaceable code, Or an irreplaceable symbol in good French. Concretely, it is a data file that represents a digital object, stored on a “blockchain”, a decentralized and secure information storage and distribution network. Unlike crypto assets, such as bitcoin for example, NFT is unique. It cannot be exchanged for another, while one bitcoin is equal to another bitcoin. This exclusivity encourages transactions. With Authenticity: With some exceptions, when you buy an NFT, you actually get data to prove you own it, not the same thing. If you’re the proud owner of Nyan Cat – a popular online video of a 2D cat running in space, NFT sold for $500,000 – nothing will stop people from continuing. To share a gif of happy cats.

Even if NFTs are intrinsically linked to cryptocurrencies (most of the time, they are bought via the Ethereum blockchain, with its own means of payment, “ether”), experts in the sector, though familiar with the cryptocurrency pool, are somewhat overwhelmed. through their success. “We are currently seeing a purely speculative race, Gregory Gittard, Publishing Director of local newspaper French-speaking media specializing in cryptocurrency. It’s up to whoever can find the least known, oldest or most ridiculous project, which could be in danger of exploding in a few months. Because although NFTs have been in circulation for several years, their popularity has already spread in 2021. They first developed in the contemporary art world, leading to recording transactions, such as Every day: the first 5,000 days, A work by Pebble sold at Christie’s for 69.3 million dollars (about 59.2 million euros). But NFTs are also practiced by an audience more accustomed to the culture of “shitpost” (ridiculous jokes on the Internet) than the relaxed atmosphere of auction rooms. Watch, for example, the recent success of NFT avatars, images with various themes (polka dot evil faces, cute cats, etc.) being collected and exchanged, sometimes in very large amounts. Between Philatelic 2.0, Financial Investment, and Claiming Identity. Then the avatar becomes a badge of belonging to the community, which is proudly displayed on its social networks. Even if, as with artwork, the contemplative aspect is never far away. At the end of August, Visa purchased CryptoPunk, especially the popular Avatars, for about 130,000 euros, to add to its collection. “Artifacts That Marked the History of Money and Commerce”.

NFTs are also making significant inroads into the entertainment sector, such as music (Booba just announced the upcoming release of a new song). ‘EXCLUSIVELY AVAILABLE’ in NFT)Or video games or sports. At Sorare, the start-up that has raised record money, you can form fake soccer teams by buying virtual cards that represent real players, then score points based on their real performance. Even if it is possible to play without NFT (with a bank card or even without spending money), it is clear that Sorare has benefited from investors’ appetite for this new technology. “We soon had the conviction that the specific characteristics of NFTs [rareté digitale, traçabilité…, ndlr] It will lead to a technological change that has the same impact on our lives as the arrival of the Internet or the smartphone.”says Nicholas Julia, co-founder and CEO of Sorare.

Environmental and ethical debates

However, the sudden rise of the NFT market raises serious questions. The first, and most sensitive, is the environmental impact. NFTs are, in essence, energy-intensive. Many of them are based on the Ethereum blockchain. The latter is based on the “Proof of Work” (literally Proof of Work) system, which ensures the security of transactions. Every exchange must be validated by other network users, called miners, whose computers solve very complex formulas in order to achieve this authentication. It is this mining activity that consumes a lot of energy. This problem is not specific to NFTs: any blockchain-based activity with “Proof of Work” is involved. Cambridge University estimates that creating and spending bitcoins over the course of a year consumes more electricity than Finland. This represents about 0.45% of the annual global expenditure on electricity.

However, it is very difficult to calculate the carbon footprint of blockchain-based activities, or NFTs, due to the opacity of miner activity. We don’t generally know their exact electricity consumption, and what kind of resources (renewable or not) they use. But the environment remains an important point of tension, and an endless source of conflict between professionals and opponents of NFT. Therefore, some players in the sector are trying to respond to this problem. Many blockchains (Flow, Tezos) prefer the “Proof of Stake” method of authenticating their exchanges, which is less power intensive. The Ethereum Foundation also announced that it intends to switch to this system. This process may take some time. The stakes are high, including for NFT owners: if actions go wrong, some tokens may simply be lost, making them inaccessible on the blockchain.

The debate over NFTs is also moral, even philosophical. Should a GIF of Pepe the Frog (the famous Internet meme) shaking his ass sell for $9 million? Proponents of NFT will answer that it is the principle of any group: it is the market that decides, and the people who buy these things have free time to believe in their value or not. This year, for example, has seen an explosion of speculation about Pokemon cards. So why not about virtual icons that represent football players? Humans have always loved collecting, and some are willing to spend more money than others. Should we set a price for what men want to collect? I’m not sure,” Respected for his part, Nicholas Julia. However, the NFT explosion is taking place in a certain context: the cryptocurrency market has not been very high, and it has benefited from the influx of liquidity associated with the Covid-19 crisis. It is no coincidence that traditionally wealthy sectors – such as football or contemporary art – have become interested in NFTs rather than Pokémon cards.

“a money-making machine”

On the technical side, the most optimistic see coding as a way to give back power to creators, who can more easily generate income thanks to their digital businesses and benefit from the protection of an infallible contract (because it’s registered on the blockchain). Soon, the reality turned out to be much more complicated. Artists saw their work stolen and sold in the NFT without their permission. For buyers, NFT thefts and scams are common. Finally, others are fighting the philosophy of this technology: Why impose artificial exclusivity on online business, when the Internet has always been the kingdom of free sharing? “This trend of NFT may seem like a technical revolution, but in the end it is more of a reversal. It is a return to an old concept of intellectual property: we re-create scarcity in the face of copy, Explains Lawrence Allard, Lecturer in Communication Sciences at the University of Lille and a researcher at the University of Paris 3 – IRCAV. The Internet was a copying machine, and it became a money-making machine.”

In this sense, NFTs are probably part of a broad movement to monetize web and internet users. Today, you can post a video to YouTube, start on OnlyFans, stream a video game on Twitch, and earn money. And tomorrow? There are already examples of NFTs that have nothing to do with artwork or avatars. For example, the American platform Mirror.xyz provides authors with the ability to convert their writing to NFT and Invest their ideas. In May, model Emily Ratajkowski offered for sale NFT linked to a photo of her that had been taken without her consent, in order to Take back control [son] picture”. And in the United States, the couple married by exchanging NFTs as wedding rings. If NFTs are necessary in our daily lives, we can imagine that one day, everything (registered in the blockchain) could be “mined”: our artistic production, as well as our relationships, our consent, our opinions, our influence on the Internet… “NFTs are part of a global finance movement, Lawrence Allard concludes. It is a way to re-describe any practice as an investment, where one can put money.

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