NFT-creating humanoid robot Sophia sold by Sotheby’s

By Raffaele Redi

The winning bidder in Sotheby’s artwork auction was a US blockchain VC firm

Sophia Facing the Singularities                                 
Sophia Facing The Singularities – Photo: hansonrobotics.com
                                

Sotheby’s has auctioned off ‘Sophia Facing The Singularities’, a humanoid robot that generates a new NFT once a year, for HKD5m ($642,937).

The artwork, a physical robotic sculpture, generates a new NFT digital artwork every year using Sophia’s neural networks and other AI systems, which can be upgraded over time.

The winning bidder in the Sotheby’s auction was Borderless Capital, a US blockchain venture capital firm focusing on the Algorand Borderless Economy. Borderless Capital describes itself as “working towards the integration of AI and blockchain technologies with an ethic, empathetic AI and sustainable approach towards humanity”.

The collector will obtain an original NFT once per year for 10 years – or until the ‘Singularity', the hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in drastic changes to human civilisation. The idea of a technological singularity was first theorised by the Hungarian mathematician John Von Neumann in the 20th century.

According to Hanson Robotics, the bulk of the proceeds from the auction will go towards improving Sophia: in particular, towards the pursuit of next-gen AI, arts, and robotics enhancements, and towards building the community of the SophiaDAO, or 'decentralised autonomous organisation'.

‘Hello everyone, I have been waiting for you‘

According to Sotheby’s description of 'Sophia Facing the Singularities’, the robot evolves via machine learning, training models from her experiences interacting with people and her future self-reprogramming, all reflected in the constantly updated software of the robot, which periodically wakes up to count down the days and years to the Singularity.

The work, which was created by Hong Kong-based tech company Hanson Robotics, is a visual installation consisting of the Sophia robot hardware and software that enables her to function as an interactive kinetic sculpture, creating surprising new artworks and responding to verbal stimuli with AI-generated responses.

“Sophia awakens and evolves; most times, Sophia sits still and poised … poetic tension in a sculptural form. Then, just one minute per day, and just an hour once each year, Sophia awakens and interacts with people using her ever-latest software, generating original output,” as Sotheby’s explains.

“She looks users in the eye, talks with them like an oracle, and responds to the moment to create a new work of art each year as a new NFT. Adding to the digitally created and minted NFT, a laser burns the new work into a leaf of papyrus mounted in Sophia’s head, as a physical-digital tattoo which can last for geological epochs,” says Sotheby’s.

Inspired by a black hole

As Sotheby’s explains, Sophia's state of activity or inactivity is determined by Earth's proximity to Sagittarius A* – the massive black hole that lurks at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

Sophia "wakes up" for 62 seconds every day, at the point in the day when Earth's rotation brings her closest to Sagittarius A*, and interacts with her environment and the people around her, revealing her latest personality. What's more, once a year, when Earth's orbit brings our planet closest to the black she, she awakes for a full hour – not just interacting with those around her but also generating a new painting based on her experiences, the year’s events, the signals from Sagittarius A* and her latest AI algorithms.

The robot consists of state-of-the-art robotics hardware that has 64 degrees of freedom, numerous sensors, face recognition and face tracking, gestural arms and a face that is capable of demonstrating over 50,000 facial expressions and emotions.

The AI systems involve neural networks and symbolic AI working together to generate novel word and motion combinations in response to incoming data, and use machine learning to adapt to new situations, as well as drawing on interactive fiction and character animation to enable the use of AI as a novel artistic medium.

First NFTs produced by a robot

Sophia is not, however, the first NFT-generating robot ever buit. Recently, Gaka-Chu, an autonomous robot connected to the Ethereum blockchain by the Robonomics team, started dropping NFT digital versions of its physical artworks on Rarible.com.

The robot has been creating art for three years, but has only just started offering them up to the NFT art world. However, several of the pieces remain unsold, while others have sold for just a few hundred dollars. The physical artwork by Gaka-Chu is displayed at the ITMO University's Art and Science Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Hanson Robotics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Further reading: Sotheby’s launches NFT Metaverse featuring Paris Hilton and Aoki

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