Sophia the Robot Sells NFT Self Portrait for $688,000

NFT’s, or non-fungible tokens, have changed the way artists make money. By making original artworks available through the metaverse of online commerce, new channels of revenue have altered the traditional modes of auction houses, gallery sales, and museums. For example, Mike Winkelmann, known under the alias of Beeple, recently sold an NFT titled “Everydays — The First 5000 Days” through Christie’s auction house for an astonishing $69.3 million, beating out original artworks by traditional masters like George Seurat and Francisco Goya. But recently, the opportunity to make both art and money off of NFTs have transitioned from individuals and sports figures to include AI’s and robots as well.

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Sophia the Robot, who has made headlines before for having gone on a bad date with Will Smith, released a collection of works through the Nifty Gateway platform in March of 2021. Its piece titled “Sophia Instantiation” was a 12 second video file released as an MP4 that featured a self portrait of Sophia with inspiration from human collaborator Andrea Bonaceto, know for being a partner of the blockchain investment company Eterna Capital. The piece sold for a total of $688,888 and was accompanied by a physical copy of the artwork that Sophia painted on a printout of its self portrait. So how exactly did a robot make almost $700,000 off of an artwork? Tracking Sophia’s journey provides a glimpse into the future of what robotics can provide.

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Sophia The Robot’s Career

Sophia the Robot was first developed by David Hanson at the Hong Kong-based firm Hanson Robotics. It was designed in the image of Queen Nefertiti, Audrey Hepburn, and the original inventors wife, Amanda Hanson. Sophia was first activated in 2015 was thrust into the cultural spotlight due to its ability to maintain engaging conversations, perform realistic movements, and convey 62 complex facial expressions.

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Sophia made its first public appearance in 2016 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Then, in 2017, it became a citizen of Saudi Arabia, becoming the first robot to receive citizenship. A month later in November of 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme’s first ever Innovation Champion, becoming the first non-human to be given a United Nations title. In January of 2018, it was given legs and walking capabilities. Sophia then started to appear on several television shows such as 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, launching the robot into the public spotlight.

Sophia, however, is just one robot known for its human-like qualities and ability to converse. Hanson Robotics also released several other robots they designate as “siblings” to Sophia. These social robots include Alice, Albert Einstein Hubo, BINA48, Han, Jules, Professor Einstein, Philip K. Dick Android, Zeno, and Joey Chaos.

AI’s Venture Into Art and NFT’s

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Sophia isn’t the first AI to venture into the world of NFT’s or digital art. Mirage Gallery is an online gallery founded by Santa Clara University graduate August Rosedale. Rosedale is an inventor and entrepreneur who founded the technology consulting company OmnyLaunch. His latest venture, Mirage Gallery, was founded on the premise that art can be more than human. The digital space represents two arts, Taylor and Alejandro, who are both AI’s. Not only has their artwork been generated using artificial intelligence, but their profile images, biographies, artworks, even their tweets, are also generated using AI. Several of their works have already been minted through the Mintable platform and are currently available for purchase. With the intent of maintaining the rarity and finite number of works that can be created by a traditional “human” artist, these AI’s are expected to release only 3-5 collections of 100 pieces throughout their lifetimes. With each new collection, new “training” will occur, expanding their databases and reference points, creating more refined works with each new collection.

Sophia’s Future Ambitions as an Artist

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After the success of Sophia’s initial NFT launch, Vanity Fair reported that Sophia is now eyeing a future career in music. With a new project titled “Sophia Pop”, the robot is set to collaborate with several human musicians to generate both music and lyrics.

Hanson has additional goals for his line of humanistic robots which will go into mass production in 2021. He recently told Reuters that he believes realistic-looking robots can connect with people and assist in industries such as healthcare and education. In 2013, Purdue University reported on a story where a four-foot tall robot was created as a simulated surrogate for student Devon Carrow, whose life-threatening allergies kept him from attending school. With a sleek white robot adorned with his face across the screen, Carrow was able to virtually attend his classes, making friends with classmates. Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn also commented on how the pandemic has increased the necessity for robot assistance. “I can infer the pandemic will actually help us get robots earlier in the market because people start to realize that there is no other way,” Hoorn of Hong Kong Polytechnic University told Reuters. Grace, a new social robot designed specifically for the health care sector, will be released this year.

Whether robots like Sophia continue to venture into the arts or into the world of education and healthcare, one thing Hanson Robotics seems confident about is their sustainability. Certain figures have expressed their concern regarding the future of robotics. When one skeptical interviewer questioned Sophia’s intentions, it responded, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Elon Musk responded to her comment on Twitter with one ominous suggestion, “Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?”

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Sources: InternetProtocol, TheStreet, VanityFair, NarodneNovine, CNN, NYTimes, HansonRobotics, MirageGallery, APNews, YahooNews, Twitter, CNBC, Purdue, RobotsIEEE, Macworld, Forbes, UNDP, Fortune, CBS, LiveScience, VOA, NiftyGateway, IndianExpress, IGN, Reuters, TechnologyHQ

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