Recently, we at the DFINITY Community got a chance to discuss the future of NFT technology with Arthur Falls, who, back in 2018, served as the Director of Communications at the DFINITY Foundation. Some of you may also know him as the host of the Internet Computer Weekly podcast. These days, Arthur keeps busy with the CYMAN Art Project, which will almost certainly play an important role in the ongoing NFT revolution on the Internet Computer.
Geoffrey: Thank you for graciously setting aside time for another interview. Some of our readers may not know you yet, so please, tell us a little about yourself and your CYMAN Project teammates. How did you all discover the colorful world of NFTs?
Arthur: Glad to be here! And, this is a pretty hilarious story. Ant, Henri, Brad, and I come from completely different backgrounds. As some readers may know, I was the Director of Communications at the DFINITY Foundation during 2018, and I've also hosted the Internet Computer Weekly podcast. Moreover, I'm a member of cycle_dao, which supports autonomous open services on the Internet Computer.
Ant (Anthony), on the other hand, was a cricket bat salesman (the best in the business, or so he says) when we met about ten years ago. But, he underwent a complete transformation after a couple of trips to Burning Man.
He decided to quit selling cricket bats and started up an installation art agency called Vesica, which Henri co-founded with him. They've been so busy that they haven't even updated Vesica's website since 2019, so it's a time capsule of back when it was founded. I'm going to get in trouble for pointing this out, by the way!
Henri is a restauranteur and contemporary art collector. Vesica's work involved combining light and sound to create amazing environments and tell a story in a new way. That led me to suggest that the two of them tackle an NFT project.
We discussed this together when Henri had the idea to reach out to Brad, the artist and co-narrator behind CYMAN. Brad's star is rising, so this seemed like a great challenge for him to undertake.
Geoffrey: What a cool, unexpected gathering of minds! NFTs are definitely hot right now in the art world, but I'm not sure many people understand them yet. In a nutshell, what are NFTs? How do they work?
Arthur: That's a good question, and there are several ways to approach it. First, in perhaps a familiar way, you can think of an NFT as a one-of-a-kind digital object, and most often, it's associated with a picture.
From a more technical perspective, an NFT is a digital fingerprint of a piece of information that is transferrable among accounts on a blockchain. Because people see the picture and not the digital fingerprint, they tend to think of the picture itself as the NFT. But there is actually quite a bit going on behind the scenes!
The brilliance of an NFT is that we can track the history of this digital fingerprint being transferred between accounts. If it started at an account that we know belongs to the creator of the picture, then we can say that this digital fingerprint represents ownership of the picture.
But we can take this even further. What if an NFT was a ticket to an event? The right to use a piece of software? What about a digital license for accruing royalties, or perhaps a share in a company? Because blockchains can do so many different things, we can utilize our NFTs to accomplish many different tasks - the sky's the limit!
Ultimately, the NFTs we are familiar with today will become valuable pieces of communal intellectual property, and what that intellectual property represents will differ from NFT to NFT.
Geoffrey: I see, so NFTs really aren't pictures at all. Instead, they're a way to track ownership and use of any item or piece of information via its digital fingerprint on a blockchain. That's enlightening because I've read a lot of myths about NFTs. For example, some people say they're worthless for images because "copy-and-paste" exists. What is your response?
Arthur: First of all, let me say that the "copy-and-paste" argument appears, at first glance, correct. In fact, right now, you can go online and steal a bunch of art and break copyright laws with abandon using this technique. Be careful about getting caught, though! You're also not going to make many friends by robbing intellectual property.
Of course, if you are buying a digital image from an online market, you could right-click and choose "Save image as." But, with an NFT, you're doing more than that, and you are actually buying a digital fingerprint that represents a license to own a piece of digital art. So, if somebody can't produce this digital signature on-demand, they don't own the art.
In fact, NFTs can be a powerful tool to protect intellectual and other usage and property rights. On the Internet Computer, it's effortless to check if someone owns an NFT because it'll be associated with their Internet Identity or ICP wallet account. It's like asking for papers of ownership or authenticity to prove a piece of art belongs to you, except NFTs are even better because forgery is impossible due to the decentralized nature of blockchains.
Using a different analogy, it is also correct to think of an NFT as a limited-run print of a physical painting. These are all very tight analogies, by the way. I'm not oversimplifying! It's an easy concept to grasp once you get the hang of it. We can go even deeper though into NFTs and see the whole expanse of what's possible with blockchain-based ownership models.
Specifically, consider the ability for a group of digital token owners to work together to make that token, in this case, an NFT, valuable. It's mind-boggling! There's no reason you couldn't, for example, use NFTs for the title of a house or a car. Again, they're essentially improved, digital versions of papers of ownership or authenticity.
Whenever buying an NFT associated with art, though, I think a person must ask, "Is this really worth more than just 'Save image as?'" In many cases, I don't think it is. Not everything is worth owning, especially if you're not going to do anything with it! It takes a dedicated team and thriving community to make an art NFT more than just one of a thousand variations on a picture.
Other kinds of NFTs, of course, may have value determined by a different set of rules. I mean, you could even use an NFT to track an item's journey through a food supply chain! But we're talking about art right now.
Geoffrey: Fascinating! Thanks for clearing that up. What are some other myths about NFTs going around? Care to debunk them?
Arthur: There's really only one other big myth. Some people think NFTs are a fad, and they are absolutely not a fad! Right now, we are in a speculative bubble, but over time, I believe value always accretes to the top. The vast amount of money that has been poured into NFT markets will lead to innovation. It always does!
When one NFT community finds a way to bring value to its NFT, others will follow suit. In time, the NFTs of today will turn into something new and crazy. Something we never could have imagined! When I say the NFTs of today, I mean maybe 1% of existing NFTs. Most will be abandoned, and some communities will struggle and not bring value to their NFT collections.
The way I see it, they may not know it now, but many NFT owners have accidentally bought their way into tech companies, apparel brands, events businesses, games, and financial services businesses. If there is an economic flow out there, trust me, NFT communities will one day try to harness it to bring value to their NFTs.
I could go on.
Geoffrey: Please do go on! Are NFTs only useful for digitally tracking ownership of art or other property? What else can they be used for?
Arthur: Only useful for digitally tracking ownership? Wow! But you can do so much with that alone! The important thing to realize is that an NFT can be whatever the world sees it as. If Coca-Cola one day said, "We will be distributing all our profits to the owners of CYMAN NFTs," then CYMAN NFTs would become shares in the Coca-Cola company, in a de facto sense.
We are still scheduling with Coke, by the way! They seem to be hard to get on the line...I joke, of course!
Geoffrey: Pivoting from generalities to specifics, and assuming official Coca-Cola sponsorship is still a bit out of reach, how will your CYMAN Project use NFTs?
Arthur: Great question! So, specifically, CYMAN NFTs are digital fingerprints of a limited run of 10,000 CYMAN. These NFTs are deconstructable, meaning parts of the image can be broken down, pieces of them sold, with new pieces purchased, and then reconstructed into a new CYMAN. Initially, this functionality will tell a story - the story of CYMAN, both past and present.
As we discover the past, events in the present will also unfold as part of an interactive narrative. This will have an impact on the NFTs the community holds, and of course, the community will have the ability to participate in and affect the outcome of these events.
At the same time, the CYMAN team has an eye on the rest of the NFT space, and we will consider integrating innovations we see elsewhere. We aren't afraid to absorb ideas from other projects so long as the community is in support.
On this subject, we will look to integrate community governance within the next six months or so. This will give CYMAN NFT holders the ability to control a pool of funds and vote on new features to add to the NFTs. We will also use CYMAN NFTs as tickets to events hosted by Vesica, like Walk of Wonders. Interestingly, this will give a CYMAN a floor price.
What else? Well, we are going to look for opportunities to include the CYMAN character in games, and the community fund could have an impact here. We have so many more ideas, but ultimately, by the time we get around to implementing them, CYMAN won't be our project anymore - it will belong to the community! We will be there, driving it forward relentlessly, but CYMAN will, in a sense, be owned by everyone involved in the story.
Geoffrey: Thank you for this deeply insightful conversation, Arthur. Any closing thoughts about the role of the CYMAN project in the future of NFTs?
Arthur: My pleasure! And yes. NFTs are in a phase that could be called "imitative innovation." One NFT project copies another, and projects absorb innovations from other arenas like DeFi. In other words, feature growth comes from copying what we see elsewhere. This is not a bad thing! It gives a project like CYMAN an opportunity to learn what works and integrate it.
Soon though, NFTs, which already represent a new mode of property ownership and tracking rights to objects and pieces of information, will drive the development of new forms of organization and business. Yes, a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) at heart, but something more, deeper! It's humbling to behold the enormity of what lies ahead, and I really look forward to meeting the people who choose to join us on this great adventure!
We at the DFINITY Community would like to once again extend our heartfelt gratitude to Arthur Falls for this interview. If any of our readers are working on a project on the Internet Computer, let us know! As Arthur has rightly emphasized, we're embarking on a great adventure together. You could see your work featured here at the Dfinity Community!
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