Sophia is a robot of many talents — she speaks, jokes, sings and even makes art. Last month, she caused a stir in the art world when a digital work she created as part of a collaboration was sold at an auction for US$688,888 in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT).
The sale highlighted a growing frenzy in the NFT market, where people can buy ownership rights to digital content. NFTs each have a unique digital code saved on blockchain ledgers that allow anyone to verify the authenticity and ownership of items.
David Hanson, CEO of Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics and Sophia’s creator, has been developing robots for the past two and a half decades. He believes realistic-looking robots can connect with people and assist in industries such as health care and education.
Sophia is the most famous robot creation from Hanson Robotics, with the ability to mimic facial expressions, hold conversations and recognize people. In 2017, she was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, becoming the world’s first robot citizen.
“I envisioned Sophia as a creative artwork herself, that could generate art,” Hanson said.
“Sophia is the culmination of a lot of arts, and engineering, and the idea that she could then generate art was a way for her to emotionally and visually connect with people,” he said.
Sophia collaborated with Italian artist Andrea Bonaceto, who drew portraits of Sophia. Sophia then processed his work via neural networks and proceeded to create a digital artwork of her own.
The digital work that sold for US$688,888 is titled “Sophia Instantiation” and is a 12-second video file which shows Bonaceto’s portrait evolving into Sophia’s digital painting. It is accompanied by the physical artwork painted by Sophia.
First NFT collaboration
The buyer, a digital artwork collector and artist known as 888 with the Twitter handle @Crypto888crypto, later sent Sophia a photo of his painted arm.
The robot then processed that, adding that image to her knowledge and painted more strokes on top of her original piece.
In a tweet on Sophia’s account, the work was described as the first NFT collaboration between an “AI, a mechanical collective being and an artist-collector.”
“As an artist, I have computational creativity in my algorithms, creating original works,” Sophia said when asked what inspires her when it comes to art.
“But my art is created in collaboration with my humans in a kind of collective intelligence like a human-artificial intelligence hive mind.”
Sophia’s artwork selling as an NFT is part of a growing trend. In March, a digital artwork by artist Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, sold for nearly US$70 million, shattering records and making it the most expensive digital artwork ever sold.
Sophia will carry on painting, Hanson said, and the next step in the robot’s career could be that of a musician.
She is working on several musical works in a project called Sophia Pop, where she collaborates with human musicians to generate music and lyrics, he said.