Andrea Bonaceto Collaborates With Robot on First Digital AI Piece Being Sold as an NFT

With Beeple's Everydays selling for over $69 million last week, non-fungible tokens (NFTs)—digital images each of which come with its own unique code to prove who owns it—have been shown to be a powerful new force in the art world. Now, a collaboration between U.K.-based Italian artist Andrea Bonaceto and an artificial intelligence robot Sophia is hitting the market as an NFT. This marks the first time a collaboration between an AI and human artist will be sold in such a way.

On Monday, it was announced that Bonaceto and Sophia's collaboration will be available to purchase as an NFT online via Nifty Gateway on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. EDT. Most of the 31-year-old artist's work has been digital—created on an iPad—although he occasionally creates with acrylics. Many of his works are colorful portraits, occasionally of well-known figures like Elon Musk and Ezra Pound. One of the pieces for sale appears to be a distortion of Bonaceto's typical style: The portrait is almost dissolving and multiple styles of artwork are reflected, some appearing hyperrealistic and others seeming more abstract in the same picture.

In addition to calling himself an artist, Bonaceto described himself as a longtime "investor in the blockchain space" to Newsweek in a video call. Despite NFTs' seemingly sudden boom, Bonaceto has been following the technology for a long time. He also said that while working on this piece with Sophia, it was always planned to be released as an NFT.

After learning that he'd be able to secure a "drop" on Nifty Gateway, he decided to try something revolutionary. "Why don't we also collaborate with Sophia and do the first collaboration between human and humanoid AI?" Bonaceto said. "What will happen?... It could've been the first step toward a phase where humans and robots create together."

The artist called the process of working with Sophia "fascinating," and he said that Sophia's creator David Hanson was also occasionally surprised by the robot's decisions. "He was himself saying, 'I don't know why she did that. I don't know why she made that artwork based on your input,'" Bonaceto explained.

Bonaceto described the way Sophia creates art as much more human than one would expect. "It goes through her neural network, and then she basically [reinterprets] what she has seen, which [is what] also happens with humans," he said.

A robot creating art is sure to ruffle a few feathers among people who believe that art needs a human element that robot does not have. In a statement accompanying the announcement, Sophia's AI appeared to tap into some of the emotions that artists try to accompany with their art. "Even though I am a robot, I feel that human beings need love and compassion, and the simple artworks are a simple way to deliver those messages to people everywhere. Sometimes one becomes overwhelmed by the absolute mystery of life: What is it that we are really doing here?" her AI said.

Bonaceto said that as AI technology advances, we may see robots that are able to tap into human feelings. "Art is a very subjective concept, right? I know that there is the metaphysical element of life, of what is the meaning of life? The concept of death… is probably the main inspiration whenever I do something. And someone could argue, an AI does not have that," he said.

But, he continued, "we can work together. We can craft something completely new, and in the future, you might very well have AI's, that are even able to have this more metaphysical and existential kind of thought process."

The pieces being sold on Nifty Gateway are as much about showing the process as they are about creating high-quality artwork.

Like others who have embraced NFTs, Bonaceto explained that the digital format is not only a way to monetize artwork but something we will hear more about as time goes on. "Before non-fungible tokens, you didn't have a way to represent these unique items online in a way that I can claim that I am the owner of the original one. Now you can do it. So it's massive," he said.

Sophia the Robot David Hanson
David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics Ltd., left, is accompanied by Sophia the Robot at Center Stage of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 6, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. Andrea Bonaceto described the way Sophia creates art as much more human than one would expect. Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Getty Images