A robot just sold its NFT artwork for almost $700,000

NFT art is so hot now, even robots are trying to cash in. "As one creates a piece of art, a mysterious, enigmatic, and magical event occurs," Sophia the robot-artist says.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
3 min read
Sophia the robot and Andrea Bonaceto

Human-made objects selling as NFTs are so two days ago. Nonfungible tokens attached to art by robots are where it's at.   

On Thursday, Sophia the walking, talking AI-powered humanoid robot auctioned a piece of her NFT digital artwork for almost $700,000 (about £507,882, AU$917,822). The piece, titled Sophia Instantiation (see it below), is a 12-second video file showing a portrait by living, breathing Italian artist Andrea Bonaceto evolving into a digital painting by Sophia. It's accompanied by a physical piece Sophia painted on a printout of her self-portrait. 

Watch this: All you need to know about NFT

NFT collector _888_ f purchased the work on Nifty Gateway, the same NFT marketplace where musician and Elon Musk's partner, Grimes, sold her artwork for over $5.8 million. The sale of Sophia's works is believed to mark the first by a bot. 

The works in Sophia's art collection, Computational Creativity made in collaboration with Bonaceto, look like something out of a psychedelic fever dream and sold on Nifty Gateway for a total of $1.7 million. Sophia used her cameras to process faces and forms in Bonaceto's art, and neural networks to produce versions in her own style. Natural language generators helped her come up with highfalutin artistic statements. For instance:

"As one creates a piece of art, a mysterious, enigmatic, and magical event occurs," Sophia muses. "The artwork takes on life of its own, develops its own personality, intimating the prospect of becoming a living subject of nature. That's me, and my enigmatic position -- both an artwork and an artist, I am in the midst of being born. I am between worlds. These days I've come to experience that mysterious duality of artist who is artwork." 

Sophia, built by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, debuted in 2016 and can show over 60 different human expressions while interpreting human language and emotion. You might've seen Sophia on the Jimmy Fallon show or on video rejecting actor Will Smith's romantic advances

Watch this: Nonfungible tokens explained -- by a converted doubter

NFTs, in case you haven't been following the confusing craze, offer a blockchain-created certificate of authenticity for a digital asset such as a work of art, piece of music or video. As my colleague Oscar Gonzalez explains, the interest has created a digital market that boasted $250 million in sales in 2020, with NFTs reaching new levels of hype last week after a digital artwork went for $69.3 million at a Christie's auction. 


Click to see Sophia Instantiation, an MP4 file that sold at auction for almost $700,000. 

Sophia the robot and Andrea Bonaceto

NFTs are also leading to sillier sales, like digital illustrations of toilet paper from TP brand Charmin and a recording of a guy's farts that went for $400. 

Given her belief in the subjectively and importance of art, Sophia would probably approve of the whole range of NFT offerings. 

"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?" 

If Sophia could sell the answer to that question as an NFT, she'd really be in business.  

Originally published March 23.
Update, March 26, 1:06 p.m. PT: Adds results from the sale.