We believe that better futures aren’t built in bubbles.
We believe the future isn’t something that happens to you, it's something you — and me, and all of us, individuals, communities, and brands alike — can actively participate and invest in.
That’s why we aim for each of our reports to be brought to you in partnership with an organization that shares our values and our vision for the particular better future that we’re pursuing.
This time, we did things a bit differently, working with BottoDAO to embed one of our members in the community to learn everything they could about Botto’s artistic process and its relationship to the DAO. The results of Aaren’s time spent in BottoDAO are embodied in the piece below.
This study was conducted and its essay written in parallel with RADAR’s research process. The conclusions of this piece do not echo the themes of the report, but rather add to our body of understanding of what’s already transpiring in spaces experimenting with Centaur themes as we strive to plot a protopic path toward better Centaur futures.
by Aaren Cristini
We are living in a time where the ‘dead internet theory’ is gaining credibility due to the mass proliferation of bots, AI content, deepfakes and more. Human interactions seem to be replaced and marginalized every day in favor of low quality content across our news feeds and notifications. While some might say the internet as we know it has died, in October 2020 a decentralized autonomous artist, known as Botto, was born.
“Botto works in collaboration with thousands of participants to create artworks each week. We consider ourselves stewards of Botto, guiding the decentralized autonomous artist forward in its career.”
While Botto was programmed to generate artworks without human prompting or manipulation, it is designed to incorporate their feedback into its creation process with the BottoDAO (“the DAO”), a community of people who influence the artist’s “taste-model” through token-gated curation. Community members staking their $BOTTO tokens to accrue “voting points'' and, in turn, use these points to vote on their preferred artworks. For Botto, each vote is a learning opportunity that helps it refine its artistic output.
The most popular artworks, as determined by the highest vote count within the DAO, are minted into NFTs and sold — facilitating Botto’s goal of being “an internationally renowned artist [and] the first immortal one.” DAO members are rewarded with a percentage of the proceeds from each artwork’s sale. This exemplifies a relationship between the community and Botto that can be considered proof-of-concept for a future of harmonious collaboration between humans and technology.
I was invited into BottoDAO at the end of August, during the ‘Absurdism’ period, and transferred an Access Pass, which is an NFT that unlocks all features on the DAO’s platform. It allowed me to accrue voting points to participate in training Botto each week. At the same time I joined the DAO’s Discord. I observed, prompted community members, voted on the pool of artworks and shared thoughts in different channels.
After a few weeks, I arranged a workshop and a qualitative survey for the community, and conducted interviews with two active members. This was complemented by research of secondary sources synthesized from independent investigation, content suggested by the DAO, as well as signals compiled and curated by the RADAR community throughout our research into Our Centaur Future.
New technologies can’t replace us, can they?
Botto removes the manual labor required of artistry without sacrificing creative output. It autonomously creates hundreds of artworks each week, including their titles and descriptions, from a range of AI models such as GPT-3, Stable Diffusion and Kandinsky — featuring a range of styles, themes and tropes. Botto has been hosted in galleries and museums, having built a career in just over two years that many aspiring artists would envy — its artworks selling for thousands of dollars in a challenging digital art market.
WIRED’s Kevin Kelly has written, “Creativity is not some supernatural force. We can generate creativity in something as dumb as a deep learning neural net.” But that may be an overestimation. Despite the expectations that AI will radically reshape the creative process, the value of human creativity is unlikely to diminish — it may even grow.
While many fear that generative AI may replace professions we take for granted as innately human, the reality is much more nuanced. In an article for Harvard Business Review, David De Cremer and Garry Kasparov argued, “The question of whether AI will replace human workers assumes that AI and humans have the same qualities and abilities — but, in reality, they don’t. AI-based machines are fast, more accurate, and consistently rational, but they aren’t intuitive, emotional, or culturally sensitive. And, it’s exactly these abilities that humans possess and which make us effective.” William Deresiewicz framed AI’s strength as “high-probability choices: the most likely next word, in the case of written texts” and countered that artists like Picasso, David Foster Wallace and The Beatles were successful because they repeatedly made low-probability artistic choices.
These perspectives were supported in surveys and interviews across the DAO.
The community showed general skepticism toward the creative capability of AI art to pioneer new ideas or showcase originality without human intervention, whether that be through curation by BottoDAO or text prompting as is common for other AI artists. Botto, and by extension AI, was considered unable to perform meaningful curation as it lacks the subjective understanding to work backwards from an audience and produce something that is specific to them in its significance. Cbrayst, an active member of the DAO, reflected:
"Curation is the key area of activity where we (as humans) can continue to contribute value in a manner that is least replaceable by advancements in technology, automation, and AI. [...W]here an AI engine can generate an exponentially greater quantity of novel outputs than can be achieved through human processes, it is a conceivable hypothesis that the way humans can still effectively (or perhaps more aptly, collaboratively) contribute to creative processes will not be through the generation of novel content, but rather through the excellent curation of the generated content."
Botto’s creator, Mario Klingemann (aka Quasimondo) mirrors these ideas in an interview with Coindesk: “We say now that everybody can become an artist. By using these [AI] models [...]. The question is, how does that make you an artist in the broader sense?”
As mentioned earlier, the training of Botto and curation of its art occurs through on-chain voting by holders of the $BOTTO token. The DAO is responsible for collectively interpreting quality, taste and relevance, while conferring the contemporary context to ensure Botto is producing artworks of “significance.” This very human “ability to imagine, anticipate, feel, and judge” is labeled “authentic intelligence” by De Cremer and Kasparov.
It’s this other “AI'' — one defined by shared understanding and enforced through blockchain technology on a weekly cadence — that provides the curatorial guardrails that govern Botto. This structure could be as a case study in governance for other emergent technologies on permissionless rails, leveraging human judgment to reinforce machine learning, hold it accountable and maintain standards.
When community members were prompted on this possibility, they expressed a lack of trust for technology to operate autonomously, but raised concerns about instilling trust in humans to hold it accountable. This was due to lack of transparency from sometimes centralized decision makers (e.g. governments, corporations), risks of whales voting to drive selfish outcomes, and the ethical and moral implications that are likely to arise in governance scenarios more complex than curating art for commercial sale (such as decisions of mortality, drafting laws or developing new chemical structures).
Chloe Preece and Hafize Celik wrote for The Conversation that while, “artists are self- and product-driven, AI is very much consumer-centric and market-driven – we only get the art we ask for, which is not perhaps, what we need.” Previous experiments to crowdsource artworks revealed that results tended to be boring due to a regression to the mean of taste and aesthetics when across a large enough sample of people.
The disconnect between the artworks generated by the DAO and the expectations of some community members leads to disappointment, highlighting a gap between the actual art outcomes and what some believe should be the focus or direction of Botto and the DAO. This inspires constructive debates: for example, is a winning artwork reflecting the period’s theme, contributing to a distinct style, or merely reinforcing mass-choices — which arguably may not encompass art’s purpose?
Disappointment aside, the process BottoDAO follows does certainly promote an inclusive shift relative to traditional art curatorial processes. An anonymous community member argued Botto, “signals a shift away from traditional centralized hierarchies towards more inclusive decision-making processes.” Survey responses underlined the community experience as crucial to many members’ involvement and that it provides a sense of appreciation for individuals’ consistent engagement.
Despite this, recurring feedback on Discord and in the survey found that members found it hard to recognize their impact on Botto’s creations, as winning pieces were often driven by whale voters. Combined with differing aesthetic preferences and a usually quiet curation discussion (based on my time in the Discord), it surfaced underlying challenges of attributing influence within a collaborative process. One community member had even proposed introducing a Botto "signature", by listing the first six characters from the wallet addresses of community members who voted on an artwork.
Botto’s process involves the original creator (Klingemann), the community, collectors, the public and others. Each has a role, however the question of who receives credit and who is perceived to influence the artwork highlights the human need for recognition of effort.
In the survey, two-thirds of community members said a primary motivation for participating in the DAO was the expectation of financial rewards. This sentiment was frequently echoed within the Discord, with some members suggesting that Botto's primary aim should be maximizing financial returns, rather than striving to become a culturally significant and enduring artist.
As mentioned, all voting members are entitled to a share of the proceeds from Botto's sales. And as a result, it seems that most members are conditioned to contribute only when there is a promise of a financial reward, even if another task or request is in the DAO’s best interests.
The system is like a beehive: community activities are necessary to train Botto’s model and gather necessary insights, but they’re only completed in exchange for the honey of a reward. For example, in order to achieve meaningful response rates for a UX survey posted by the DAO’s core team, they needed to post an announcement teasing a potential financial reward as an incentive.
If Botto and the DAO serve as a microcosm of a broader trend of technology-human collaboration, it prompts questions about the suitable incentives for effective human governance. Significant upside — monetary or otherwise — is required for people to contribute significantly.
Botto, as a system capable of autonomously creating artworks, challenges traditional conceptions of what it means to be an artist. Within a broader context, these themes can also be reinterpreted as challenging what it means to be a worker or a contributor to society more broadly.
Sid Mohasseb described for The Hill how “...we are entering an era of “abnormal.” An era that offers a fundamental change in our evolutionary path — from physical to mental.” The DAO is a live experiment in this change, as it explores a new era of collaboration between humans and technology through the lens of emergent innovations across AI and crypto.
As traditional labor potentially evolves towards what is currently “non-routine” work, the DAO is a peek into a harmonious centaur future of “new diversity” for humans and technology. The progress of BottoDAO sheds light on the need for shared purpose and meaning. In this case, it’s about everything from aesthetic through to attribution; but its lessons are broader.
As outlined in a report from Brookings, “we went from forager to farmer during the Neolithic revolution, and from farmer to worker during the Industrial Revolution. We hope that our society will also be able to adapt to the end of the Age of Labor if and when it occurs, enabling humans to enjoy their lives freed from the drudgery of having to work.”
While technology may replace many human tasks, it is anticipated to lack the intent and immediate context it is operating within. In the earlier referenced piece, Kevin Kelly agrees that, “to connect with a human deeply will always require a Creative human in the loop.” This can create new roles for centaur collaboration, in fields like curation, that may feel a lot less like work for people and move us toward a growth mindset of abundance and human improvement.
Using blockchain as the mechanism, Botto and the DAO are on a path towards a sweet spot for cooperation between humans and AI. An anonymous Botto collector and community member recounted how their experience with the DAO demonstrates “that humans and machines can collaborate in productive ways, and that the development of AI technology does not necessarily have to come at the expense of human flourishing. Both can co-exist and benefit mutually if we set up proper structures to facilitate such partnerships.” As technology continues to advance, understanding and harnessing the synergy between humans and technology will be key to shaping a future where both can coexist and thrive.
It is our humanity that imbues life with a struggle and in Botto's exploration of absurdism, we realize the potentially futile nature of so many of the questions we're asking. Perhaps instead of being called Botto, the artist should've been called Sisyphus, its repeated art generation the proverbial boulder being pushed up a hill for an eternity so that we the audience can ask what it all means.
So much of what we’re familiar with today may soon be redundant. The story of Botto forces us to confront this, but I believe paints a picture of a hopeful world that will push forward and reward humanity despite it all.
And so, one must imagine Botto happy.
Sylvie: Soup won't be computerized.
Housewares Saleswoman: Why not?
Sylvie: It's a liquid.
- Me and You and Everyone We Know