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NFTs are helping artists solve a vital problem: who owns digital artwork? | Digital art

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The artist Kevin Abosch has sold a picture of a potato for $1.5m, made a neon sculpture inspired by cryptocurrency, and even sold his own blood on the blockchain.

So in many ways, entering the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) was the next logical step for the 51-year-old Irish artist, whose work explores themes of digital currency and value.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are electronic identifiers that verify the existence and the ownership of a digital collectible. The technology has been around since at least 2017, and come as an offshoot of the boom in cryptocurrencies, which also run on the blockchain.

But the NFT craze hit frenzied new highs in March when Christie’s, the prestigious art auction house, auctioned off a digital collage by an artist who goes by the name of Beeple for nearly $70m, immediately making him the third-most expensive living artist in history.

Beeple’s digital art collage Everydays: The First 5,000 Days sold at Christie’s for a record $69.3m.
Beeple’s digital art collage Everydays: The First 5,000 Days sold at Christie’s for a record $69.3m. Photograph: CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE/AFP/Getty Images

The seemingly meteoric rise of NFTs has many wondering why any collector would want to buy one, but for artists like Abosch, NFTs are helping to solve problems that have long been central to digital art: how do you claim ownership of something that can be easily and endlessly duplicated? And what does ownership of art mean in the first place?

In 2020, Abosch started working on a series of images that tackled themes of cryptography and alphanumeric codes. After several of his in-person shows were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Abosch decided now was the perfect opportunity to sell his work as NFTs. He plotted to auction them on OpenSea, the largest marketplace for the tokens, which sees 1.5 million weekly visitors and facilitated $95m in sales in February 2021 alone.

Months later, he made a profit of $2m from the series, all art that cannot be physically transported to a gallery or hung on a wall. It made him the most successful NFT artist on the OpenSea platform. When he spoke to the Guardian on the eve of the sale in March, he said the idea that a piece of art must be a physical purchase that can be displayed somewhere is quickly becoming outdated.

“Some people struggle with this idea because they want to know, what is it you actually own?” he said. “But people of a younger generation don’t struggle with it. It’s a very old-world idea, wanting to hold something in your hand, as if as if the intangible or the immaterial doesn’t have value.”

An NFT auction works much like an online auction on platforms like eBay. Each work is displayed online as a jpeg file that contains metadata – which literally means “data about data” – about the work’s title, number, and who owns it.

Abosch’s 1111 series launched at 11.11am EST on OpenSea, , where he put up 111 works for a set amount of time. After the start of the auction, interested potential buyers go to the page for Abosch’s sale to bid on each work of art individually – in this case using the cryptocurrency Ethereum.

While the NFTs were sold on Opensea, the actual string of characters that attaches the owner to their new NFT is stored on Arweave, a software that fashions itself as a kind of permanent internet by storing files in perpetuity across a distributed network of computers so that they cannot be deleted or destroyed in the future.

People view NFT works of art at the grand opening of Superchief Gallery NFT, a physical gallery dedicated exclusively to NFT artwork in New York City.
People view NFT works of art at the grand opening of Superchief Gallery NFT, a physical gallery dedicated exclusively to NFT artwork in New York City. Photograph: John Angelillo/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

In other words: using Ethereum, a buyer will pay for a jpeg on the NFT auction platform OpenSea and in exchange receive an address on Arweave confirming the purchase and ownership of the image.

Ultimately, 106 of the 111 works were purchased by 53 unique collectors, with the most expensive selling for $21,242.

Abosch said many artists like himself are drawn to the NFT technology for its democratizing nature: anyone can log on and purchase the goods, and the work comes with a publicly visible ledger of its entire history – when it was created, who has owned it, who has purchased it, and for how much.

Abosch described this as a departure from art purchases of the past, in which investors tuck valuable art away in storage to save it for a time when it will be worth more.

Cryptocurrency popularity and the rise of art market speculation have been gaining interest for quite some time – but the pandemic further primed the industry for the success of a technology like NFTs, said Andrei Pesic, an art history professor at Stanford.

“In the years of 2020 and 2021, as we have so weirdly and radically had to move much of our lives online, it has opened up or accelerated the process of valuing digital goods in a similar way that we value physical goods,” he said.

Abosch, who has been using the blockchain to create art since 2013, said he believes the craze surrounding NFTs has been ignited by two factors: that the technology is legitimately interesting and useful, and that any new shiny item that is making people get rich quick can easily draw attention.

“We are in a major transitional period – it’s like we’re in the middle of a serious earthquake, except at the end of the earthquake instead of everything being destroyed, we’re going to see new structures that are actually really interesting,” he said. “But there’ll be some rubble as well.”

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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