When Christie’s held its first Art + Tech Summit in 2018, the topic was blockchain. The second edition in June 2019 focused on artificial intelligence. Blockchain and AI are two big, vibrant topics that have overlapped in unexpected ways, especially during this year’s crypto art boom. Artists whose work uses Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) – algorithms that pit computers against each other to produce original machine-generated output that approximates human-generated training data – have turned to crypto platforms, not just for their work to sell, but also to explore ways of critically and creatively dealing with the blockchain.
People who work creatively with AI are usually self-taught, as artists or engineers, or both. They are drawn to new technologies and ideas taking shape on the fringes of culture. There is a provocative friction between the figure of the tinkering outsider and the reputation of AI and blockchains, in the popular imagination as rapidly growing forms of technological infrastructure with massive investments in them, giants that are changing the shape of everyday life through digitization, and more. Artists who sell their work as NFTs have been criticized for contributing to an ecologically destructive, toxic, libertarian culture; Artists who work with AI have started fire to normalize the technologies that enable corporate surveillance and predictive policing. The artists who take up these tools despite the problems involved are not utopians. However, you see firsthand the reality that new technologies are not monoliths, but evolving systems that are full of flaws and potential.