When Christie’s hosted its first Art + Tech Summit in 2018, the topic was the blockchain. The second edition, in June 2019, focused on artificial intelligence. Blockchain and AI are two big, buzzy topics, and they have intersected 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-made output approximating the human-made training data—have turned to crypto platforms not only to sell their work, but also to explore ways of critically and creatively engaging the blockchain.
People who make creative work with AI tend to be self-taught, as artists or engineers or both. They’re drawn to new technologies and ideas taking shape at the margins of culture. There’s a provocative friction between the figure of the tinkering outsider and the reputations of AI and blockchains, in the popular imagination, as rapidly growing forms of technological infrastructure with massive resources invested in them, behemoths that are transforming the shape of everyday life by digitizing more and more of it. Artists who sell their work as NFTs have been criticized for contributing to an ecologically destructive, toxically libertarian culture; artists who make work with AI have drawn fire for normalizing the technologies that enable corporate surveillance and predictive policing. The artists who take up these tools despite the problems associated with them aren’t utopians. However, they see firsthand the reality that new technologies are not monoliths but evolving systems, rife with flaws and potentials.