The future is non-fungible | Financial Times

A Nyan Cat NFT has sold for more than half a million dollars.

The latest infrared tech has just helped reveal that the tiny pencilled graffiti on Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting was written by the artist himself. “Can only have been painted by a madman,” he wrote ironically.

His thoughts and the painting got me thinking about the wisdom of investing in the latest works of art. You may think bitcoin at over $50,000 is mad, but the next wave of investor craziness seems about to engulf us in the form of non-fungible tokens or NFTs linked to the creative sector.

It must be a thing, as my inbox has been receiving news of a steady stream of NFT-related projects from music albums to trading cards. The latest NFT email came from my Gen Z son today, whose previous interests have included crypto and cannabis (investments).

“Owning artwork on the blockchain is the future!” he said, linking to these charts, showing a boom since the start of this year. Essentially, the unique crypto identifiers that are NFTs authenticate ownership of limited-edition digital collectibles.

That can mean anything. On Thursday, the well-known meme Nyan Cat sold for 300 ethereum or around $590,000 in an online auction. That’s not the image above, which is reproduced everywhere, but an NFT of it approved by the creator that is “minted” and shared on the ethereum blockchain’s ledger, acting as a public record of its authenticity and uniqueness.

For some extra credibility for NFTs, on Wednesday, Christies will become the first major auction house to sell an NFT work of art: Everydays: The First 5000 Days by the digital artist Beeple.

I don’t see this as my future as investor or artist, but for my son, who likes creating 3D art and whose trading-card days go back to Yu-Gi-Oh as a kid, I’m emailing him back: Go for it!

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Microsoft sides with European publishers
Microsoft has joined forces with Europe’s publishers to deepen the troubles of Google and Facebook, launching a project to develop an Australia-style arbitration system for the EU that would force Big Tech to pay for news. Microsoft will help with development of a legal solution to “mandate payments” for the use of content by “gatekeepers that have dominant market power”.

2. Apple back on top with phone sales
The launch of a 5G iPhone has propelled Apple to the top of the global smartphone makers’ rankings for the first time in five years. Gartner says Apple sold almost 80m phones in the final three months of 2020 following the launch of the iPhone 12, overtaking Samsung.

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3. Google fires another AI researcher
Google fired a second high-level AI researcher on Friday. Margaret Mitchell, who had been co-head of its AI ethics group, had been dismissed over “multiple violations of our code of conduct” and security policies, it said. The move came two months after the departure of Timnit Gebru, the other head of the ethics group, which was formed to lead research into new techniques for making sure the company’s AI technology was used in a fair and unbiased way.

4. UK warns Big Tech of antitrust probes
The UK competition watchdog has told Big Tech companies it is planning a series of antitrust investigations into their practices over the next year, signalling a tougher approach to reining in the sector in the wake of Brexit. In an interview with the Financial Times, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, said the watchdog plans to mount a number of probes into internet giants including Google and Amazon in the coming months.

5. Instacart considers robot pickers
US grocery delivery service Instacart is exploring the use of robotic warehouses to fulfil its orders. The San Francisco-based company currently uses more than 500,000 gig workers to fulfil online orders by visiting well-known grocery chains. It has sent out proposal requests to at least five companies that offer robotic systems that would pick goods from purpose-built “dark” warehouses instead of store shelves.

Tech week ahead

Tuesday: The Senate Intelligence committee hears from SolarWinds’ CEO and other tech leaders following the network hack affecting at least nine federal agencies and a hundred companies and which US officials have attributed to Russia.

Wednesday: Nvidia is expected to post a rise in fourth-quarter revenue, driven by strong demand for its graphics chips. Investors will look out for commentary on regulatory concerns around its $40bn deal for UK-based chip designer Arm.

Thursday: DoorDash and Airbnb report their first earnings since their IPOs. Salesforce.com, VMware, Dell and HP Inc also report.

Tech tools — Spotify HiFi

Spotify chose its investor day on Monday to unveil a lossless audio service that will compete later this year with Amazon Music HD, which was launched in 2019. Spotify said HiFi would “deliver music in CD-quality, lossless audio format to your device and Spotify Connect-enabled speakers, which means fans will be able to experience more depth and clarity while enjoying their favourite tracks”. No pricing was given, but Amazon currently charges $14.99 a month ($12.99 for Prime members).



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