• Sophia Hotung

Talk: Playing devil's advocate as an NFT digital artist

When Launchpad got word that I was collaborating with Hanson Robotics's Robot Sophia to create an NFT collection in support of The Women's Foundation, they invited me to speak on a panel as a digital artist in the NFT space.

Here's the thing though. I'm pretty sceptical of NFTs and the culture surrounding them. I had been reluctant to sign on to NFT projects before The Women's Foundation came along because of the environmental impact, risky hype culture, and propensity for scams in the space.

I deliberately act as a cautious observer rather than an active player in the NFT game, so for Launchpad's masterclass, 'Web3 for Impact - The next tech wave, but make it green', I played devil's advocate on the panel.

You can watch the full discussion below or on Launchpad's website here.

One of the questions I got asked was:

"What are some of the challenges in the NFT space that need to be tackled by the community, moving forward? What should people pay attention to?"

Here's an edited version of the answer I gave on the panel that highlights my main concerns about the current NFT space:

The easiest way for me to explain different challenges within the NFT space’s infrastructure and community are to walk us through minting, selling, and buying an NFT. So let’s say you have a digital file and you want to make it an NFT. You have to go to an NFT marketplace. Popular ones are Open Sea or Rarible or Nifty Gateway. Now if we use Open Sea, which many people do, we fill out the fields: name of NFT, description, price, and then we need to upload the file so whoever buys it can access it. Now you have to upload your file onto a third party file storing platform. Open Sea NFTs are usually stored on IPFS or FileCoin. So now you have to go over to IPFS or FileCoin, upload your digital file there, and get a URL link. Now you copy paste that link into Open Sea and that’s the link that your buyer is going to click to access the NFT. That URL is going to be locked into the blockchain. So that’s our first challenge, I’m not storing the NFT on the blockchain. I’m storing a link to the NFT on the blockchain. I can change whatever you see when you click on that link at any time and the blockchain won’t make a note of it. So that already opens buyers up to scams.

The next issue with this is that the NFT is stored on a centralised platform. IPFS and FileCoin aren’t decentralised. If you use Nifty Gateway, they store files on Gemini. Not centralised. If you want to store an NFT in a decentralised space which means store it on the blockchain, it’s going to cost you so much money that it may not make minting the NFT worth it in the first place. And there are different blockchains. Ethereum is very expensive so you might opt for a cheaper one. But here’s the catch, ethereum is expensive, because it’s more stable. So if you want to pay less to store files on the blockchain, you’re going to have to use a blockchain that is more susceptible to collapsing or being compromised. And these issues indicate a real conundrum about regulation, decentralisation, and sustainability.

People love web3 because it’s decentralised. It’s democratic. No one is the king of the show. But the thing is, for anything to run at scale, there needs to be some level of regulation to ensure equity and management to ensure accountability. And the bigger something gets, the more regulation and management you need. But the whole point of web3 is to push back against centralisation, management, or a governing body. So it raises the question of how do you keep things safe, scam-free, and honest without anyone enforcing the rules and regs?

Many players in the web3 space and NFT space have conceded that you can’t be totally decentralised. Open Sea has the power to stop NFT sales that are scammy or plagiarised, meaning that it’s not a flat structure. But because stopping people from getting ripped off is more important that the principle of decentralisation in that case, most people are fine with it. But then it starts to beg the question, what makes this space different or special if it’s centralised like things in the real world? The whole point I joined the NFT space was to be part of something decentralised. If I wanted centralisation, I’d stay in the real world.

There’s the flip side: some people go all in on decentralisation. They don’t want to use platforms that require you to store your NFT files on centralised platforms like IPFS, or Filecoin, or Amazon Web Services. They go and store actual NFTS files on the blockchain. But that is incredibly taxing on the environment and on your wallet. And even if you don’t care about the environment, most people care about their wallets. So only very rich people now have access to this space. And that makes it inaccessible to low-income users. One could even make the argument that it increases income inequality when it becomes a sandbox only for the uber-rich.

I haven't gone into individual scams, fraud, insider trading, hyping collections that fail, because I feel like they’re symptoms of this decentralisation, regulation, and accessibility dilemma. But I’m hopeful that what will happen and what is happening is that niches will form. Depending on your risk tolerance, you will find a niche in the web3 community that is decentralised enough for your needs and regulated enough for your needs. Web3 is an infinitely big space and there’s room for different ecosystems. So, to answer your question, educate yourself and define for yourself you niche and risk tolerance level.


If you're looking for someone to speak on digital art, entrepreneurship, writing and illustrating, creative education, or gender and disability issues, email me at sophia@sophiahotung.com