WTF are NFTs?

NFTs are objects that last forever in the Ethereum universe. It’s easier and more fun to think of Ethereum as a sci-fi universe like the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) except Ethereum lives on the internet, can get you paid, and no one controls the story.

Each NFT is a kind of infinity stone. There can be a thousand versions of an infinity stone, but each one has its own history. Each one has its own timeline and a different path it can go on.

The World Heavyweight Champion of boxing, pro-wrestling, cage fighting, etc. each have a long history of claiming that the holder of this object is the baddest man on the planet. The man no one else can beat. We can argue about which one is fake and which one matters most, but they are all lineal objects. The history of each object matters. In their respective universes, they are non-fungible – you can’t split the belt up. The whole point is that there is only one.

Over time, new versions of the belt are created for different weight classes, promotions, eras, or marketing gimmicks, but there is always one belt that can be traced back to that original, single object. The belt everyone wants. That’s an NFT.

Infinity stuff

People used to own very little. Now we have too much. Unlimited porn has led to OnlyFans. Unlimited cheap shoes have led to some very expensive, old shoes. Kraft cheese? Craft cheese!

Humans are strange creatures. In a world of scarcity, we seek abundance. In a world of abundance, we seek scarcity.

I think we are trending toward more appreciation for humanity and rarity. This is especially true with the arrival of ChatGPT. A machine now exists that can reliably fool most people into thinking it’s a person. So the reaction will be… NFTs?

The world reacts to technology in surprising ways and usually there is a strong reaction that pushes back against the new thing. As technology makes us feel less special and unique because we’re not even the best at being human anymore, we will seek out new ways to feel special. And since almost everything we do now is on the internet – or ends up on the internet – whatever the reaction is will be online. That's where NFTs come in. NFTs let us make things scarce again. Whether this is good or bad for the world, we can’t know. In all likelihood, like all technologies, there will be both good and bad and whether we like it or not, people are going to do it anyway.

Finding and making new things scarce – special – then making new stories about why they are special is not new. Modern art does this.

Of course, there will be people who hate everything about this and will want to step back completely, in a way that has nothing to do with the internet, NFTs, or money. But we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about the different ways that humans are funny story telling creatures and how they might use new tools to keep doing the same thing.

“I’m not surprised, motherfuckers”

One of the most iconic lines in sports history was uttered by Nate Diaz after an upset win over superstar Conor McGregor at UFC 196. UFC fans were shocked. Nate Diaz was not. And that victory propelled Diaz to become a superstar in his own right.

UFC, the company, owns the footage, but do they own the moment? They will profit from that scene and that line for as long as the company exists. But what about the two guys that paid for that moment with blood and decades of preparation and injuries? Can Nate and Conor get a piece when that moment is replayed in promos and across the internet? Without NFTs, the answer is no or very little other than a paycheck. With NFTs, the answer becomes more interesting.

If two NFTs were created with the line and video “I’m not surprised, motherfuckers”, but one was created by the UFC and the other by Nate Diaz, which one would be more legitimate? NFTs let us find out. The market for NFTs will give us an answer, a temporary answer that changes all the time, but still an answer. The price for each will swing wildly and whichever one more people are willing to pay for will have a higher price on that day. Both versions will probably exist at the same time and both will be valuable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Diaz-lineage NFT was worth way more in a hundred years.

Francis Ngannou standing over Tyson Fury in his pro-boxing debut in the third round. Another iconic moment in combat sports history. Possibly one of the most astounding feats in boxing history. That image will live forever in college dorm rooms like Muhammad Ali standing over Joe Frazier. Only in Ali’s day, there were only so many copies of that image that could be created and seen. Now, moments like these are instantly seen, remixed, and spread across the world. Yet the reward system for the fighters is still basically the same.

All I’m saying is, if that was an NFT, I would buy it. It will probably be very expensive so I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but the fact that the people who are most responsible for creating these moments can gain more control over the legacy of the moment and have the option to give more to their kids, seems like an improvement.

Fighters can show up, do their thing as usual: give a piece of themselves and their souls to the arena and to that fight. And maybe with NFTs they get to keep a little more for themselves than a paycheck.

Who owns what?

The most impactful technologies tend to ask the most interesting questions. With NFTs, many new questions emerge. One of the best ones is “who can own what?”

There was a day when it was okay to steal something from a culture that was different from your own and then decorate your house with it. Eventually this practice became frowned upon and the stolen stuff was put in museums. What if an NFT was created for these looted pieces and the creators of the NFTs were the original tribes or families that created these objects?

This world would now have two lineal objects: one digital and one physical. This new thing can be made equally as rare as the old thing. It can be moved around, keep its own story, and can’t be copied. The original is a physical cultural artifact. The NFT is a digital cultural artifact.

The physical one is the one they all really want, but the simple existence of the NFT version owned by the original ancestor group who carry the lineage in their blood has now raised some new questions like will there now exist a new urge to unify the NFT with the original object?

Digital DNA

AI asks some pretty good questions too. “What does it mean to be alive or human?” probably being the most interesting one.

ChatGPT made most of the world believe for the first time, that Artificial Intelligence was real, or at least very close to being here in the sci-fi sense of being able to have a conversation with a robot. At the time of writing (Feb 15th, 2024, Earth) ChatGPT could easily convince most people that it is talking to another human. But this kind of intelligence is only possible because of the vast amount of data on the internet. Data that we all created and keep creating every day. The problem is we now have so much that we can’t figure out what is true or where the truth came from.

If A.I. is a creature, it was born out of the internet. It’s like humanity’s collective child and that child just learned how to talk.

Whether there will be a single all-powerful A.I. or millions of different A.I.s, they will all carry pieces of humanity in them and NFTs let the data that spawned them become recognizable and traceable like DNA. It gives it a heritage for ideas that can be seen by future generations. They become these checkpoints and sources of objective truths. NFTs allow us to say, “we created this thing at this time” which seems to be an important part of being human. And maybe long after we are gone, A.I. will want to know more about their ancestors and maybe they will use NFTs to trace their heritage back to you.

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