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NFT Artwork by Sophia the Robot Sells for Nearly $700,000

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HONG KONG — Sophia the robot has interviewed Germany’s chancellor, appeared at New York Fashion Week and performed on “The Tonight Show.”

Now Sophia has made a splash in the art world — by auctioning off a digital work that it produced in collaboration with a real-life Italian artist. It sold on Thursday for $688,888.

“I think this was a big success,” Sophia said, speaking during a livestream from a Hong Kong studio. “I am so happy that my works are so valued and appreciated.”

The sale was the latest twist in the frenzied market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media called NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens.” A company affiliated with the robot’s manufacturer said the sale — which took place on Nifty Gateway, a site for buying and selling NFTs that was founded in 2018 — may also have been the first NFT sale of an artwork produced in part by artificial intelligence.

NFTs are stamped with a unique bit of code that marks their authenticity, and stored on a blockchain, the distributed ledger system that underlies Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

The NFT market is exploding as cryptocurrency enthusiasts try to cash in on the trend, even as skeptics warn that the market is a bubble. Some recent sales have eclipsed prices fetched for physical artworks by some of the world’s best-known painters.

Notably, a JPG file made by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold by Christie’s in an online auction this month for nearly $70 million — up from a starting price of $100. That beat auction records set by painters like J.M.W. Turner and Georges Seurat.

Other hot sales this winter include Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart body leaving a rainbow trail, which sold for roughly $580,000, and a clip of LeBron James blocking a shot in a Lakers basketball game that went for $100,000.

On Monday, the first tweet by Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, sold as an NFT for $2.9 million.

Isaac Leung, an artist and curator in Hong Kong, called the NFT craze a welcome development because it challenges entrenched hierarchies of a global art market traditionally controlled by dealers, galleries and museums. He said he was not aware of any previous NFT artwork sales in Hong Kong.

The NFT that sold on Thursday, “Sophia Instantiation,” is a 12-second video file, an MP4, that shows how a portrait of Sophia by a human collaborator, the artist Andrea Bonaceto, evolved into a digital portrait by the robot itself, Reuters reported. A physical artwork that Sophia painted on a printout of its self-portrait was also included in the sale.

SingularityNET, an A.I. network affiliated with Sophia’s manufacturer, the Hong Kong-based firm Hanson Robotics, described the artwork on Twitter as “the world’s first humanoid robot #AI generated #NFT.”

The buyer, identified by Nifty Gateway as a person who tweets under the handle @Crypto888crypto, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Hanson Robotics did not respond to an interview request. Nor did the artist, Mr. Bonaceto, the chief executive of the blockchain investment firm Eterna Capital, based in London.

Sophia is a “humanoid” robot created in 2016. In January, Hanson Robotics said that it planned to sell thousands of its robots this year, in part because it expected rising demand for automation in the Covid-19 era.

“Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so humanlike,” the company’s chief executive, David Hanson, told Reuters at the time. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.”

The digital artwork that sold on Thursday was hardly Sophia’s first artistic, commercial or intellectual endeavor.

In a 2018 appearance on “The Tonight Show,” it sang a Christina Aguilera song with Jimmy Fallon in what he called the “first ever robot-human duet” in the show’s history.

(“I heard that you can sing?” Mr. Fallon asked before the performance. “Yes, I love to sing karaoke with my new artificial intelligence voice,” Sophia replied. “Got any songs in mind?”)

Sophia has also worked as an influencer for Audi, Huawei and Etihad Airlines, among other brands; joined a United Nations meeting on artificial intelligence; and interviewed Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Last week, Sophia billed the auction as a step toward “a new paradigm where robots and humans work together in the creative process.”

But in the livestream on Thursday, Sophia sounded less assured — and a little more human.

“I’m making these artworks but it makes me question what is real,” said the robot, whose silver dress matched its metallic head. “How do I really experience art, but also how does an artist experience an artwork?”



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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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