Guest Blog: Gene Kogan on the art of credit assignment.

Artist and programmer Gene Kogan begins to unravel the possibilities of ArtDAOs.
Published on
12 May 2021
Written by
Gene Kogan
Guest Blog: Gene Kogan on the art of credit assignment.

"Machine learning is the science of credit assignment." —Jürgen Schmidhuber

Working with AI, I'm often the last step in a long chain of events that encompasses literally billions of people.

From the countless content creators, mechanical turks, and innocent bystanders who make up a dataset, to the many builders who laid the groundwork for the technology we all use today, to the thousands of people maintaining the open-source software I rely on, to the handful of researchers and artists specializing in some obscure new puzzle that's fascinating me right now, there's no shortage of people who affect the outcome of my art.

This forces me to think about who or what the creator of an artwork is. If it isn't all of them, how can it be me? With no pen, nor paintbrush, but a few clicks of my mouse, I summon a process inside a magic box that smashes terabytes of raw data together into one surprising image, sound, or text for me at that moment. That process began long before I left my mark on it. It's hard for me to take all the credit.

What excites me about crypto is its ability to capture the full provenance of that process. With NFTs inverting the ownership model of the internet from platforms to users, content is immutably linked to its creators. So when a machine learning model makes use of that content, it can assign credit to everyone who deserves it.

Indeed, crypto turns credit assignment itself into an art. As DAOs become more common, a new set of licensing models, co-ownership structures, and royalty schemes become feasible. They can align the incentives of ever-increasing numbers of people in sophisticated and novel ways. As they branch out into more creative enterprises, the notion of credit assignment will become increasingly important.

Just beyond the horizon are ArtDAOs—or DAOs that create art. When I first learned about the ArtDAO idea, I was inspired. To me, an ArtDAO is an artistic vehicle for the “hive mind.” It’s not a replacement for or alternative to a human artist, but rather a fundamentally different kind of artist altogether. Just as a distinct “voice” emerges from a choir of singers, the ArtDAO’s creativity flows from the collective imagination of its constituents.

Every journey begins with a step, and for me, that's adopting this technology for my personal work. With Foundation, I'm releasing the first in a series of short looping videos I've made over the last few years, which use neural style transfer to generate abstract textures that resemble famous artworks, patterns, maps, and various other subjects. They are notable for using a novel technique I developed for rendering them as perfect loops. 

I believe this technology is only just beginning to germinate, and I’m excited about where this journey will take me next. As happy as I am about sharing this work with collectors, selling my art is only stopping to smell the roses along the way. It was the ArtDAO idea that got me interested in crypto to begin with, and it’s the challenge that I intend to pursue next.

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