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The Bitcoin of NFTs
Naval, Balaji and Autoglyphs
What do you own when you own an NFT?
This week a thread by Naval Ravikant defined NFTs as an “on-chain token representing ownership of an off-chain asset”:
Naval went on to contrast this with Bitcoin:
While this definition may be true for many NFTs, particularly the low-effort NFTs that came up in this latest hype season, this is completely false for the first artwork on-chain: Autoglyphs
The fact that Autoglyphs are a completely self-contained mechanism for the creation and ownership of an artwork is truly revolutionary, in the same way that Bitcoin is a completely self-contained mechanist for the ownership and transaction of a digital asset.
Bitcoin doesn’t need any off-chain data or references for us to verify the owner or the asset owned. It doesn’t rely on a single trusted third party. It is secured by a decentralized network of nodes and miners.
Autoglyphs are the extension of the Bitcoin ethos into an artwork. The art itself is the instruction to produce it, following the generative art style.
Like Bitcoin’s code, the instructions themselves are very simple, following the limitations of storage blockchains could handle at the time.
It is not only a piece of art, pushing the boundaries of what was possible creatively in 2019, but also a piece of technology, showing what is actually going to the standard in the long run.
The first Crypto Native NFTs
Naval’s definition echoes a common critique of NFTs: that they are merely certificates of ownership. It’s the same point made by The Verge in this article:
This is not true for all of them, and I believe, as we improve NFT-centric protocols and ways to provide decentralized storage for more complex content, the on-chain certificate of an off-chain asset will be an anachronism.
“Balaji: So you can think of a piece of paper, and then you can think of a scanner and then you can think of a text file. Right. So you go from physical to this hybrid, like physical to digital scanner and then digital native. Another example would be you’ve got a face-to-face meeting, you’ve got Zoom, and then you’ve got virtual reality. Zoom is also like a scanner. It’s taking the offline and putting it online. But then VR is like digital native. With me?
Tim Ferriss: I am.
Balaji: Third example, physical cash, then something like PayPal or fintech, which is just basically the scanner, taking that and putting it online. And then you have crypto, which swaps out the backend is just now natively digital, it doesn’t have a physical form.”
CryptoPunks and other not fully on-chain NFTs were this hybrid step: NFTs that were a reference to an off-chain file. But not Autoglyphs.
Owning an Autoglyph is owning everything that the artists meant for you to have, in an immutable, unbreakable way. That’s why not only we can say that they are the first on-chain artwork, but the first example of truly crypto native art.
Most NFTs, as Naval defined, are in this awkward intermediary step. But the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.