Slides From My “Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain” Talk at DCTRL

On 6th December 2017 I spoke about the “Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain” book at DCTRL in Vancouver. I was up after the Cryptokitties team, so there was no pressure… I’m grateful to the audience for their insightful questions and discussion, unfortunately the event wasn’t recorded.

Here are the slides for the talk, I’ll be expanding on their themes here soon:

Artists Re-thinking the Blockchain

Secrets of the Shibes


YS and Teacher, Lina Theodorou.

“Bad Shibe” was a response to the question of what an anarcho-capitalist cryptocurrency-based society might look like, a world with the Internet but no government, with money and property but no robber-barons. Its immediate literary forebears are “Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom”, which is also about an economic utopia, and Michael Moorcock’s foreword to one of their “Jerry Cornelius” collections, which talks about those stories’ impressionistic technique. YS, the protagonist, is a naive tween because there are only so many times your viewpoint character’s need to have their world explained to them can be stolen from “Day of The Triffids”. They are bad at providing details about their world because they are oblivious, and to avoid getting bogged down in details of how the world works rather than the impression that it works. The other characters are essentially expositional – a parent to provide a longer historical view, an older sibling to provide information about the current society, a teacher to defend some of the wider trends, and a shopkeeper to provide swords and potions props for discussion.

I wrote Bad Shibe at the end of 2014 while I was walking around a gentrifying area of Vancouver and listening to Bitcoin true believers in a basement. It was revised for publication with support from Furtherfield and Torque in 2016, then published in 2017 first as a stand-alone zine and later in the book “Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain”. During the editorial process I was surprised to discover that the story has a plot. Originally it was over 7,000 words, it was cut to 4,000 for publication. YS lost interactions with their schoolmates and a possible romantic interest (to which they are utterly oblivious) all of which brought their character into sharper relief and made the world richer but hid the off-screen action even more.

In addition to the leaner version of the story I produced a document called “The Ruinously over-explained Bad Shibe”, which is an almost line-by-line commentary. Here’s a sample:

* YS goes to school despite working during the day. The system works!!1
* The historical figure in question is the Doge of Venice. When I wrote this, doge was pronounced “dohgg”. It’s now pronounced the same as the Doge.
Teacher has much to say. They plot a U-shaped graph of occurrences of the word “shibe” over time. Then they show us a clip from a pre film about two bros in a time-travelling phone box. Next teacher explains what a phone box is. Then they talk about an old cereal that was designed for TV. Then they talk about what TV was. Much history.
* The film is “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, which features two Californian teenagers who speak a curiously retro dialect of English that becomes the basis for a future civilization… This and the “U-shaped graph” are an excuse for a culture in the future talking vaguely like an Internet subculture in 2014.
* The cereal is “Cap’n Crunch”, a product that was created to be sold by television advertising. YS knows what cereal is. I’m not sure why.
Another new poster says “Tip your teacher!” and we do because we’re shibes. I remember teacher’s tippage and my earlier slippage (which rhymes) so I tip some more. Teachers gotta eat. Which reminds me, I’m hungry. As I leave class my phone pings above the hubbub of detarping shibes. Tipped for good homework. Wow.
* At this point, what YS is doing does look like straightforward tipping.
Back on the street, night is ramping up. Eggers are packing up for the evening leaving the sidewalk greasy. The swapmeet is starting under glaring LEDs. Such service to the community. Zero walking from school. Many shibes. Such goods to browse.
* Eggers fry eggs with sheets of metal in the anthropocene sun.
My fellow schoolshibes are gathered around cartwheel vendors mobbing for apples and wraps. Wow. Much noms. Is “noms” kitteh? I look around. Nobody heard me say it. I get thrown a maximally amaze apple and tip large for it when it also tastes good. What was that story with a big red apple in it? And a snake? I’m thrown a wrap. I kerbnom. Wrap is meh. I show its corpse to my schoolshibe sat next to me.
* YS is confusing Snow White and the Book of Genesis.
* Also YS is now buying fruit after spending the day picking it…
“Do I tip for this?” I ask them.
* Tipping starts to look like payment. 🙁

The story is stuffed with references like these, all of which are part of its meditation on its theme.

As the notes say, in the story “doge” is pronounced with a hard rather than a soft “g” – like “goat” rather than “wage”. Likewise, most people now pronounce “shibe” as if it begins with “she” rather than “shy” This means that Post society is not called Shiberia. YS’s name is pronounced “why is” and was chosen after @coin_artist’s Snow Crash-derived handle at the time. The language of the story was an exercise in instant obsolescence that was less instant than I expected – you can still find Doge memes online and Dogecoin recently touched a market cap of a billion dollars – it is a combination of Doge and Reddit argot. If it works it’s like Nadsat (thank you to Juliet Evans-Lee for that observation), if it fails it’s like the language in a youth culture exploitation movie of the 1960s. Writing it is exhausting.

Bad Shibe was written before “The DAO Hack”, but the big off-screen threat in it is quite similar to it. If we assume that what YS is doing with “tipping” is actually transferring Dogecoin, we can date the hard fork that is intended to address the threat fairly accurately. A prize awaits the first person to do so (probably a copy of the zine).

There are two follow up stories to Bad Shibe which I doubt I will have the time to write. “Rise of the Shitlords” follows on immediately from the end of Bad Shibe and looks at the important question of who cleans the sewers (it is about economic failure in the same way that Bad Shibe is about technological failure). “To the Moon” is about what happens when the clocks stop and features the largest tip the world has ever seen (it is about social failure). At the end of it all someone sits at a table in the sun, waiting expectantly.

DEMODAY

DEMODAY, 2017, CounterParty Tokens.

DEMODAY is the first art show-specific crypto token.

It has been created for the show “Demo Day” at Kunstraum LLC, Brooklyn, from September 24 – October 28 2017. See here for details

https://www.kunstraumllc.com/single-post/2017/09/13/DEMO-DAY

Beg, Steal & Borrow

“Beg, Steal & Borrow – Artists Against Originality”, Robert Shore, 2017, ISBN 9781780679464

Buy here –

http://www.laurenceking.com/en/beg-steal-and-borrow-artists-against-originality/

Robert Shore’s excellent new book about artistic originality and appropriation art contains an installation image of my “Shareable Readymades” (models by Chris Webber & Bassam Kurdali, title by Charlotte Frost) at the 2016 show “Jerwood Encounters: Common Property”.

My lasting interest in art comes in no small part from endlessly re-reading a large Andy Warhol catalogue in art class at school. When I went to art school the indebtedness of art to its past and the creative potential of appropriation art and sampling made perfect sense to me. So “Beg, Steal & Borrow”‘s canon of art that follows Steve Job’s maxim about great artists is one I love and that I’m very pleased to see the Shareable Readymades in.

Trusted Third Party Hardware

From the point of view of the Bitcoin white paper, trusted platform modules, programmable secure elements, and secure enclaves are all examples of the presence of trusted third parties. They are “Treacherous Computing” hardware that someone other than you ultimately controls, and who you must trust to act in your best interests.

If it was the case that the use of hardware that obeys trusted thirds parties in order to improve the security or speed of cryptocurrencies offered obvious benefits that cannot be achieved in any other way then objecting to this on ideological grounds might seem like an example of Emerson’s maxim that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. But trusted third party hardware is not necessarily always more secure and trustworthy than hardware or software that the user controls.

Promoting trusted third party hardware solutions in cryptocurrency without acknowledging this should therefore be questioned both ideologically and pragmatically.

Ideologically because the CEO of a hardware wallet company should not have more control of the systems that you use to hold your cryptocurrency than you do, and they should not be beholden to their chip vendor for that power either.

Pragmatically because adding more places for malware to infect and hide in, and in ways that may be impossible to detect and remove, does not make things more secure.

Given all this it is important to look beyond the marketing of trusted third party hardware. Here are some articles describing issues with such systems.

Secure Elements

Government agencies do pressure chip producers to include backdoors to their products, so why should one suppose it would be different with SE, especially knowing that these are being used for financial transactions? The user would never learn about this, because of the nature of the SE.

Is “Banking-grade Security” Good Enough for Your Bitcoins?

A team of security engineers from Rapid7 at Black Hat USA 2016 conference in Las Vegas demonstrated how a small and simple modifications to equipment would be enough for attackers to bypass the Chip-and-PIN protections and enable unauthorized transactions.

This ATM Hack Allows Crooks to Steal Money From Chip-and-Pin Cards

The Infineon Bug

A crippling flaw in a widely used code library has fatally undermined the security of millions of encryption keys used in some of the highest-stakes settings, including national identity cards, software- and application-signing, and trusted platform modules protecting government and corporate computers.

Millions of high-security crypto keys crippled by newly discovered flaw

A vulnerability was identified in the RSA key generation method used by Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) manufactured by Infineon and contained in some Lenovo products. RSA public keys generated by the Infineon TPM for use by certain software programs should be considered insecure.

RSA Keys Generated by Infineon TPMs are Insecure

Of course, if Infineon made this mistake, who else could have made a similar faux pas?

ROCA encryption #fail: Worse than we thought (and way worse than KRACK)

Secure Enclaves

Researchers have demonstrated using Intel’s Software Guard Extensions to hide malware and steal cryptographic keys from inside SGX’s protected enclave

Using Intel’s SGX to Attack Itself

It’s still too early to know what the full fallout from the SEP’s decryption will be, but it could open the door for password harvesting, spoofing, and other security-compromising attacks.

iOS users beware: A hacker has just published a decryption key for the Apple Secure Enclave, which is responsible for processing Touch ID transactions.

Artists Re:Thinking The Blockchain

“Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain” Edited by Ruth Catlow, Marc Garret, Nathan Jones & Sam Skinner, 2017, ISBN 9780993248757.

Furtherfield and Torque have compiled an excellent range of writing and imagery about blockchain network technology’s role in the arts and vice versa. You can buy it here:

https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/products/100826

If you are in North America, Amazon UK will be cheaper for postage until the North American edition is out in February 2018 here:

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/artists-rethinking-the-blockchain-9780993248740

I have two pieces in the book.

“Bad Shibe” is the story of a young person in a post-fiat-currency utopia suffering from their first pangs of doubt that they, and more generally the society that they live in, may not be as wonderful as they previously thought. It is accompanied by Lina Theodorou’s wonderful illustrations of a story that the narrator makes very difficult to illustrate.

“Blockchain Poetics” is an essay about what proponents and critics of cryptocurrency think it is about, the historical context of these views, and how they are expressed culturally and rhetorically. It discusses trust, hodling, anti-politics, the nature of truth, and the “doge” subculture that is a major feature of “Bad Shibe.

The book is a wonderful physical artefact and the writing presents a wide range of voices, see the LUP page for details.

Lottery Symbol

“Lottery Symbol”,2017, DApp.

A graphical symbol on the blockchain, chosen via a simple lottery (using the blockchain itself as a source of entropy).

This is a piece in a series of works that pair methods of allocation with aesthetic properties. It follows on from Democratic Palette.

You can access it via an Ethereum-enabled browser here and the source code is available in a git repository here.

Art Is 2.0


“Art Is”, 2014/2017, DApp.

People have argued about the definition of art for millennia.

We finally have the techonomic means to settle this argument.

In “Art Is”, people can use the Ethereum network to pay to define art at a price equal to the strength of their certainty in the correctness of their definition. The results are an economically rational definition of art, far stronger than discourse paid for by third party cultural institutions.

The original “Art Is” from 2014 suffered from bitrot so I re-implemented it.

As ever, you can access it via an Ethereum-enabled browser here and the source code is available in a git repository here.

About “Is Art”

This is the text for the current showing of “Is Art”.

“Is Art”, 2016/2017, Ethereum DApp, Rob Myers.

Late 1960s Conceptual Art and mid 1990s net.art are useful inspiration for thinking about the blockchain and smart contracts. These art movements stood in critical tension with the systems of communication, law and commerce of their eras. Each treated rootless information, whether about sense data or network messages, as the critical subject of art and a new potential artworld. Their promise and their eventual recuperation by the existing artworld chimes with the historical experience of the blockchain.

“Is Art” takes the Conceptual Art ideas of dematerialisation (art that is not presented in a fixed physical form) and nomination (something that is art because someone or something says it is) and combines them with the net.art idea of the interactive artwork that exists in or interferes with network protocols.

In it, an Ethereum smart contract contains the assertion that it either “is” or “is not” art. A web page connected to the Ethereum network displays the state of this assertion to anyone who can access the contract and allows them switch it between states. When they do so this will become a fact secured in Ethereum’s blockchain with the strength of millions of dollars of computing power a day.

Is this sufficient to determine whether the contract is or is not art? Where and how is the claim really being made and determined? How does this relate to historical examples of such artworks? And how does it relate to other claims of fact stored in other smart contracts?

To Change The Status Of The Contract

1. Click anywhere on the screen.
2. In the dialog that opens, click “Update”.
3. And in the dialog that opens in response to *that*, click on “Accept”.
4. Watch for the update on both screens.

“Bad Shibe” at New World Order

Lina Theodorou’s installation at Furtherfield’s “New World Order” featuring their wonderful illustrations for my story “Bad Shibe”.

You can buy the print version of Bad Shibe, featuring those illustrations, at the show or online via PayPal or with Bitcoin.

Via Furtherfield – https://twitter.com/furtherfield/status/865569017515438084

Top