Rhea Myers

Upgrade Art Now!

Shiva laser target chamber.jpg
Image taken from LLNL document “Laser Programs, the first 25 years”. [1], Public Domain, Link

Transferring a human mind into a computer system is known as “uploading”; turning a mortal into a Power is known as “upgrading.” The prototypical upload is the Moravec Transfer, proposed by Dr. Hans Moravec in the book Mind Children. The Moravec Transfer gradually moves (rather than copies) a human mind into a computer. You need never lose consciousness. – Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, “Staring Into the Singularity”

In the 1982 movie “Tron” (and its underrated 2010 sequel “Tron Legacy”) people are digitized body and mind to be uploaded into a simulation “grid” via the powerful SHIVA laser. They are returned to meatspace in the same way. If you only digitize the mind and don’t then return it to meatspace, you get an upload. And if you destroy the brain in order to do so you get a destructive upload. It’s half a teleportation. Made famous by Hans Moravec, explored fictitiously in William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market” and Neal Stephenson’s novel “Fall; or Dodge in Hell” amongst others, and depicted graphically in the recent Amazon show “Upload“, destructive mind uploading destroys your brain layer by layer as its structure is digitized to produce the raw data for a computer simulation of you. We can’t be squeamish if we want our biological raw material to be ship of Theseus’d into cyberspace (in Moravec’s proposal) or captured as it evaporates in a burst of plasma (in “Upload”).

Back in 2018 I wrote a short story for Art Review called “The Large Glass, Burned” in which a famous NFT artwork is destroyed as the ultimate artistic provocation to a future in which physical artworks are of interest, if at all, only as curious historical footnotes to their tokens. I was reminded of this when Injective Protocol burned a Banksy and then sold it as an NFT earlier this month. If anyone wants to buy that token and send it to a burn address then that will complete this particular circuit (ask your lawyer about the moral rights implications of doing so first though, please and thank you).

Destroying an artwork after or, even better, by scanning it (in 2D, 3D or in time-based media) to produce a blockchain proxy is a form of destructive uploading. Given how we prize meatspace art, destroying it to produce a superior onchain “upgrade” in Moravec’s terminology produces a perfect fault line in understanding between legacy institutions that regard doing so as a newsworthy crime against humanity and emerging blockchain cultur(e|al)( superstructural) institutions that will regard not doing so in just as critical ethical terms.

Given the certainty of ownership, permanence, and reduced archiving costs of NFT art compared to legacy meatspace art as it circulates in the petrodollar artworld, added to the editioning and fractionalization opportunities of NFTs, why not upgrade art onto the blockchain? Burn out a Leonardo layer by line as you scan it with an electron beam and capture it forever with its hash anchored securely onchain. We can’t be squeamish…

Upgrade art now!