The origins of blockchain go back to the crypto-anarchism and cypherpunk movements of the late 80s. These activists advocate widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies, in an effort to protect their privacy, their political freedom, and their economic freedom. The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto by Timothy C. May dates back to mid-1988 and was distributed to some like-minded techno-anarchists at the Crypto ‘88 conference:
Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures. Timothy C. May, Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, 1988
The following excerpt from the Cypherpunk Manifesto written by Eric Hughes in 1993 is particularly telling since it contains, 30 years before, all ingredients of modern blockchain technology:
We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money. […] Cypherpunks write code. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down. Eric Hughes, Cypherpunk Manifesto, 1993
The technical specification of blockchain was proposed in 1991 by Stuart Haber, a cryptographer, and Scott Stornetta, a physicist. They published their work in The Journal of Cryptography in 1991 under the title How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document and one year later they registered it with a US patent. Haber and Stornetta were trying to deal with the epistemiological problem of truth in the digital age:
The prospect of a world in which all text, audio, picture and video documents are in digital form on easily modifiable media raises the issue of how to certify when a document was created or last changed. The problem is to time-stamp the data, not the medium. Haber and Stornetta, How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document
In their proposal they envisaged the adoption of blockchain beyond text, possibly in art as well:
Of course digital time-stamping is not limited to text. Any string of bits can be time-stamped, including digital audio recordings, photographs, and full-motion videos. […] time-stamping can help to distinguish an original photograph from a retouched one. Haber and Stornetta, How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document
Amy Whitaker recently wrote an engaging paper on art and blockchain, published in Artivate journal. She argues that blockchain technology, while commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, stands to bring radical structural change to the arts and creative industries. She tells that Haber and Stornetta “wrote their foundational paper with an E.B.-White lucidity of prose and a liberal-arts epigraph from Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece”:
Time’s glory is to calm contending kings
To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light
To stamp the seal of time in aged things
To wake the morn, and sentinel the night
To wrong the wronger till he render right.
William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece
Their paper supports the case for designing a system that does not require gatekeepers by quoting Juvenal (Satire VI, lines 347–348, circa 100 A.D.):
But who will guard the guards themselves?
and including the original Latin:
Sed quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?
Cypher::Prophet is an artwork dedicated to the punk origins of blockchain designed and realized by hackatao and hex6c. In the transposition into art they started from the iconographic canons of the hacker (hoodie, laptop, cryptographic elements) and associated them with the figure of the prophet, thus highlighting the predictive nature of the works of Hughes, May, Haber and Stornetta cited above.
It is no coincidence that the figure takes its cue from the beards of Hughes and May. The classic laptop in this case becomes the tablet of the law, as if to say: everything was already written. The background and the stick change taking inspiration from the cypher and cyberpunk imaginary. The dress is full of written references to cypherpunk in the typical stream-of-consciousness style that characterizes the hackatao artworks.
Cypher::Prophet is tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain using async platform. This platform allows you to purchase both Masters and Layers. Think of a Master as a 1 of 1 piece of art you’d find on any traditional digital platform. Layers are individual parts that make up the Master image. Both Masters and Layers are tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain. Once live, the Master token continually checks its Layer tokens and updates its look based on the Layer owners input. We have created the following 7 Layers each with a given number of possible state changes:
- Background (7 state changes)
- Dress (4 state changes)
- Stick (3 state changes)
- Eyes (6 state changes)
- Tablet Screen (6 state changes)
- Beard (3 state changes)
- Mouth (3 state changes)
In total, the Master piece has 7 * 4 * 3 * 6 * 6 * 3 * 3 = 27,216 possible states.
This means that you can change the state of the Master artwork every day for 74.6 years without repeating the same artwork!
This is two years more than the estimated global average life expectancy of 72.6 years for 2019.