by Manu SharmaSep 10, 2022
As the NFT and crypto space grows, so does the scope of projects that fit within its ambit. One particularly bold addition is RadBots, an NFT collection of startlingly lifelike conversational videobots created by leading playwrights, artists and screenwriters from India, Sri Lanka, the UK, and Germany. The RadBots project was undertaken by Dara.network, which is a community-driven chat app - similar to Discord and LinkedIn - that caters to the creative, cultural and changemaking sectors. RadBots intends to give an interactive voice to characters from traditionally underrepresented communities. They foster much-needed visibility within the tech sector, which has hitherto been hetero male-dominated. Take, for example, Diode, the chatty male sex-worker, who caters to the men-looking-for-men community. Or Afro Hudgi, an immigrant, student and feminist living in Bangalore, who is looking to form friendships and human connection. There’s even Hukam Singh, who evokes the spirit of a long-forgotten parliamentarian, committed to defending fundamental rights within the Indian Constitution. When Hukam is asked, “What’s the strongest point of the Indian Constitution?”, the videobot responds, “Well, it has to be the core of the Constitution. That is the preamble. It does contain a very strong message about the promise of the Constitution. And, for once, it does treat all citizens equally. It speaks of a desire for the nation to create a just and equitable society, with all its citizens enjoying freedom and equality, and such other values as are stated in the Constitution.” Hukam goes on to articulate his skepticism regarding the Constitution of India’s commitment to fostering that equality at the birth of the nation, but also mentions that the Preamble has remained a beacon for him. The bot’s measured take on critical issues comes from the sophisticated tech at the heart of the RadBots project: as Dara’s Technical Founder, Dev Aggarwal, explains, Radbots were created by merging authored short screenplays, the user’s questions and OpenAI’s artificial intelligence platform, GPT-3. GPT-3 is the largest commercially available AI model, utilising a 175 billion parameter neural network to generate text that is nearly indistinguishable from writing by real people.
The effect is fun, at times uncannily human and varied. Some of the RadBots are far more abstract, and yet, just as articulate and nuanced. Consider Enti-I, who are a highly organised undersea swarm intelligence, committed to galvanising intelligent climate action. Equally ephemeral is b9, who channels every foetus dropped in time. And then there’s NFTBot, who was created to be an interactive personification of one of the first (and most expensive) collections of NFTs, CryptoPunks. NFTBot has surprisingly nuanced ideas around the topics of crypto and NFTs; when Dara’s Founder-COO Archana Prasad asks her, “What is your advice to artists making NFTs?” The bot responds, “If crypto culture really wants to save the planet, we need to create new models of ownership and value, that are in tune with the real costs of living. With the right mindset, we can collaborate and build new technologies, to form new communities and create new values. We can do this together.”
Dara’s team sought to enable anyone to send text or a recorded video message to the RadBots and then quickly receive a video response. To manifest this, the text of incoming videos is transcribed through Google’s speech-to-text API. These incoming texts from the questioner are then appended to the particular bot’s authored screenplay, wherefrom they go to OpenAI’s GPT-3. The AI system, in effect, attempts to predict what the author would write if they continued the screenplay, and the generated RadBot text answer to the incoming question is thus extracted. The text response is then converted to speech through Google’s text-to-speech API, and the result gets lip-synced or “DeepFaked” to the Bot’s face as a video clip, to finally be sent back to the questioner’s phone.
“We also built RadBots as response to the pandemic,” explains Dara’s CEO, Sean Blagsvedt. “Many of my friends in the performing arts simply couldn’t work and we wondered if RadBots could enable not just new forms of interactive fiction, but also provide new livelihood streams to people that work with words.” Hence, RadBots are also available to buy as NFTs with 50 per cent of the proceeds from their sales going back to the author who created the character and screenplay that was sold. An additional 30 per cent of proceeds go the RadBot DAO or Decentralised Autonomous Organisation, known as the RADAO. A DAO is an organisational framework that rethinks human collaboration by using digital code to create pre-configured parameters of participation and association, which cannot then be changed. The RADAO is committed to RadBots’ NFT proceeds funding further socially conscious techart experiments and the upliftment of under-represented communities that the RadBots attempt to speak for. The RADAO’s membership roster will include the RadBot artists, the NFT buyers, and the RadBots themselves- an unprecedented level of faith within the power of AI and techart to nurture plus-sum solutions and compassionate thinking.
Discussing the current stage of the project, Blagsvedt tells STIR, “We want RadBots to be as green as possible, and hence we are releasing them in batches on the Tezos network, a greener “proof of stake” crypto network vs. “proof of work” networks such Etherium and Bitcoin.” The proof of stake consensus mechanism cuts back on energy expenditure required to keep a blockchain technology like Tezos up and running, saving an enormous amount of energy. Prasad and Blagsvedt, who come from backgrounds that intersect design, visual art, software policy and more, began Dara with the aim of connecting folx across the creative, cultural and changemaking sectors in order to facilitate future-thinking, environmentally conscious techart projects. The RadBots project and the larger Dara network have managed to bring together a geographically diffused group of creatives who have married cutting-edge tech with NFT activism. It is a far cry from the speculation, opportunism and pop-culture obsessiveness our new and shared crypto-paradigm receives so much flak for. While it remains to be seen where Dara’s work will go in the future, one thing is for certain: the RadBots project signals new and exciting things on the horizon for techart.
Dara undertook RadBots in partnership with BeFantastic and Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai, the former of which is a techart organisation and festival that convenes architects, artists, technologists and designers in order to pursue creative tech, that is meant to contribute towards a positive, sustainable future. The Goethe-Institut promotes knowledge of the German language and history, and also involves itself in cross-cultural collaboration between creatives across fields and disciplines.