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Alexiei Dingli Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta and has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. He forms part of the Malta.AI task-force, set up by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world N on-fungible tokens (NFTs) have suddenly sprouted worldwide; many people are excited about this new technology, and its applica- tions are gradually expanding. An NFT is a digital asset (like a picture, song, or movie), usually referred to as a token and registered on the blockchain. e block- chain is nothing more than a register con- taining data that references other blocks, thus forming a digital chain. e token is non-fungible because it is unique, and there can only be one original. So it's sim- ilar to owning a unique painting like the Mona Lisa but in digital form. Over the past years, NFTs have soared in popularity because they created a new source of income for digital artists (but not only). Like physical paintings, virtual artworks get sold, and owner- ship is recorded in the blockchain. Due to the inner workings of the blockchain, this record is unchangeable. So if a photographer sells his photos online, whoever buys them has the right to use them. If someone else uses them with- out permission, that person is liable for legal consequences. Of course, not everything with NFTs is rosy. e primary reason they garnered so much attention in recent years is due to massive monetary transactions in- volved in the sale of some of them. e most famous NFT ever sold is EVERY- DAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, by dig- ital artist Mike "Beeple" Winkelmann. e painting costs $69 million and is essentially a collage of 5,000 earlier art- works, demonstrating the artist's de- velopment throughout his career. For Christie's auction house, this was the first purely digital painting that man- aged to sell for such an amount. But, whereas the value of such a paint- ing might be clear, others are not, thus raising speculations of financial irreg- ularities. In 2021, an artist called 'Pak' placed on the NFT market a grey pixel (a single dot) that Sotheby sold for $1.36 million. e worthiness of a painting goes beyond the aesthetic characteris- tics, and it is the community that deter- mines its value. With NFTs, one has to be extra careful, though. In 2021, some- one bought the first tweet on Twitter for $2.9 million. It was listed for sale a year later, aiming at an impressive $48 mil- lion. e most significant offer received amounted to just under $280. One needs to be very careful, the technolo- gy is relatively embryonic, and there are still many presumptions. Notwithstanding this, NFT is still an important technology, and it will have a lot of applications in the future. Since an NFT is a digital asset, it can also con- tain a program, thus making it dynamic. A photo might change according to the time of the day or the weather outside. To make it slightly more interesting, imagine adding Artificial Intelligence elements! A kind of AI which would be perfect for such a task is an Intelligent Agent. ese agents are programs having unique features like autonomy, learn- ing, communication and goal-oriented. ey would live on the metaverse and roam freely irrespective of their owner. Since they are autonomous, they do not need instructions but can decide to move from one virtual location to an- other. ey learn as they go along, thus making them adapt to the environment in which they live. When they meet oth- er agents, they can speak with them and negotiate agreements (on their owner's behalf ). Since their program and data are constantly changing, they evolve and automatically improve themselves. Finally, they can perform tasks for their owner since they are goal-oriented. A person might own one or more of these agents, maybe having different special- isations. So imagine a user trying to book a hol- iday for him and his family sometime in summer. All he has to do is instruct his agent whilst providing it with his prefer- ences. e agent will then visit the dif- ferent service providers represented on the metaverse to create the best itiner- ary for his owner. ese entities include airlines, taxis, hotels, tour guides, res- taurants, and those offering a touristic service in the destination country. Since there are other dependencies as part of the group, the user's agent will also con- sult with their agent to determine their individual preferences and come up with a plan enjoyable for everyone. e agent will also go through the different online reviews, thus learning about the various attractions which are available. Finally, it will present its owner with a complete itinerary which only requires a final verification before all the pay- ments go through and the details insert- ed in the party's diaries. But we can also take NFTs a step fur- ther toward Artificial Life. ese pro- grams have properties that mimic bio- logical operators, such as reproduction, mutation, and death. Such an NFT can digitally couple with another NFT, thus creating a combined offspring with new features. So a travel planning agent might couple with a financial agent and gain the knowledge to make virtual pay- ments. e possibilities are practically end- less, and even though today's NFTs are extremely limited, we will see new ap- plications emerge. But the metaverse is the platform that will unleash the real power of NFTs since it will provide them with the tools necessary to make them useful. It will take a while until we get there. In the meantime, we can dream about how our lives will ulti- mately change with these smart NFTs. Next generation non-fungible tokens OPINION 12.5.2022

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