W&M alumna wins award to address intellectual property issues in the art world through blockchain


Summer season in Seoul:  Amy Zhao ‘19 had the chance to discover South Korea and see websites just like the Bongeunsa Buddhist temple throughout her time as a GRI Summer season Fellow in Seoul. Courtesy picture

Intersecting fields:

Intersecting fields:  Throughout her fellowship, Zhao attended occasions that highlighted the intersection of artwork and know-how, just like the Worldwide Symposium of Digital Artwork in Gwangju, South Korea. Courtesy picture

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by Daisy Garner ’21August 13, 2021

Amy Zhao ’19 began her blockchain journey throughout her senior 12 months at William & Mary. Out of non-public curiosity, she took a course by means of the college’s International Analysis Institute that defined purposes of blockchain know-how in worldwide improvement. 

Right this moment, she maintains that very same ardour for studying, however now needs to make use of her information to assist others, together with artists who face mental property threats. Her challenge thought, “The Artwork Block,” just lately received first place within the “Design & Creator” stream of WizForm’s Build Your Dream competitors. 

“It is not simply folks on the West Coast like tech people who’re doing blockchain stuff,” stated Zhao, who majored in enterprise analytics and minored in pc science at W&M. “It is also beginning up within the authorities and in locations the place it should develop into a extra everlasting resolution for issues sooner or later.” 

Blockchain is a digital database of transactions in encrypted blocks of information which can be merged collectively in chronological order. This tamper-proof methodology of record-keeping is changing into extra prevalent all through the world. For instance, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin use blockchain to retailer transaction data.

When Zhao enrolled in GRI’s course, she didn’t anticipate that her budding curiosity in blockchain would be a magnet for GRI Director Mike Tierney. He invited her to take part within the institute’s Summer Fellows Program, during which pupil fellows are paired with William & Mary school and worldwide organizations to conduct analysis around the globe. 

Zhao accomplished her fellowship at Artwork Heart Nabi in South Korea, the place she gained first-hand insights into the affect that blockchain may have on the artwork world. This information would later function the premise for entry in WizForm’s Build Your Dream competitors. The competitors is split into three streams, with every stream participant vying for a $10,000 prize to carry their dream into fruition. 

Zhao’s victory implies that she will develop an software that hyperlinks bodily artwork to a digital token on the blockchain — defending artists from having their work stolen, connecting artists and art work, and making certain that conventional artists do not get left behind amid tech developments. 

“Being at Artwork Heart Nabi, which was this place that mixed artwork in addition to tech, and seeing all these issues come collectively gave me inspiration for this concept,” Zhao stated. “With out having gone to South Korea, I do not assume I ever would have put know-how and artwork collectively.” 

Upon opening the competition, Zhao’s pal and WizForm’s creator, Katharine Jiang, invited Zhao to take part within the “Design & Content material” stream, figuring out Zhao’s background in artwork. Zhao mirrored on her two months of seeing real-world purposes of blockchain as a GRI Summer season Fellow in Seoul to formulate an thought for the competition that might tie collectively artwork and this know-how to handle the urgent mental property points that artists face.  

At Artwork Heart Nabi, Zhao used her background in know-how to help the middle with technical facets, similar to free-form knowledge visualization. Moreover, Zhao set to work carefully with artists and people with a technology-oriented background from around the globe, all whereas exploring South Korea.  

One expertise particularly that impressed Zhao’s submission was a bit on the Worldwide Electronics Symposium — which Artwork Heart Nabi hosted when Zhao was there — known as “I Traded My Face.” This piece took an image of a viewer’s face upon them urgent a button and returned a QR code displaying proof of the blockchain and a pc generated picture of a brand new face. 

“I received a whole lot of these parallels out of that foolish face buying and selling machine,” Zhao stated. “I need it to be somebody who would not even know that they’re making a blockchain transaction after they’re buying (artwork) on-line.” 

Like “I Traded My Face,” “The Artwork Block” would hyperlink one thing bodily like artwork to a blockchain, which may defend each the artist and artwork consumers by means of performing as a digital proof of possession. In line with Zhao, this might be achieved by together with a seal on the artwork, which may hyperlink somebody to data on the artwork and its transaction historical past. Whereas Zhao doesn’t imagine that blockchain may clear up all mental property points, she definitely thinks it’s a begin.  

As Zhao was finalizing her thought for the competitors, GRI supported her in a number of methods. Along with Tierney serving to Zhao by sharing her challenge on social media networks throughout WizForm’s two-round voting course of, GRI workers, significantly Blockchain Lab Director Troy Wiipongwii, labored with Zhao to assist critique her challenge.  

“I will surely say GRI has achieved a really giant share of supporting my private journey, particularly with the thought of blockchain,” Zhao stated. “I do not assume anyplace else inside William & Mary presents programs the place you will discover coursework that isn’t essentially falling inside a serious, however could be new and relevant to a number of aspects of studying. So for instance, who would have thought worldwide improvement and blockchain belong collectively?” 

Zhao stated tasks like hers are only the start of what could be achieved with blockchain.  

“It is just like the Wild West,” she stated. “At the moment, it is getting a bit bit much less wild. Nevertheless it’s extra like a spot for experimentation proper now.” 

For college kids thinking about shaping the know-how’s future, Zhao encourages them to learn as a lot as they will about blockchain, become involved in programs and labs involving blockchain and have conversations with others thinking about it. Recalling a blockchain dinner seminar she attended with professors from completely different components of the college, Zhao stated that blockchain isn’t restricted to these with a technological background. From legislation to enterprise to math, college students from all disciplines can study blockchain and the way it may be utilized of their self-discipline as a long-term resolution to urgent points, Zhao stated. 

Upon receiving her grant cash, Zhao plans on bringing her challenge full circle again to GRI by means of a partnership with Blockchain Lab. By this, William & Mary college students may have the chance to assist Zhao execute her thought. 

“This is one thing that I can carry again to William & Mary,” Zhao stated.  

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