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ProjectBlog: Interview with Marek Zabicki, CTO of Arteïa

Blog: Interview with Marek Zabicki, CTO of Arteïa


Go to the profile of Arteïa
  1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and on why you took part in the Arteïa’s adventure?

I am a computer scientist with a Ph.D in combinatorial optimisation from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland. After a few years of a career in research institutions, I moved to Paris and started to work as a software developer. I was definitely a geek who loved to work on new technologies, be it CD-ROMs at their dawn, fast algorithms for equity derivatives for financial institutions, full-text search engines, documentary databases or emerging social networks. Having a positive attitude toward learning and keen interest in technology was the reason that I spent nearly all my professional life in startups!

At the beginning of the 2000’s my startup Neurosoft built the world’s first modern collection management system called Musnet. We used XML descriptive language as a means not only for defining data schema but also for modelling GUI. Thanks to this approach almost all the features of the system could be easily represented by a formalised textual descriptions. This way the implementation of a collection management system for a specific museum was just performed by designing its DTD (Document Type Definition) which was then imported and read by the system. There were some minimum properties that such a document definition had to enforce but otherwise it was capable to generate any structure of the database, any number of data fields of any type and containing any attributes, hierarchies and sub nodes. And above all not only the data but also rules for the application’s GUI, its printouts and export were entirely configurable via this document definition structure. The whole application was thus represented and stored as XML data in the database or as a set of external files. Musnet flexibility, further enforced by powerful information retrieval capabilities, opened us doors to prestigious cultural institutions in Europe. Nearly 300 museums still use Musnet software for their daily operations.

This experience helped us win a tender to build the world’s biggest rights management systems for visual arts for the Paris-based ADAGP (Société des Auteurs dans les Arts Graphiques et Plastiques). And a few years later we built GCOLL/2, the world’s biggest art management system which is currently used in France by the top institutions taking care of contemporary and modern art collections (Picasso Museum and Centre Pompidou among others).

During this period, I was continuously meeting different actors of the art world, and above all art collectors. They were so passionate about their collections and at that time there were no modern tools on the market to satisfy their art management needs. And then, when I finally discovered they were hundreds of thousands of art collectors across the world and less than 1% of them were using any electronic means for collection cataloguing, I instantly spotted an opportunity. I decided to develop a new kind of art management system using state-of-the-art web and mobile technologies. It took me about a year to find partners and investors and finally in August 2016 Arteïa was born. Two years later Arteïa’s first product, the art management platform Arteïa Collect, became production ready.

2. When did you first come into contact with blockchain technology and what interests you most about this technology?

Well, in the 90’s of the former century I was involved in a few projects in a very ‘secret’ sector and one of the main concerns there was immutability of certain data sets. We resolved this problem with an approach very similar to today’s distributed ledgers. Afterwards, as being inherently curious, I heard about bitcoin and quickly became fascinated by this development and movement. Then I discovered Nick Szabo’s paper about smart contracts, so my interest was growing fast as I finally found an elegant mechanism that had the potential to be used for automating transactions in peer-to-peer networks. Two years later I stumbled upon Ethereum and quickly understood that this was a game changing blockchain technology. Programmable blockchain protocol, focused on security and immutability, provided means for pseudonymous transactions and opened doors for anonymity to a large spectrum of network players. Thanks to its open source model, it became available and accessible to thousands of skilled developers. But the strongest feature was that you could finally build decentralized applications and virtual economies in it! As the whole 4 years of my Ph.D. studies were done in the area of decentralized control in large scale systems, I know really well the problems of centralized systems. And we are living in the world of focused centralization — intermediaries, walled gardens and central authorities — being it financial, industrial, or even social.

At the time I was building a brand new art management system for several world’s top collectors, they were continuously sharing stories about being profiled and having to pay higher prices for artworks, about extremely high intermediaries’ commissions, problems with assets’ liquidity, forgeries, unverified provenance etc. With a great astonishment I was discovering that the art world is yet totally immune to the digital transformation which was already impacting nearly every aspect of our lives.

I knew that there was a way to approach all these problems by applying blockchain technology. I started a conversation with a friend of mine, a top-notch expert in security, cryptography and tokenomics, Dr Anish Mohammed. I gave him a book about today’s contemporary art market, which clearly explained its peculiarities. Few weeks later we met — Anish, myself and other founders of Arteïa. After a long brainstorming session a new adventure began — we decided to extend our ongoing cloud-based art management project Arteïa Collect and start working on a decentralized ecosystem for the art world. An ecosystem which will provide a multitude of tools and services for all of its actors — be it artists, collectors, art agents, curators, different art professionals, and service providers. A new Arteïa was born!

I strongly believe that blockchain technology provides efficient means for solving or greatly enhancing the chance to address all inefficiencies of the world of art. It will obviously take years until full adoption happens. But it will come and as we go more and more decentralized, cooperating actors will emerge. This technology is like an avalanche — it is developing enormously fast and in multiple directions. There is so much talent and enthusiasm and mind-blowing new technologies eg. ZKP (zero-knowledge proof). All this provides an intellectual challenge and a lot of fun. It is definitely a fascinating territory to be in!

3. As Arteïa’s CTO, how do you see this project, what are its specificities and strengths?

In my opinion Arteïa is currently the most ambitious technology project in the art ecosystem. Arteïa Collect is a software-as-a-service art management platform for collectors, artists and other users who need to catalogue and effectively manage their collections. Arteïa Exchange is, in turn, a set of decentralized services providing peer-to-peer interactions for all actors in the network. Both platforms can work together, exchange information and leverage each other’s strengths. But they can also effectively function in total separation.

Our development is defined by stages and milestones. Arteïa Collect is being continuously worked on and enhanced with new functionalities, driven directly by user demands. New modules are planned, among others:

(1) Arteïa Artwork Digital DNA, a secure mechanism which can provide a proof of authenticity of an artwork based on a RFID/NFC chip mixed with AI analysis of image fingerprint with the data stored on a distributed ledger;

(2) Arteïa Discovery, a versatile matching and recommendation engine, analysing which artworks will complement or broaden user’s collection and which artists or galleries might be of interest to them;

(3) Arteïa Valuation, a data science tool for reliable value estimation and price prediction deriving its effectiveness from traditional methods of stock price prediction, real estate valuation models, as well as machine learning and deep neural networks including recurrent neural networks;

(4) Arteia Catalogue Raisonné, a compilation of the verified knowledge regarding all artworks of a given artist and stored on the blockchain.

At the same time, we are building Arteïa Exchange. A major component of Arteïa Exchange will be a decentralised, private social network for art professionals and art enthusiasts. Users will be in control of all their data and they will be the ones deriving value from it. They will decide which part of their data can be pooled for processing and which will remain totally private. They will choose which artwork data will be accessible and to whom (i.e. their trusted network, a chosen group of collectors, a specific expert etc.), as well as whether their identity should be shown. Finally, a trading platform functioning autonomously on the ledger without the need to enroll third parties or intermediaries, will facilitate the secure transfer of value. Arteïa’s own token — ARTK — will be a means to access those services.

One of the most interesting subjects we are currently working on is using zero-knowledge proofs to enhance the privacy of transactions. Applying such a mechanism on Arteïa’s Exchange will accelerate its growth as the inability to conduct inherently private transactions is one of the shortcomings of public blockchains and a major obstacle to overcome if we want such platform to be widely adopted.

Ultimately I see Arteïa as a definite solution to the long lasting problem of information asymmetry as well as assets liquidity existing within the art world.

To find out more about Arteïa and keep up to date with the news, please go to our website and sign up for Telegram.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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