LA Tech Week: The Auctioning of an NFT From AI LA

Andrew Fiouzi
Andrew Fiouzi is a freelance writer. He was previously a features writer at MEL Magazine where he covered masculinity, tech and true crime. His work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Long Reads and Vice, among other publications.
LA Tech Week: The Auctioning of an NFT From AI LA
Fun for Funds Festival (Image c/o AI LA)

A Custom Home Built in 33 Days

In the suburbs of Silver Lake, Cover — a technology company that builds custom backyard homes is showcasing their latest, life-size lego abode. Their latest $270,000 accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is built atop a garage on a slanted hill that required some standard contracting work. But other than laying the concrete foundation every other part of this home was built in Cover’s new 80,000 square feet factory in Gardena.

If Tesla was in the home-building business, this is what it would look like.

“Our approach is similar to Tesla,” says Cover’s technological advisor to the CEO Rico Jaeggi. “Start with high-end products then, through scaling we can bring the cost down.” In other words, as a few of their other employees tell me, Cover’s current model is equivalent to Tesla’s roadster.

The idea is to streamline the homebuilding process so that, “if you work an eight-hour job, you never see us in your backyard,” says Jaeggi. In other words, with Cover you’ll never have to worry about seeing a contractor drop a stack of lumber in your backyard then disappear for a few weeks.

The 550 square-foot, single-room home I’m touring was built in 33 days. The bathroom is aseptic and white and the paneling on the ceiling–also white–can be unscrewed and removed like a car bumper in case there’s a leak. Cover co-founder Alexis Rivas tells me that although the homes are built on production lines using algorithms, the layouts are custom.

“You can move the door to this side of the home and you can put the bathroom and the kitchen anywhere you want,” he adds.

On my way out, the valet attendant who works in construction asks what I thought of the house. I tell him it looks good. That his job might soon be automated and, instead of laboring in the sun, he may be working behind a computer for a software company. He looks at me like I just told him he’s had a death in the family. Then he shakes his head. “Nah man,” he says. “That ain’t me.”

The VC Fund in Silver Lake

Inside a small office space that was recently vacated by reselling platform Depop, Worklife Ventures is hosting one of only a handful of L.A. Tech Week events on the Eastside of Los Angeles.

“They [presumably the folks that helped put on L.A. Tech Week] encouraged us to relocate our event to the Westside, but the Eastside is the heart of L.A.,” says Brian Yip, head of marketing at Worklife.

The small studio space looks like what you’d imagine from a V.C. fund aiming for some Silver Lake street cred: a panel of vinyl records, recessed ceilings coated in yellow paint and a Cup Noodles placard the size of a movie poster hanging on the wall. The event is jam-packed and Nelly’s “Country Grammar” blaring through the speakers makes it difficult to hear anyone say anything.

Currently, the space features merch from Canadian YouTuber Cody Ko. Last month, Yip tells me, they hosted Grailed superseller 4Gseller for an in-person retail pop-up. Worklife, per Yip, is a fund aimed at helping to connect digital communities in real life.

Inside Worklife’s Silver Lake studio, I also meet Joshua Blackwell, founder of Blck Unicrn — a Web3 project he describes as Netflix meets Spotify. Blackwell further explains that the idea is “to bring stories to life via immersive experiences and through augmented reality.” For example, he continues, “what if the ‘Thriller’ video kept going and you could be in the house with the zombies?” In other words, Blackwell says, “the concept is to mix the concert experience with the immersive nature of being inside an escape room.”

His idea sounds promising. If it were me though, I’d maybe consider reframing the pitch.

Auctioning an NFT of an AI’s Interpretation of LA

A few blocks from Downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row, where roughly 8,000 men and women live in encampments, sits the steel and glass 1010 Wilshire building guarded by a brass Buddha statue as tall as a middling palm tree. On 1010’s labyrinthine rooftop, AI LA is hosting its luxurious $150 per ticket ($250 for V.I.P.) Fun for Funds Festival to promote AI literacy in the city of Los Angeles.

Here, the ills that plague society have been given the NFT treatment: Five 10x4 feet screens display glittering images with a variable backstory. Their similarity to a Microsoft music visualizer circa Windows 2000 is uncanny.

Each screen represents a different district in Los Angeles, something participants learn after they’ve scanned the screen-adjacent QR code. Each district has a 15-second clip from the NFT collection. The first display– or “District 1” as it’s referred to–covers Downtown and East L.A. According to the information drawn from the QR code, the main challenge in District 1 is “access to quality jobs, retail stores and perhaps most importantly—food.”

This being an AI event, the solution, as suggested by the information drawn from the QR code, is reinventing the supply chain “through smart supply systems” and via “AI-based monitoring.”

So what do the mashing molecules on the screen have to do with any of this? James Macion, the data analyst tasked with pulling public data and grouping the data into themes tried his best to put it in terms I can understand.

“For example, District 4 represents racial equity,” says Macion. So Macion pulled data sets related to racial equity: population, education, social depression and language. The data was then given to award-winning independent media studio Ouchhh to create AI-generated NFTs. In other words, the psychedelic renderings are the visual incarnation of the data that tells us everything that’s wrong with our society. The idea, Macion says, was to make the AI-generated art, “homegrown for L.A.”

According to the summary of “District 3’s” future, AI predictive models will play a role in “anticipating housing needs of individuals who are encountering circumstances that may cause them to be unhoused and connecting them to relevant resources before they become unhoused.” This is all to suggest that AI is the future and it’s here to save the world from suffering.

The event is the brainchild of AI LA’s founder, president and executive director Todd Terrazas, who tells me that AI LA’s goal–among other things–is to promote AI literacy to “fewer white guys.” The way he plans to do this is by piloting AI literacy programs in community colleges where students of color comprise 60% of enrollment.

Early in the evening, Terrazas promises that when the sun goes down the screens will change. That they will then display one-of-one NFTs produced by Ouchhh that will soon travel to a Mozilla conference in Hawaii and that the attendants of the AI LA event can bid on to become owners of the NFT.

The other major AI enterprise at the event is Jeremy Fojut’s friendship-finding platform Like|Minded. After diving into psychological research about friendship and personalities, Fojut, also the co-founder of NEWaukee, known for hosting community events in Milwaukee, turned his attention to developing a platform that uses a personality assessment to match individuals within an organization to help them form meaningful connections and increase their engagement within their company.

The algorithm is based on HEXACO, a personality inventory that assesses a person's honesty, emotionality, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Fojut promises the algorithm won’t lead to issues oft-associated with group think or conformity since the algorithm “doesn’t define your entire identity, but rather highlights the parts of you that are most present in your worldview and interactions with other people.”

Perhaps even more compelling is Like|Minded’s use in establishing mentorships within organizations by leveraging the inverse of the algorithm to match people, which Fojut refers to as “growth matches.”

An hour or so before nightfall, Stephen Piron is staring at an installation of old TVs of variable sizes displaying the footage of cameras recording different parts of the party. Piron is the founder of Dessa — acquired by Square in 2016 and famous for creating deep fakes, the most notable of which was a Joe Rogan clip that went viral in 2019. Piron is a veteran of the deep learning space and he seems eager to leave this party. But not before he tells me about how he and his colleagues at Dessa tripped and fell onto their AI-generated deep-fake notoriety.

“It was an accident,” he says. They were bored working on projects that helped banks detect fraud, so, he says, “some of us started working on this other thing.”

Near the end of the evening, as promised, the NFT auction begins when the electric-blue NFT graphic transforms into an abstract red, white and black animation. The bidding begins at $500.

“If you don’t buy this for $500,” begins the auctioneer, comedian Alli Goldberg. “You’re a broke bitch and we hate you.”

The bidding on the first of five, one-of-one NFTs reaches $4,300. From the ground floor, I can still hear the auctioneer as I exit the building.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.