Local Miami artist Erin Parish photographs some NFTs on display at the NFT BZL event at FTX Arena in Miami on Nov. 30, 2021.

Local Miami artist Erin Parish photographs some NFTs on display at the NFT BZL event at FTX Arena in Miami on Nov. 30, 2021.

Jose A Iglesias

Static photos replaced with bouncing three-dimensional backgrounds. Afghan rescue missions funded through digital monkey painting purchases. Virtual nation states asking for international sovereign status.

If that sounds like the future, it’s actually already here.

It was all discussed Tuesday at NFT BZL, a Miami Art Week event hosted by Moishe Mana’s Mana Tech group and AEX Lab, a Miami-based virtual reality company.

Attendees got a heady glimpse of the future from panelists now living it.

Take FlickPlay, a new app being developed in Santa Monica by Miami Dade College alum Pierina Merino. It’s already leaped ahead in the augmented reality revolution kicked off by the likes of Magic Leap. It adds 3D elements to static photos. Think Instagram meets PokemonGo.

FlickPlay’s real application is in the metaverse. That’s the new online universe that is the opposite of “IRL” — in real life — and where an increasing number of technologists say we will spend more of our time.

FlickPlay lets users buy digital art, and even fashion, as collectibles NFTs — digital proofs of ownership. They can mix these with, or add them to, their metaverse personas to add personality and status based on finding the NFTs where they happen to be “in real life.”

“The value is not only how you can overlay the things you wear, but also how you interact with the city itself,” Merino said. “It’s about how can we use the cultural relevancy of location, so that when people go to that location, they can see it activated. So you’re shifting the story people tell about the location because of what gets activated.”

Soon, entire “IRL” neighborhoods could start earning money from virtual NFTs they oversee in their areas, Merino said.

“You can say, ‘100 locals from this area can own a digital art that lives in this street art, and you can rent it to visitors.’ So then you can build a whole economy around it,” she said.

Meanwhile, NFTs were used to rescue a woman in an iconic National Geographic photo from Afghanistan.

It happened thanks in part to Metagood, a company that takes commissions from the sale of NFTs and puts the funds toward “IRL” social causes. Last month, it took proceeds from the sale of an NFT collection, OnChainMonkey, and, with the help of on-the-ground fixers, resettled the woman, Sharbat Gula — best known for her haunting gaze under a red veil in a photo taken by photojournalist Steve McCurry — and her family to Italy.

“Our community basically funded it through trading of NFTs,” Metagood founder and CEO Bill Tai said.

Metagood will continue to raise money from the cryptocurrency community for Gula and her family’s resettlement in Italy through the sale of NFTs in 2022.

And then there’s Axie Infinity, an online universe that some say represents the future of gaming — and possibly more. Its co-founder, simply known as Jiho, said Axie is likely to seek United Nations recognition as a “homeland” for gamers.

“We are entering a battle for the future,” Jiho said. “It’s grassroots internet communities versus corporates trying to buy the internet.”

NFT Basel was overseen by Mana Tech Director Michelle Abbs. She said the naysayers of where the future is heading are starting to lose steam.

“The energy and momentum and excitement that people who are in the NFT space feel is starting to be matched by the people coming in and learning about it,” she said.

Miami, she said, stands to be an epicenter of what the future holds.

“I think Miamians are creative,” Abbs said. “We’re inclusive; we’re diverse; we’re hustlers; we think about new and innovative ways to approach things. So that’s going to be a place for us to win, because it plays to our strength as Miami.”

This story was originally published November 30, 2021 12:00 AM.

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Rob Wile covers business, tech, and the economy in South Florida. He is a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and Columbia University. He grew up in Chicago.