Rhett “Mankind,” a digital artist based in Australia, created a popular new meme cryptocurrency over the course of a week—but he didn’t do it by himself.
With step-by-step instructions and dozens of lines of code written by OpenAI’s $20-per-month artificial intelligence chatbot GPT-4, along with some input from Twitter followers, the artist created and launched the Turbo cryptocurrency over the course of a week.
From a cheeky initial $69 that he personally invested, the meme cryptocurrency rose to a serious market cap of $77 million in just a couple of weeks. Slowly, Mankind, 46, has been able to sell enough to afford a house that’s closer to his 13-year-old daughter’s school. He still holds a little more than 10% of the 69 billion tokens.
Turbo joins a crowded field of meme cryptocurrencies, some of which, like Dogecoin and newcomer Pepe coin, have exploded in popularity and in the process have generated billions of dollars. Others, meanwhile, have been produced primarily as a way to separate investors from their money as they dig for that next diamond in the rough. Mankind insists Turbo should fall into the former category, yet he’s still surprised by its rapid success.
“It’s hard to imagine that something so small as an idea, starting with nothing—a $20 subscription to GPT—can turn into a multimillion, 10s-of-million, hundreds-of-million market cap project,” he told Fortune. “It’s just mind blowing.”
Mankind, who declined to give his real last name for privacy reasons, said the project started as a “digital performance art piece,” an extension of his experimentation with A.I., which had previously focused on images and programs like Stable Diffusion. He said he wanted to see if the chatbot could help him create a token, even though he didn’t know the first thing about coding or smart contracts.
Courtesy of Rhett Mankind
His first prompt, in which he told GPT-4 it was now called “MemeCoinGPT,” yielded step-by-step instructions on how to create the token and make it popular. First on the list: come up with a name.
Among some of the early suggestions by the chatbot were “HypeHoundCoin” and “StellarSlothToken,” but his small group of Twitter followers overwhelmingly preferred “TurboToadToken.” When it was time to create a logo, GPT-4 gave him a prompt that generated a space-helmet-donning orange cartoon toad (later named Quantum Leap) in the A.I. image generator Midjourney 5.1.
With a name and logo, Mankind was ready to build out the actual infrastructure, but he couldn’t because he didn’t know how to code.
Instead of heeding GPT-4’s suggestion to spend years learning Solidity, the programming language used to create smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, Mankind asked if the chatbot could do the coding for him. It obliged, and over the course of several days—during which he addressed various coding errors, with help from his Twitter community—Mankind and GPT-4 created the first version of the TurboToadToken, or TTT.
After paying $500 on top of his initial investment of $69 to launch the token on the blockchain, Mankind’s first test was dead on arrival after a malicious bot purchased nearly all of the tokens.
“The project was a failure at that stage. I thought, ‘Okay, it’s done,’” he said.
An exasperated Mankind was ready to give up, but his Twitter followers voted overwhelmingly in a poll for him to continue the experiment. After turning to GPT-4 for a new way forward, it suggested a crowdfunding approach where instead of him putting up all the money to start it, investors would pitch in while receiving tokens proportional to what they contributed.
The second launch was a success, albeit with a fresh set of investors and a new name, Turbo, and the token quickly became popular. Digital artist Beeple even mentioned Turbo in his art.
Since the launch in late April, Mankind has mostly stepped back from the project. He made Quantum Leap, the mascot, open to anyone’s use through a Creative Commons Zero license and has renounced ownership of the smart contract so he can no longer alter the code.
“All the assets or elements of the project are in the hands of the community,” he said.
While smaller than other online communities backing memecoins like Dogecoin and Shiba Inu Coin, the project’s Discord has about 500 people in it. Already, some token holders have taken the initiative to list the coin on Dextools, which offers information to traders about decentralized markets. They’ve also set up a Telegram chat and run an art contest that incorporates the token.
Mankind said he’s still involved as a regular community member, even after the token made him a multi-millionaire—at least on paper (or in code). The community that’s emerged around Turbo is conflicted on whether he should hold his tokens long term or slowly sell off some holdings to maintain the coin’s safety and integrity. He told Fortune he has no plans to sell immediately.
‘Sums 2023 up perfectly’
Neither do many of the coin’s supporters, including an anonymous crypto investor who goes by the name Doodler.eth online. He bought 1 million Turbo tokens on May 3 for 0.29 Ether, or about $539 as of Wednesday, because he was interested in Mankind’s background as an artist and they way he created the token with A.I. Although he exchanged 1 token for an NFT, he still holds 999,999 Turbo, worth about $1,125 as of Wednesday, and said he has no immediate plan to sell them.
“During peak memecoin mania above all else the story behind Turbo really caught my eye and sums 2023 up perfectly,” Doodler told Fortune in a private Twitter message. “Everyone loves a good narrative and what better than art meeting A.I.?”
On Tuesday morning, the token rocketed into the top 300 cryptocurrencies on CoinGecko, ticking off one of the final goals Mankind had presented to GPT-4 at the start. By Wednesday, the cryptocurrency had fallen just outside of the top 300 but still had a market cap of about $77 million.
Even though the token looks like an overnight success, Mankind insists it was the culmination of years spent in the Web3 space as a digital artist and investor.
“It’s difficult, especially when you’re just a single person in your bedroom, trying to talk to all these anonymous people around the world to forge a real community,” he said. “The success of this has put into motion all that work that I’ve done over all those years.”