Nvidia turned out another stellar financial result for the second quarter ended July 31. Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of the world’s biggest stand-alone maker of graphics chips, credited some big trends like the growth of PC gaming, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, and the Nintendo Switch.
But the Santa Clara, California-based company also got some attention because some of its revenues came from an unusual source: Cryptocurrency. The demand for graphics hardware to mine the algorithms to produce more cryptocurrency has finally become measurable. While Nvidia reported more than $2.2 billion in the quarter, about $200 million, or about 10 percent, came from hardware sales related to cryptocurrency.
In the earnings call, Huang said, “Cryptocurrency and blockchain are here to stay. Over time, it will become quite large. It is very clear that new currencies will come to market. It’s clear the GPU is fantastic at cryptography. The GPU is really quite well positioned. This is a market that is not likely to go away soon. Our strategy is to stay close to the market and offer miners a coin-mining SKU, optimized for mining.”
After the earnings report, I had a chance to catch up with Huang for five minutes. I chose to ask him about two topics that were tangential to the earnings. But Huang was a good sport, and he indulged my questions.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Did you say a hallelujah for cryptocurrency?
Jen-Hsun Huang: No? Cryptocurrency is around. But it represented only a couple hundred million dollars, maybe $150 million or so. There’s still crypto mining to go to, currency mining. It comes and goes. It’ll come again. Somebody will come up with new hardware. Digital currency is not going away. It’s here to stay.
GamesBeat: So it’s helpful, but it’s not a gold rush that Nvidia is selling the picks and shovels for?
Huang: No, not a gold rush per se. We’re not opposed to it. But our core business is elsewhere.
GamesBeat: I had another science fiction question for you. Everyone is worried that AI will wipe out all kinds of jobs. But you’re also in the gaming business. It seems like, with all this leisure time on our hands, eventually we’ll be able to cash in on a leisure economy and get paid to play games. Like the streamers getting tips for playing on Twitch. Does that help equalize the worry about AI?
Huang: Maybe another way to think about it — gaming used to be about playing games. But now there’s a whole gaming market, a gaming culture. People play games seriously. People host tournaments. People watch other people play and listen to broadcasters talking about it. The kind of entire ecosystem we see around other sports and forms of entertainment has formed around games as well.
Obviously the thing that’s cool about games — a basketball game is just a basketball game. The thing about video games is that each different video game can be in a completely different genre. Above esports, the idea of esports, there could be 10, 20, 30 different genres of gaming we’ve never even thought of. I think it’s fair to say that esports overall could be the single largest entertainment platform on the planet.
But that’s not the reason why we’re developing AI. We do what we do with AI because we hope we’ll amplify some jobs, in the sense that it will make some professionals even more productive. It’ll cause some industries to save money and be more productive. It will change some jobs. But overall, the thing to consider for the near future — we know that what AI is about is the automation of automation. When you automate, you can increase productivity and remove waste. That’s the exciting part.
When you increase productivity, economies become better — local economies become better, society becomes better. The cost of insurance will go down. The cost of food will go down. The cost of almost everything associated with our daily livelihood will improve. Those are the things people are excited about. It will obviously dislocate some jobs.
GamesBeat: I’m thinking optimistically about myself. If AI eliminates journalism and my job with it, I’ll have time on my hands to play games.
Huang: As a journalist you’re in a particularly good place. You’re a serious gamer. [laughs]
GamesBeat: I’m not the most competitive one, but I might be entertaining.