VB: As far as the bigger vision, once this is out there, once people are using it, where do you want to go? Where do you want the technology to go?
Urbach: It’s bigger than just the utility of building a global rendering system. That’s one layer, and it’s important. It’s fundamentally part of the bigger picture. But the bigger picture is that I see the future of computing. People talk about the Metaverse, but that’s the vision. We see this happening everywhere, whether it’s newspapers going away because I read all the news on my iPad—the physical world is being augmented, and there’s going to be a digitization of everything.
What’s interesting from my perspective—whether it’s real estate or telecommunications, even self-driving cars, everything’s going to be running—you won’t have to go anywhere, because it’s going to feel like you’re absolutely in the same room as the other person you’re driving to meet with. There’s a layer even beyond VR and AR, where it’ll be driven from windows that are lightfields, like the walls of the holodeck. It’ll deliver the feeling of you being anywhere you need to be in the world, in the universe. That needs something like this to get it going.
One question everyone talks about now is, “What’s life like after automation?” I do see that labor and work involving high-level skills – a doctor, a lawyer – AI could definitely take those things on. But the one thing that is always fundamentally of value is the social fabric and that human contact and interaction, whether it’s in teaching or familial or ecological, building groups of people. The economy around that is going to be a big part of the future.
We can see a future coming where the material needs of people are pretty well covered. The roof on your house is providing energy that drives the 3D printer that’s producing your medicine and food anything you care to have materially created. That basically means the world that is rendered around you and the things we do as humans are going to go through a system where we imagine something, we think about it, and it translates into a simulated, shareable component. That system might be able to learn from that and augment it. But that still doesn’t replace the authenticity of human thinking and social interaction. You really can’t do that. It’s not us. I do see that being a philosophically and spiritually important part of an optimistic vision of the future.
I also think that there’s a lot of lost value in the current world. The cost of people vertically building barriers, like app stores with their 30 percent taxes — I can’t buy my comics from Comixology without paying that. Being able to have a system where creators can not only post something, like on YouTube or Facebook, but actually create something and gain some value from it — one of the things we automatically get by mapping our rendering docs to the blockchain is that if someone wants to sell something they created, or let other artists use it in their work, you can have that be monetized in Render tokens. You can say, “Every time this thing gets rendered, here’s how I want to get tokens back to me based on usage and these other factors.”
Using the same metrics when something gets used, we can turn that into a basic attention token, a currency for ad dollars. Being able to create economies where individuals can be rewarded, no matter what they do, and it’s traced through the system and authenticated based on when you contributed something to the blockchain — if you invented something, whether it’s some code or an object, that is your proof of originality. It’s something we almost don’t have today. We have to go through the legal system to enforce a lot of things. That will always be part of our lives, but being able to look to the blockchain as a proof of invention and authorship — every render has hashes of all the assets of the users that built them. If there’s any value that anyone wants to create through something they contributed to the Metaverse, they have it.
It’s a beautiful system. I want that to happen in the layers that follow us building the infrastructure around this. The other layer I think is super valuable is almost going back to the SETI@home piece. I got Lisa Randall, who’s a theoretical physicist, to be an advisor, because she was running into problems. We were talking about how to solve — she’s modeling dark matter and using GPU simulations to figure out whether the properties of dark matter that we’ve theorized are real or not. We could put that on a system like this and it’s much cheaper than running it on Amazon. It’s similar to a lot of the deep learning work that AI is trained on. That’s still expensive.
One of the ways we plan to make rendering cheaper, and make it more real time, is having Octane not just throw rays around randomly, but actually having AI that guides those rays of light around intelligently, which is something we’re just starting to show this year. That’s what Jen-Hsun was showing this year at GTC, and we’re doing the same thing. AI that is able to finish rendering and fulfill rendering and start to understand how humans think about render jobs as we start to clean them up — it’s part of how AI is going to be flipped around and turned into a useful, augmented aspect of our lives. I see a future where this kind of human-driven parallel — AI improving something that we’re doing and learning from that and being able to be part of that, but always connected to human authorship. That’s a big part of seeing a better future happen and leveraging AI toward being an aid or an augmentation versus some darker or more inefficient use of that power.
VB: It seems like this idea of getting paid for your play time, paid for your idle time is not so far off in the future for everyday people.
Urbach: I do think that when there’s a real, established — within the community of artists using Octane, it’s different, in terms of a patron rewarding people’s artwork and things like that. But as far as getting paid to do things and be part of things, I think that is the future. We want to see a human reviewing something we care about. We don’t really completely trust algorithms. We definitely don’t trust things that pretend to be human and get 99 percent of the way there, and then something falls into the uncanny valley. The jobs of the future are going to be us reviewing things and contributing our thoughts to things as humans.
That may seem like a luxury to some, especially during a transition period, but honestly I think it’s going to be the fundamental path that we get paid for and get value out of in the future. It would be great if universal basic income didn’t even matter, because everyone just has solar panels and there’s nothing to buy anymore. We increasingly don’t pay for information, compared to previous generations, or things that are essentially so commoditized that they’re trivial. Of course there’s always taxes to cover certain costs, but energy is such a huge part of running the world. When that becomes much more tractable, through renewable energy or natural energy, and important material things like food and medicine and shelter can be 3D printed, powered by energy, it’s a different world.
Ariel Emanuel has been a huge support for me and the company, and he wrote a blog called “This Is Life After Television.” He was driven to support me by a book he read that talked about teleputers and the internet, and nobody believed him, so he started Endeavor and William Morris and all the stuff he’s done. One thing we were doing at one stage — 70 percent of the movie industry goes through his companies. We’ve been talking for a long time, and he talked about this a little bit on his blog, about how much we’re willing to spend on actors and athletes and so on, because we do that all the time. And yet so much of this talent doesn’t own their image. When you actually put the scanner to them, though, and put it on the blockchain, you can create a smart contract that allows a talent agency like WME to package things where, if you use an individual’s likeness, it can pay them through a blockchain transaction in Render tokens.
He’s been working with me for over a decade now, and we’re at a point where things like that are possible. Even the value of yourself as a person in some ways can be mapped to a rendering and attached to token-based transactions. You don’t have to be Disney to appreciate that maybe you want a more direct connection to the people who are valuing you and your work. But with all of their stuff, Star Wars and Marvel movies, on Disney Vault or whatever it is they’re calling their service, they can transact directly with customers. You realize that a lot of the things that have gone wrong with things like network television, with traditional media, revolve around access to an author’s work and content becoming less and less centralized.
From our perspective, blockchain can be a huge part of that. A lot of the work we’re doing, both of us, in tandem and separately, is just identifying that the time is now to start building some of these layers. We do have Disney as investors in Otoy. Ari has helped us a lot, bringing them into this when they did. Just the idea of connecting and monetizing your work more directly, whether you’re huge like Disney or whether you’re an individual, is very powerful.
That’s why the blockchain is bigger than anything. We already see the evolution of access and services and information and very powerful engines that drive the search for knowledge, the knowledge graph, the social graph. But from our perspective, the rendering and the performance of services is truly — this is the graph for that, and the blockchain is part of it. Ari’s bet on us, and now this, is an important consideration, proving that the media and entertainment industry is going to start going for this immediately, just on the pieces we’ve been able to build.
VB: If we all do get paid as a result of this, does the money come from a new creation of wealth, or does it actually get redistributed, say, from the platform owners back to the people?
Urbach: The fascinating part about the blockchain — its existence is defined by each of us giving value to everyone participating in it. Initially, in its prototype stages, the blockchain and even Bitcoin and Ethereum are just about creating enough transactions, enough token value to make sure we can create a ledger and it’s sustainable and people get paid for it.
We’ve gotten beyond that, so now let’s build services on that. We can allow everyone to participate in obtaining and fulfilling an economy around rendering all the things we just discussed. The Render token is built on Ethereum. While we don’t do anything but take your Ethereum and give you Render tokens through the token sale, people can take the Render token and sell it for whatever they want. That part of the Ethereum system — you can use those exchanges and transact that through your wallet. There’s other translatable value chains that can come out of that.
Our bet is that bouncing photons around and simulating reality is never going to go away. You give people the power to leverage systems all the way to the point where reality itself is replaced. The value of one Render token being about 64 billion bounces of light, a few minutes of rendering in Octane, that is going to be a unit of value forevermore, until a piece of rendered reality — who knows? Maybe we’ll be in a virtual afterlife that’s completely immaterial and the economy ends up being completely different.
But I do think that the value is spread to everyone. Anyone can create an exchange of value and participate, even in the smallest ways. We’ve seen, over decades, the residuals you get from your show in syndication are way more than the value you got when you first aired it. Movies have an afterlife of value on the video market. The economies of the future, where you get residuals from everything that’s contributed, whether it’s intentional when you’re creating art, or just creating value through our existence as humans, we’re fulfilling the creation of that.
The residual distribution of wealth is really interesting. Certainly there’s no doubt in my mind that cryptocurrency is incredibly useful, because it’s now becoming, in some ways, even more stable than other things. A dollar you have to pay to make. A Bitcoin costs whatever. It costs to run the video card that created it. It’s the same thing with rendering. In some ways you can look at the right kinds of operations on the blockchain as being always valuable. Rendering is going to be such a fundamental utility — it’s very much like light. Everyone wants to be able to see what they’re doing. Electricity and light are fundamental parts of the industrial age. Rendering and the Render tokens are going to be like the lightbulb and light. It’s going to power so much stuff. We’re going to fundamentally need it to start all the other layers that come around it. It’ll benefit a lot more people than we have today.