Once upon a time, you had to submit a program to the computer department. They would run it, and send the results back to you in the form of a printout. That worked well in the days when there was one big computing resource that everybody had to share.
In a way, Jules Urbach, CEO of Otoy (maker of the Octane graphics renderer), believes those days could come back, except the computer we are sharing is all of the computers on the Internet. He applies that computer history to the idea of cloud rendering. Rendering images or games is what happens when you submit your graphics or animation project, and the big computer, in this case a data center, goes to work on it. If you’re like Pixar, you might wait a whole day for your next animated movie scene to come back as a full rendering. Pixar can afford to pay for that, but smaller game makers and animators can’t.
That’s where blockchain comes in, and it’s why Urbach is starting an Initial Coin Offering for what he calls a Render Token. It’s a blockchain-based currency that people can invest in, as it represents a distributed graphics processing unit (GPU) rendering network. Everyone with a computer can contribute the spare cycles to a collective rendering machine, when their computers aren’t being used. Artists can submit their work to be rendered, and then they’ll get their job done.
The Render Token ICO kicks off on October 5. And if it works, then it will be like a brave new world, where people contribute their spare compute cycles to the cause and earn something from it. I talked to Urbach about this big idea.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
VentureBeat: Do you want to talk about why you’re going the ICO route, and explain what Render is as part of that?
Jules Urbach: Render is a way of solving a problem that I foresaw years ago. There’s a patent from 2009 that reflected my view. The idea behind the token sale is something that I was thinking about well before I knew anything about the state of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin and Ethereum and all these ideas that have come out of the blockchain. I had always imagined, five or 10 years down the line, that things would be getting built through Octane for rendering. The rendering power for that needed to be more than one person could provide, or even a couple. And so I came up with a few ideas and patents around getting this to run through the millions of graphics cards that were out there.
Even some of our earliest work for Autodesk was built around peer to peer streaming and sharing, not just the cloud-based stuff. It was through our work through Autodesk that I got a really big break. We and Autodesk triangulated, in 2013, the G2s in the cloud. It was right before than that I went up on stage with Jen-Hsun Huang at the Nvidia conference and showed Octane running on hundreds of graphics cards, knowing that Amazon would have that available within months. We launched the cloud service with that in mind. Amazon was part of making cloud rendering as we have it now in Octane, leveraging the rendering for making some crazier things like lightfields possible. If you look at our current partnerships with Facebook, what we’re doing with video is still all basically Octane-rendered. With Unity we’re integrated primarily to drive our AR and lightfield and volumetric rendering business.
All those things are pushing what you need for Amazon to deliver through the roof. We have render jobs that are lightfield-based that cost $150,000. They could be cheaper, and they could be done on what’s on the public cloud. We’ve seen, over the last four years, the price of that not really change a lot. Our user base is in the millions now with Unity. I went back to the idea of—we’re going to keep all the GPUs we already have in our service, but we need a lot more. It needs to be cheaper. The best way to do that goes back to my plan to have millions of graphics cards contributing to that.
VB: When I talked to [Epic Games CEO] Tim Sweeney, he was talking about blockchain as well. He mentioned that, eventually, it’s something we want to render at 60 frames per second. Right now it’s updated about once every 10 minutes. That seems like an awfully big distance to go. How far away from that goal are we, technically? Is there something that helps close that gap to the point where this kind of rendering is useful?
Urbach: Tim is right about the 60 frames per second. Ultimately you want to be able to deliver those actions instantaneously. There’s work being done with Ethereum which is designed to basically create shards. They’re basically shifting Ethereum to having multiple side chains that can validate work much faster. That’s an important consideration for the future.
But what’s interesting for us is that I don’t need any of that for the stuff we’re doing. The first reason why is that if you look at this work as an extension — there’s a lot of work that Amazon and Google computers and GPUs are doing, not just for rendering, but for other things. If you can come up with a way to deliver more and cheaper compute power for the services you do through the central—the most expensive things we do at Amazon are not real time streams. They can be, but that’s a small percentage of our business. You remember what we demonstrated in 2013, and we use it for Oculus and Facebook and others, but the majority of the money and the majority of our capacity issues are all about high latency jobs.
In other words, people want a light field render within a few days. It would take them months to render it locally, if it’s even possible. You just need the work to get done. In the case of light-mapping images, which is used in making games with Unity and Unreal, that’s also offline. Typically a lightmap in a game takes about a day to generate before you publish it. Moving that to the cloud, again—nobody needs this in an instant. The way we built this system is to replace the one-day turnaround we have with something augmented. If you want next-day service and you’re doing 6K of rendering work, that’s where we need to talk further. That’s the big issue that I’m trying to unblock here.
Having transactions happen where we unlock 60 hours of rendering from one transaction, that’s fine. That’s a great way of leveraging the blockchain. That’s exactly what we need. What’s also interesting is that ultimately, a lot of blockchain issues — transactions happening at 60 cycles per second, that’s not what we’re trying to do. I’m looking at this as I’m building blocks of reality. We’re literally rendering a simulation of light. We’re at the point where we’re able to measure the benchmark for that so well — today, render farms, whether they’re rendering or not, they measure their efficiency and the value of what they’re delivering in Octane bench per dollars.
This token is an even smaller measurement of work, Octane bench work. What we deliver right now on the cloud service is in $5 increments. The cost is designed to go down. The cost is driven by the fact that the demand for rendering is so high that we have to fulfill a lot of the work through Amazon at the cost that Amazon provides.
VB: To summarize a bit, then, the cost for cloud rendering has dramatically improved over the years, but it’s hit a wall of some kind? The cost hasn’t come down as fast as you would like more recently? Is this the next step to shake that loose again?
Urbach: Right. It’s on two fronts. I was part of the launch of Amazon’s GPU services in 2013, the ones we use today to do rendering. The price they launched at in 2013 is basically identical to the price today, even though they’ve upped the GPUs to the G3. The GPU work is no different from it was in 2013. That’s not great. We haven’t seen any serious competition to that pricing from Google or any others. That might change. It’s expected to. But that’s only one dimension of the problem.
The other one is, even with Amazon — there are tens of thousands of these computers available and it’s still not enough. When we could leverage thousands of GPUs per job—a lot of our rendering jobs are art assets, and a lot of them could be knocked out to a thousand GPUs. The problem is, as we grow our business and we get even 10 customers per day who want to render these kinds of jobs—that will happen with AR, as volumetric rendering becomes so important, and in games. We don’t have those GPUs at Amazon. So the pricing and the capacity are the areas that need to get solved.
What’s fascinating is that there’s another dimension of real world problems we have. You have so much GPU power being used today to mine cryptocurrency. We’ve found for the first time this year that our customers, they want to be running machines locally to render Octane faster, and the actual hardware isn’t available, because the miners have bought up all these cards and there aren’t any left. We look at how much power it takes to run Bitcoin — it’s larger than most countries, a huge amount of energy. It’s sucking away energy and GPUs, and it doesn’t do anything. Mining cryptocurrency doesn’t do anything valuable other than just creating a token. That gets more and more expensive every day, the more the blockchain grows.
One of the goals I had with this system — it’s just about the right timing for us to have it so you can make more money consistently from pulling that render job at that cost than you would from, essentially, pulling the lottery lever and seeing if you get an Ethereum coin. Right now, mining for Bitcoin, you’re not going to get anywhere.
VB: So now we’re getting into what’s in it for the user. If the user lets their GPU be part of this render farm, they’re getting something back, these tokens?
Urbach: Exactly. The Render token, we chose to base it on Ethereum. You can create your own token on top of Ethereum and, in our case, you can buy those tokens through our token sale on Ethereum. A lot of the tokens we’re going to generate, out of a 537 million total — that may seem like a lot, but it’s not when you realize that even with, at a quarter, those tokens adding up to $134 million, that’s only about a thousand lightfield render jobs. By having an economy of tokens out there, it lets people, when they get the tokens as payment, fulfill rendering work.
The value, outside of authors and people who are using our system — we have millions of customers who use this — there are many more millions out there who are not artists or creators — instead of paying Amazon for a thousand GPUs, you’ll basically get a thousand people and pay them each for that same amount of GPU power. They get paid in Render tokens, which is a unit of currency that has a value that starts from the token sale, but it’s very stable. It can only be leveraged for work. The demand for that work — I view it as almost like electricity or bandwidth. There’s a scarcity of resources.
One thing I’ve learned in 10 years of doing this is that the more computing power you get to your users, at any cost, the more they will use it. That’s basically what we’re unlocking. On another end, there are people spending their effort and energy around mining cryptocurrency. This is going to be the first time I’ve seen anyone matching Ethereum tokens to something that’s really valuable and stable, the demand for processing. This rendering that happens is in demand. We’ll saturate all the graphics card in the public cloud, which can be done, and then start saturating all of that with the blockchain backing this.
VB: You’re starting to remind of Jon Jacobs, with his Neverdie tokens, where he wants people to get paid for playing games.
Urbach: Well, there’s tokens out there for everything now. We see that there’s a lot of silly stuff. I really believe that the blockchain is important, though, and I’m not the only one who sees it that way. There’s an opportunity to create services that are distributed differently, that are discovered differently. However that happens, the blockchain needs to be a part of that. We don’t need to type in a URL where we don’t know what’s at the other end of it. The blockchain itself will store links to files and assets, the chain of authorship, the transactional values. All of that is built into the system.
Our perspective is that the piece that needs to be done is above that, now that you have things like cryptocurrency that are starting to validate and log these transactions. I’m a graphics guy. I want the rendering stack, the visual stack, whatever is built on top of this to work really well. A lot of the concepts, whether it’s games or the Metaverse or virtual anything—like the assets in augmented reality, it’s going to have to look real if it’s going to mix correctly with the real world. That means you’re going to go more toward these high-end lightfield rendering work services, certainly in the next few years. I want to make sure the economy of not just rendering all this work, but also valuing it, is built on something that’s stable. Nothing is more validated than blockchain. That’s not going to change unless the entire internet method invalidates it.
The fundamental services, the ones that are going to make the blockchain successful — just like in the dot-com era, there was a lot of crazy stuff that was built using the bigness, the future impact of what everyone saw the internet becoming. The blockchain has led to a lot of silly ideas that people are throwing out there. The ones that aren’t silly are things like Storj, or Golem, bringing microservices onto the blockchain, also replacing Amazon. Or even Brendan Eich with what he’s doing, which puts ad-viewing metrics and dollars onto the blockchain.
Our part sits next to all of these things. We’re bringing the graphics stack, the visual stack — it’s more than just graphics, because it also deals with taking the real world and creating synthetic scenes that can be mixed and matched. Everything Otoy has been doing in these areas — capturing the world, rendering it, and republishing and streaming it — it all really comes down to a system like this. We can ultimately see a whole new platform being built transactionally.
I do think the trend I see, which is a good trend — when you see how AR is being used by both Apple and Google — certainly with Google they’re explicitly saying that they’ll allow Chrome to be the gateway to their AR core services. That’s great, because it means you’re not going through Google Play. You’re not uploading apps. This is how it should be. The next logical step is that objects, geolocation, all these things are essentially mapped to the blockchain, not the web. Frankly, the web was never designed for this.
Apple is hinting that they may be doing something like that too. They’ve started to introduce things like WebGPU, a browser that takes advantage of your high-end GPU card. That probably means they’re thinking it’s important that they allow the web to start feeding content into ARKit and other things.
VB: A lot of people out there are concerned about the regulation of ICOs. Can you provide any assurance for anybody who invests in this ICO? What will govern how you’ll use the money raised?
Urbach: The ICO landscape over the past six to eight months has been insane. We’ve made sure to do our due diligence in order to make sure that, one, the token is a valid use case for the blockchain, and two, that the token is meant to provide a real utility without the need for any crazy additional development. You have all these projects launching that basically say, “Hey, here’s an idea. Here’s a paper I wrote about it. We’re gonna go with it.” The team might be well-established, but the company was formed three months ago and there’s no product.
The thing that should give people the most relief and trust in the project is the fact that Otoy has been around for 10 years. We’ve raised this company from where it was to where it is now. This is based on a patent from 2009 that I was thinking about in 2005. The token-based utility system is something we’ve been trying to do for so long, and with blockchain coming to the forefront and the possibility of the network achieving this scalability, it’s a perfect time for this system to be created.
VB: What’s the explanation as to why this is so much easier and essential to do on blockchain as opposed to just raising money through more conventional methods?
Urbach: We’re not any different from a utility token. You have all these ICOs raising money for a specific product. That’s we don’t even call it an ICO. We call it a token sale, because you’re buying into the actual utility that the product offers. We’re in it to build the network. We’re not in it for fundraising.
The most important distinction is, without the blockchain, this stuff is incredibly hard to validate. So much money would have to go into servers to validate these render jobs when you can just store the chain of ownership in the actual block that goes on the blockchain. It makes a lot of sense for us to run the token-based system on the blockchain.
One important point about the trust people have in what we’re doing—I’ve never seen anybody do this with an existing business. Right now, the way it will work for end users, we have something called ORC, which we launched in 2015 as a cloud service to render VR stuff. That’s not going to change after the token sale. That’s basically the interface for people to start a render job remotely on the cloud, whether it’s on the blockchain or not. It’s working. It’s useful. It’s one of the fastest-growing pieces of our business.
The service exists. A lot of people go to the space and try to raise money to build something, to build the service. I already built the service. It’s there. Every single person that’s a customer of ours loves this idea, because they know it’ll make the existing service cheaper. This token sale is to invest in a network. Building that network outside the public cloud, doing it at the scale we’re trying to do it, would be very hard. It’s still hard for us, because we’re looking at adding more cloud service providers besides the big ones. Validating that work, having to deal with customer service when a frame goes bad—that happens, even with Amazon, and we have to deal with it and replace things and give back render credits for that.
Doing this across even hundreds of additional cloud providers that have these render farms is one of these goals I have. But the work to build that system out and validate it and support it—you almost have to build something that’s like a franchise model. “You can now fulfill a render job for a user through this service.” The funny thing is, though, the blockchain does all that work for you. We would have to build something like a token-based system tied to the utility of the work being done.
We still have to do a lot of work, a lot of building, and that’s what the token sale provides for as far as funding. But we love that people trust that work in the blockchain. The blockchain itself, having it grow to this size and this capacity, is enough for us to build off of it. It would be stupid of me not to use Ethereum and the blockchain as it is today, to reinvent the wheel in order to deliver this part of the service.
These tokens are basically about a quarter, versus the $5 per data chunk that we use for work on the centralized cloud. My plan is to build as low as we can go and make sure these chunks are more and more granular. The blockchain makes that possible. If I had to imagine a world where I could tap into millions of graphics cards, I really wouldn’t want to have to deal with paying people in dollars. That payments system is filled with a lot of risk. The blockchain reduces that risk and allows us to go all the way to the maximum scale we can.
The other thing is, people understand that cryptocurrency and token-based systems are valuable. That’s not something we have to explain to people anymore. But the value of what we’re doing, the utility behind what each token represents, is really new. Everyone we’ve talked to about this has come away thinking, “This is the first time someone has leveraged the blockchain for a system of value exchange that’s based on something real.” This adds to something we’ve been building for a decade. It’s not leading up to a decade of work that may or may not happen.
The other thing that’s part of the Ethereum blockchain, different from Bitcoin, is that you can create smart contracts to determine the specific exchange of value, what happens next. It’s hard sometimes to leverage that beyond very simple operations, but the entire rendering system we’ve built is designed to essentially prove that the rendering work was done and the user got what they wanted before anyone gets paid. That transaction system is already in place.
The Ethereum blockchain and the smart contracts aren’t that complicated. “This is a ledger. This is an exchange of work.” Once the person that wants to render a job gets what they need, that exchange of tokens happens. We’re not pushing the blockchain to do anything it’s not currently designed to do. We’re offloading a huge amount of the work and the system to other parts of the rendering layers we have. We’re just connecting the blockchain at the very end of it to validate and deal with the transactions.
VB: That explains the blockchain part. How do you actually create this technology to do that distributed rendering for particular jobs?
Urbach: It all exists today and it’s all in Octane. We now have about 25 different integrations of Octane. The most recent one works with Unity. We just released After Effects a few weeks ago. Each of these different 3D or 2D applications — when you have Octane, that can render beautifully on your local machine. The opening for Westworld was done in Cinema 4D with Octane. You don’t need a render farm to necessarily go beyond 2K, 30 frames per second.
But when you do want to go beyond that – if you’re rendering for VR, or rendering lightfields, or if you want just a thousand frames of rendering but you want it done immediately – then all the Octane integrations today, it takes all the data inside that path and turns it into a file for our interchange format and sends it anywhere that we want. It can go to the cloud. It can go to a machine that doesn’t have the original app, but just renders that job.
The interface to do that is all built into Octane today. You can buy these $5 chunks of render credit. You can say you want the job done the next day, or within a week. You can tell us it’s not a priority and we’ll give you a small discount on that. When the job is done, you click a button and get an email that says, “Here’s your rendered frames.” You download that to a Dropbox. It all exists today and it all works beautifully.
The interface for that, as I said—it’s not going to take much. You might have a few more options if you want to run it on the blockchain. By the way, if the blockchain does get to the capacity and the speed that we want, we may eventually do everything through that system. But then you’ll have a couple other options. Do I want to run this job on a trusted, MPDA-certified node on the blockchain? We’ll add that and validate it ourselves as part of what we do. Or do I want a custom encryption layer? The system for starting a job is already there. That’s one of the reasons why there’s this enormous trust in the usefulness of this service. What isn’t there is just the capacity.
People are interested to see how we’re going to run this on a distributed system. But the truth is, even for Amazon — when we built the system for Amazon’s node process, it’s very much like it’s going to work with a node on the blockchain. “Okay, this is running. Let’s run a test to make sure it can do this. Let’s advertise its availability to the whole system.” It doesn’t all have to be on Amazon. You can run it only on servers here. We can add other things there. The user doesn’t really get a sense as to where their job is being sent. It’s just one of our performance centers. By having the blockchain validate all these other GPUs, these performance layers, it’ll work.
The way we use the blockchain on their machines is very similar to how we’ve embedded Octane in Unity. You just load up Unity, and Octane is just a megabyte that gets pulled in. You can update it. It’s very much like Chrome installing an app update. It just has this bootstrapper. Ever since we did this work for Autodesk, which allowed Autodesk users to see other desktops and share their desktops, we’ve had this little 14K launcher that runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows, which will load up an applet and provide a peer-to-peer connection. That’s exactly how we’re going to turn this on, or make it officially available in the first quarter of next year. That’s how we’ll fulfill rendering work.
You don’t need to know anything about it. You’ll just have the ability to get render tokens by going to our webpage and clicking on this link that turns on the system tray. You say, “I want to fulfill render jobs.” When you do, it’ll run those things in the background, just like screensavers used to.
VB: How do you market this so that you do get the millions of unused machines? I saw a bit of your CNBC interview, and it seemed like it was awfully hard to get regular people to understand it. Is it something like SETI@home, where you just have to tell it “Yes”?
Urbach: You’re right about the frictionlessness of SETI@home. It’s going to be one click. “Do I want to make Render tokens or not?” That makes it frictionless. We have a huge amount of users, millions just through Unity, who are basically Octane customers that want Render tokens and can gain them and use them. Render tokens will be more valuable to them than money, because they would spend real money to go and render stuff anyway. Just within our own ecosystem, which now includes millions of Unity developers — I’d be happy if we had thousands or tens of thousands of GPUs. That would put us at parity with what we get on the public cloud and we could go from there.
What’s interesting is, if we have a one-click thing and Render token work — if there’s more demand — look at how people run cryptocurrency mining. There was one operation that used WebGL and ran it in a browser, because in those days Bitcoin could be mined on a GPU. If you give people a one-click method of getting cryptocurrency, they’ll do it. If something is valuable and you just have to click once to get it—we see people do that all the time for things that are less valuable and less proven.
CPUs on the desktop are now about the same as what you have on the iPad, especially the latest Apple GPU. We’re even considering adapting Octane to that platform. As your iPad or iPhone is charging overnight, it could start doing rendering work, probably a year or two down the line. But in the meantime, it’s that kind of simplicity of performance that will make this successful.
The first part of this will be the users of Render tokens, the people that need them and for whom the utility of Render tokens is literally greater than money. They can use it for their livelihood. That’s where we’ll begin, and I think we’ll go from there. One thing SETI@home proved is that if it’s easy, people will turn it on. If it makes them something valuable in return, I’m even more confident they’ll turn it on.
VB: Do you plan to do any advertising?
Urbach: Certainly for the usage of the system—we’re doing this already. Our cloud service is truly public, ever since we’ve had it in $5 increments. That was very much tied to our launch with Unity, ever since that went live. We launched with Unity and introduced the $5 pricing roughly at the same time. Our marketing is focused on getting to those Unity customers, now that we actually have this integration. We’re adding baking jobs in the cloud. The next step is lightfield baking jobs for AR stuff. Getting users to start building up the demand for this and fulfilling each other’s work is one of the simpler ways we can use our marketing to make the system larger and larger.
My feeling is, when you look at the cryptocurrency community, there’s already a group of avid, voracious miners out there. If you offer them something that’s more valuable than what they’re doing, they’ll gravitate towards it. We’re at the point where that scale is large enough — GPUs are flying off the shelves just to be used for mining Ethereum. That’s the other group we want to go after.
As far as everyone in the world turning on their computers, there are hundreds of millions of computers out there in the coming years. That’s where there might be some messaging around getting people getting on board with that. But that’s definitely not a critical part of getting this to the scale that would offer us a much greater fundamental advantage over what we have today with the centralized cloud services that we’ve built on.
VB: Is there some kind of number you’re targeting to raise, or is the plan just to raise as much as you can here?
Urbach: Our goal is to just make sure that the network is promoted properly and that people know this is here. Of course we have a hard cap, and that’s set at 537 million tokens to be released. But for us, we’re just trying to be able to build this network out, to continue the vision for what we want to do — rendering through the blockchain, peer-to-peer GPU rendering. There are many ways we can go about it. But as far as numbers, we’re content with just getting as many people as possible in the network and using tokens and rendering on the platform.
Ultimately the value of the token sale is to build on what we already have. None of this is to create a service. That’s done. But the more we’re able to seed in this process, the faster we can build and expand this network. That’s the goal. So far we’re seeing a lot of interest around it, and that’s great.
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.