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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has been talking about the metaverse for years. It doesn’t have a lot to do with the company’s revenues, which come from AI and graphics chips sales and reached $6.51 billion in the most recent quarter.
But Huang likes to inspire his engineers with the notion that their AI advances and graphics innovations will one day bring us the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. Huang has said that “we’re living in science fiction,” given all of technology’s advances made possible by Moore’s Law advances and accompanying software updates.
I like this stuff. But it surprised me when a financial analyst asked Huang in an earnings call about the metaverse and Nvidia’s version of it, the Omniverse. I joked with Huang about whether the Omniverse or cryptocurrency mining is more responsible for Nvidia’s earnings. The truth is of course much more mundane, as it’s graphics and AI chips that produce the sales. But the inspiration is important, and hearing Huang’s views on the future is just as interesting, or probably more so, than talking about the latest quarterly news.
Huang was selected by his peers to receive the semiconductor industry’s biggest honor, the Robert N. Noyce Award, at the upcoming Semiconductor Industry Association in November. I spoke with him about the metaverse and a few other topics this week. And FYI, we’re going to have another GamesBeat Summit: Into the Metaverse event in January.
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Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Congratulations on your [Robert N.] Noyce award.
Jensen Huang: Well, thank you very much. But I was going to congratulate you for coming up with that perfect phrase, the “metaverse for engineers.” I tell people this all the time that you can say all the right things but the ability to distill something down to just one single phrase and it captures the entire essence of it is just so wonderful. You did it. Metaverse for engineers.
[I think that came from an interview I did with Omniverse guru Richard Kerris of Nvidia, and I can’t remember who actually said it first — Dean]
GamesBeat: I’ve been waiting for the day when the analysts were going to ask you about the metaverse. I don’t think they’ve done that before.
Jensen Huang: Ha, I know! I was actually kind of surprised by it. I was going to say something at the end anyway, because it’s one of the most important things we’re doing. It’s a little bit like the beginning of the internet. People didn’t understand it then. Nobody had spent that much time with it. Time proved otherwise. The same thing is going to happen to the metaverse and to Omniverse.
A lot of people think that — when you say “metaverse,” they imagine putting on VR headsets, but it’s obviously not just that. You can do that, but you can also enjoy it in 2D. One of my favorite ways of enjoying the metaverse is a whole bunch of robots in the metaverse doing work and communicating with robots that are outside in the physical world. The only thing that’s coming through is just ones and zeroes and messages. The physical world and the metaverse can be connected in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t just have to be humans. It can be machine to machine.
GamesBeat: Well, we’re going to have another metaverse conference in January.
Huang: We’ll have great things to show by then.
GamesBeat: Now that the Blender community has come in, I wonder if there’s a porous line there between the engineering side of the metaverse and Omniverse, and then the consumer side as well.
Huang: When I think about Omniverse, I see it as a metaverse for engineers and designers. It’s connected to consumer metaverses. It’s porous in that way. But the question is — just as with the internet, you can have consumer sites, industrial sites, enterprise sites. They can be connected in some way. I see it very much the same way. But the primary use of Omniverse, I think, is going to be for digital artists who are doing things that are pretty great, where they need a lot of technology to do it. Everything has to be simulated from scratch, because creating it is otherwise too difficult. And industrial use. That’s where I see our strong base today.
GamesBeat: I have a bit of a trick question. Does the Omniverse or cryptocurrency have more to do with your good quarterly financial results?
Huang: Heh. Neither! As you know, our results are driven by, number one, artificial intelligence. Deep learning moving from research into applied engineering — when it’s being deployed, the deep learning models are so intensive on computing that accelerating with our GPUs is the right approach. We’re seeing very large-scale deployment, scale-out, and scale-up of deep learning AI models.
The second driver is the one that you and I love, that’s really close to our heart, which is gaming, and all the derivative markets associated with gaming like digital art and computer graphics for workstations. It’s all derivative from that. So the first one is AI, and the second is RTX. It’s reset about 20 years of computer graphics and 20 years of Nvidia’s installed base. We have to upgrade a fair number of people into the world of RTX, whether they’re gamers or designers, or artists.
The third is autonomous systems. The fact is that everything that moves will be autonomous: planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, shuttles, last-mile delivery, pick-and-placers. Entire retail stores will be autonomous. They’ll even drive around. A retail store will show up at your door, a robotic retail store. Logistics warehouses — even buildings will be autonomous. The world of autonomous machines is going through extraordinary excitement. The number of robotics startups we work with all over the world is in the hundreds.
It’s those three dynamics: AI services and AI applications, [GeForce] RTX , and ray-tracing, and then autonomous machines. And then hopefully they’ll all meet in Omniverse, which I really believe. It’s all going to converge in Omniverse. That’s where all this work that we do will be created and tested and simulated and deployed.
GamesBeat: Is gaming demand the challenge, or is it still some kind of component shortage?
Huang: Our issue is that overall RTX demand is really, really high. We just announced that our workstation business — this is an industry, a business that’s been around for 35 years, 40 years. We just had a record quarter and a record quarter by a lot. Our gaming business is growing fantastically, and now people are working on cloud graphics for workstation applications, PC, and gaming. Graphics is going into the cloud. All three of those are doing well. I think we’re going to be demand constrained for some time.
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