Jez San: “The sad thing to me was how the innovation stopped in bitcoin”

Blockchain, FinTech, Innovation | June 16, 2017 By:

Jez San was inspired to become a computer game developer in the 1970s. He founded one of the earliest British games developers, Argonaut, in 1982, creating multiple multi-million-selling videogames including StarFox, Croc, and Harry Potter. San was also pioneer in the field of real-time 3D computer graphics and his first game, StarGlider, was one of the earliest 3D games ever published. He co-invented the Super FX graphics RISC processor for Nintendo, the first custom chip to render 3D computer graphics in a game system.

As an angel investor, his portfolio included the artificial intelligence pioneer DeepMind Technologies (acquired by Google in 2014) and the cryptocurrency exchange, Kraken. In 2002, he was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to computer games.

Now he’s involved in FunFair, an ethereum blockchain casino games platform that aims to solve the problems of lack of fairness, slow game speed, and poor game experience. The decentralized platform has real-time results, and no deposit or withdrawal requirements, instead employing a fee-for-transaction model that only requires payment at the beginning and end of each session. The platform now has a pre-sale of its FUN tokens underway, and has already raised $15 million USD.

San talked with BlockTribune about his new project and the state of the cryptocurrency and blockchain industries.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  Tell me how the new world of blockchain is similar to the early days of gaming that you experienced.

JEZ SAN: When I first started in computer games, it was a very early industry, and there was so much to be invented. Literally, you could come up with an idea and figure out how to do it, and do it. It was just like the whole world was available to you. There was nothing easy about it. There was a lot of competition. A lot of people in the industry have matured.

Similarly, I got into the online gaming world, which is casino gaming. I got into that in the early 2000s, around 2004. I felt the same again. I felt like this is a brave new world. Someone with good ideas and good technology could actually make a difference and do something new and innovative, and so, for a while it was like that too. And then Blockchain came along, particularly, ethereum and smart contracts, and that just opened the door to enormous innovation. Now, a factory programming smart contracts, you’re programming quite sophisticated things to happen on the blockchain. In our case, we’re doing the entire casino games in smart contracts. We get enormous benefits from doing that.

This new industry that’s been enabled by blockchain and smart contracts is just incredibly empowering. It’s like it’s a blank sheet again. You can now reinvent everything all over again, so it is a very exciting time.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  Are you bringing along the people who grew up with your games into the casinos?

JEZ SAN:  Yes, I’m sure, because the games that we’re building, they’re very 3D, they’re very fun, they’re very like computer games. We’re appealing to the people that have been raised playing computer games, which are actually most people now, because we’re actually now old – when we were playing computer games, maybe we were some of the first people to do it. Now everyone’s playing computer games. Everyone has standards to how good games need to look and play and feel and the interactivity of them. We think they shouldn’t have to let their standards go just to play an online game. They should be able to play gaming that’s as good as the computer games they play.

BLOCK TRIBUNE: Is there a difference between being a gambler and being an entrepreneur?

JEZ SAN:  Well, they’re all speculation and gambling of sorts. I think there’s a certain risk-taker mentality involved in both of those, that you have to take a risk to get a reward. I think being an entrepreneur is about problem-solving. You’ve set these hurdles and some of them you don’t know about yet until you come across them. Your job is to solve the problems and jump the hurdles and deliver the results, despite the problems. For me, that’s what being an entrepreneur is.

I don’t know if you’ve played the kinds of games that blockchain has had historically. Initially, the first gambling games on blockchain were dice games, and they were technically space games. They were innovative because no one ever gambled on the blockchain before, so they were special because it was new and because it was relatively quick. You could send some money to an address and then he would return you some other money, which might have been a lot less if you lost, or a lot more if you won. And so, there was something innovative about that, that you could actually do that.

Now people have transcended that. Dice games are are text-based. The entertainment value is really only finding out if you’ve won or not. There’s no actual interactivity in them in at all. There’s no entertainment value there whatsoever. They’re not actually games. They’re just send the money to an address, get some other money back. I don’t even know why people play those anymore when they have real, entertaining, interactive, fun, enjoyable, high-production values games that they could play instead.

I think it’s one of choice. Once we give them a choice to play something more fun, where they can still get their gambling kick, but actually have other entertainment value, I think they will.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  When will FunFair debut?

JEZ SAN:  Well, right now we’re not launching live to the industry. We’re showing the technology in the games for the first time, and we’re doing a token fund. With the funds we’ve raised, we’re going to invest heavily in finishing the games and the technology. What we’re showing is already way ahead of what anyone’s done before. What we’re saying is we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved, but there’s a lot more to do.

In terms of a public launch where we could actually have a version, we’re talking at least the end of the year.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  You were involved in an artificial intelligence company. One of the thoughts I have is that AI may eventually kill gambling.

JEZ SAN:  I don’t think it will … Well, it might. Poker AI has beaconed it. I’m not in poker now, I should add. I have been in poker for the last decade. I have moved on from poker now, although I love poker. I think poker has met its match. Now that an AI can play poker better than a human, you’ll never know who you’re playing against online. You can’t detect if it’s an AI or a player, so you can’t protect the players from that. What good is a game where you know you can beaten, and you’ll never know if you’re playing against a human or an AI?

That’s the first problem. The second problem is a cheating problem.

In the online poker world people create accounts with identities, and they might have to prove their identity with a driver’s license and a credit card, and then they play with that one identity online. It’s actually possible to detect cheating and particularly collusion because you know the identities of the players. When you turn poker into a blockchain game and you play with anonymous currency, you lack the ability to know who you’re playing against, and then you can’t tell if they’re cheating, and that is a real problem. People could collude with other people. You wouldn’t know who’s colluding with who. The operators of the game can’t know that either.

You have a real unchecked cheating problem until you can bring identity onto the blockchain, which people are working on. There’s several efforts to support identity and then you could play a poker game and enforce that idea and say, “We don’t like cheating. If you wanna play on our game, you must prove that you are a unique person.” You don’t have to give your name or your photo. You have to prove the ID is yours, but it’s solid. Your reputation follows you through whatever games you’re playing. And then you can police cheating in poker.

That’s not a problem in casino games. In casino games, collusion is not a problem. You don’t play with other players, you play Player versus House, so there is no chance of cheating. And particularly the way we’ve been implemented it with smart contracts.  The games play super-fast. You could play a hand every second, if you wanted. We’re not tied to the speed of the blockchain, and that frees us to make the games really enjoyable. It also has another benefit, which is key, it almost has no transaction fees.

The technology we’ve built not only solved the performance problem, but the scale problem as well, because we can have an unlimited number of transactions in real-time. We’re not limited by the block size or anything. And also we have almost no gas cost. People could play a half an hour session of Blackjack with 100 hands in it, and they wouldn’t play anymore than the first hand, and that’s the way our system works whereas, with everyone else they’re paying. Every single hand in it becomes impossible to make a difference out of that.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  You just mentioned ethereum. Where do you see cryptocurrency heading? What do you see on the horizon?

JEZ SAN:  Well, I see continued volatility. That’s for sure. The great thing about blockchain is we’re in a fast-moving space where there’s a lot of innovation. The sad thing to me was how the innovation stopped in bitcoin. I mean, ultimately the three of them, they lack governance, and they lost their leader years ago. It worked for quite a long time having no leader and no governance, so then there were disagreements. Now that there are disagreements, it’s halted, and it’s halted for two years. No innovation could happen anymore because people are arguing and there’s no one to resolve the arguments. The alternatives are forcibly resolving the argument, so risky that no one wants to do them.

Bitcoin is almost at the end now until they resolve that, whereas the other cryptocurrency just leaped ahead with a gap in the market, innovate like there’s no tomorrow. Innovation is the key. This is a fast-moving technology and things need to enable. I mean the innovation of ethereum having smart contracts basically turns it from something that only a select few in the world know how to use, which is bitcoin. Bitcoin is really hard and almost no developers can do it, because it requires such knowledge and skill to even attempt it, whereas in ethereum, anyone who could program Java, can program and write the ethereum software.

Now there’s already 100,000 developers writing ethereum software. It won’t stop there. And that’s going to enable a massive scale. And then also, you look at what’s happening in the enterprise, where they’ve got this parallel track of bank, using it for their own purposes and their own private version of it. It’s still fully compatible. The same with smart contracts, the same programming skills, the same everything. They can move back and forth between the public blockchain and the private one that the banks are using. That’s just going to bring enormous skills and development to the ecosystem.

I’m very excited about what’s happening over there. The other blockchains as well. I mean there’s so many new innovations. There’s DFINITY ,which is a slightly different version of Ethereum with a different consensus layer. There’s just lots of really cool things going on and everyone is capitalizing on the vacuum where bitcoin got stuck. It could have momentum, but the end-slicing of the very strong forces within it has frozen it. In the technology industry, you can’t freeze something. It has to keep innovating, keep improving, so go ahead.

BLOCK TRIBUNE: You said before that bitcoin has reached the end of line. Just to clarify, are you predicting that it’s going to wither and die?

JEZ SAN:  No, I don’t know. I think it will continue. I really hope that they resolve their differences and they’ll start moving forward in the game. My first bitcoin conference was in 2013 in San Jose. I’m not talking about bitcoin scaling or block scaling then. I was in on a semicircle of developers, when Gavin Wood was arguing with Peter Todd about the block size. Peter Todd was saying it could never be more than one megabyte. This is back then. They’re still arguing about it now. It may be a different place, it just may be Gavin’s gone and someone else is arguing about it. It’s ridiculous. These are people acting like children. Also, they’re losing the war by fighting.

Bitcoin, look at it now. It’s about to be overtaken by ethereum, and then it will probably get overtaken by a whole bunch of others. It’s sad that something that was so ahead and so groundbreaking has stalled because of silly arguments, which are ultimately because of lack of governance, lack of leadership.

BLOCK TRIBUNE:  You’ve moved through several technological booms. Is there anything on the horizon that is fascinating you right now?

JEZ SAN:  Obviously, AI is changing the world. That will really change. That will be felt in every way. I mean. it’s unfortunate, but a lot of people will actually have to retrain. There’s a whole chunk of the work industry, which will disappear. It’s like the coal industry. You can’t be a coal miner forever. You’re going to have to do something else. It’s the same with any driver of taxi’s or haulage, or anything like that, is going to be out of job in 10 years. They have to do something else. They have to learn a new trade. And middle management, they’re all going to probably have to.  Anything that AI could do better than a human, AI’s going to do. While there’s still a need for people, there’s still a lot of jobs. They’re just different jobs.

People are living longer now. They need more health care now. They’re going to be a lot more doctors, and nurses, and porters, and everything do to with health care and middle management. There’s certainly jobs. Probably artistic jobs will be good. Menial repetitive jobs is just going to change. AI and robotics and everything. Just the innovations that’s happening in that space is going to change the entire workforce industry.

BLOCK TRIBUNE: Some people think that is a danger. You see it as a benefit to mankind?

JEZ SAN: The fact is it’s going to happen. We have to plan around it. What are you going to do, stop AI from happening? It’s here, people are using it. They’re using it in everything, from Siri on your phones to self-driving cars. It’s here, it’s not going away. You can’t stop it. And for every country that tries to slow it down, there will be other countries that will try and speed it up. You just might as well plan around it.

It’s just like when you plan your cities, and you put roads in so that cars can drive instead of horses. Technological change happens and you have to work around it. You have to make sure that you plan for your future.