Seasteading Longform Essay (N+1, June 5, 2013)
Attossa Abrahamian, writing for N+1 Magazine, goes into detail about the many individuals that have participated in recent events, such as the seasteading conference and Ephemerisle. While her depiction is colorful, it appears as a caricature to those of us inside the movement. The outside world may find it easier to indulge in popular stereotypes like the “anti-tax libertarian,” but an earnest investigation would see past these cardboard cut-outs to our community’s genuine desire to improve the health, wealth and prosperity of the entire planet.
Silicon Valley’s Next Disruption: Floating, Autonomous City-States (Vice, June 2013)
Although Vice reporter Grace Wyler seems to understand the general idea of seasteading, she unfortunately gets distracted by her imagination of hypothetical “worst case scenarios,” like a seastead where human hunting is legal (nay, encouraged) despite the odds being overwhelmingly against such business models. Criticisms like Wyler’s crumble when you consider the market forces acting upon a seastead – all communities would be entered into voluntarily, and would require substantial cooperation, organizational capital, and compliance with the official laws of the international community as well as informal rules of human decency. Focusing on Wyler’s other hypotheticals, we can’t imagine much more than a one-man “white supremacist seastead,” given the inevitable bad press and unpopularity of such a position; a child pornography ring would have to be crazy to put their nefarious activity directly on the radar of international police. The ocean, after all, is in an environment where virtually any nations’ law enforcement can and will board a vessel if there is reasonable suspicion that passengers or crew are breaking international law. Finally, Wyler falls prey to the common misconception that we are an exclusively libertarian movement, even though she acknowledges that the Institute is working to dispel this notion.
The Seasteading Institute Interview (Ignite.me, May 31, 2013)
For the past few days, my brain’s been abuzz with excitement over a group I’m gambling on to change the way the world is run. The Seasteading Institute is working hard to build experimental societies – floating city-states – in international waters.
As they point out, there is no more unclaimed land where we can pioneer new ways of doing things. That’s why they plan to colonize the oceans.
Essentially, The Seasteading Institute is developing society & government 2.0, a global upgrade designed to promote increased flexibility and freedoms. One day down the road, their work might just displace our bloated and antiquated socio-political structures, offering us a menu of lightweight options that puts more power in the hands of the users – us.
I’m interested in this group for a couple of reasons.
- They want us to have options. They’re not trying to proselytize for their one “right” ideology. Instead, they’re supporting the development of different types of experimental “start-up governments” so that we may have real, meaningful choices when it comes to our political systems. If we don’t like the way things are done in our floating city, we can choose to try out life in the “country” next door. This freewheeling approach to citizenship gives ruling powers serious incentive to do right by the masses.
Continue reading from the Original Article.
Why Doesn’t Government Get Better? (Huffington Post, May 28, 2013)
This piece was written by 18-year-old seasteading ambassador Josiah Tullis, for the Huffington Post’s Politics Blog.
Government is a science. Political science is, according to Aristotle, the study of the state. But if governance is a science why don’t we see more experimenting with the state? Why aren’t we trying new things in government? Certainly, there’s a great handful of think-tanks and professors conducting research into public policy, but how about some good old fashioned scientific experimentation? Why don’t we model our theories of society and test out their reality in controlled environments? Why don’t we experiment with civilization and political systems? What I want to know is why, in an age of increasingly rapid progress, we haven’t created a system that allows us to actually innovate government?
The problem, I think, is that there’s this great misconception that we’re stuck with what we’ve got– that we’ve somehow already considered every possible political organizational structure that might exist, and that we’ve settled. Somehow, it seems we have found ourselves, as a culture, with a great deficiency of ambition to find new solutions.
It’s this invisible resistance to progress that has stifled change. Even 200 years ago our founding fathers realized this, with John Adams eloquently declaring that, “While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill- little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”
But what if we could experiment with government, and with all of society? What if we could create new countries as easily as we create new companies? And what if those countries competed for citizens the same way websites compete for users and products compete for consumers? Wouldn’t the country that offers the greatest product rise in popularity while inferior systems crumbled to bankruptcy?
That’s what the Seasteading Institute believes. In fact, they’re well on their way to creating a full legislative incubator in the only unclaimed territory left on earth– the ocean. According to their mission statement, “The Seasteading Institute is a nonprofit working to enable seasteading communities – floating cities – which will allow the next generation of pioneers to test new ideas for government.” The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world. There really isn’t a better description than a legislative incubator. The seasteading concept relies on the idea that public policy, like the consumer market, will have a concrete feedback meter– the number of citizens, the customer demand for living on a particular seastead. These people would be free to stay, or to leave for an alternate, perhaps neighboring, seastead. This way, the most popular systems can be determined– and put to practice. And the idea isn’t limited to the ocean or to governmental experiments. Many seasteading activists were motivated by Larry Page’s recent call for more free-experimentation zones, which he likened to Burning Man. Answering questions at Google I/O, Page declared,
There’s many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do ’cause they’re illegal or they’re not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense, we don’t want our world to change too fast. But maybe we should set aside some small part of the world … I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out: What is the effect on society? What’s the effect on people? Without having to deploy it into the normal world. And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience that.
Amongst seasteading activists, Page was preaching to the choir. To show their support, the Institute” created an online petition that outlines their goals to improve government and create spaces like the ones Page spoke of, on land and at sea. The petition reads,
The last great advance in governance technology was the American experiment with democracy more than 200 years ago. While democracy has brought health, wealth and happiness to billions of people, we also sense that modern governments are slowing down meaningful reform with one-size-fits-all policies. The clash of old rules and rapidly evolving technology leads us to believe that innovative systems of governance” could serve humanity better than modern governments do today. We believe a new frontier is needed to once again test out new ways of living together.
Opening the ocean frontier would enable a plethora of scientists, engineers, psychologists, and entrepreneurs to each imagine better ways to run a civilization than our existing system. Why shouldn’t they have their fair shot? May the best country win.
Support the creation of free-experimentation zones and seasteads by signing the petition here.
Why do ‘Seasteaders’ Love Bitcoin? (CoinDesk, May 24, 2013)
Bitcoin represents more than a digital currency. For many adopters, it is a means of breaking free of government and financial institutions’ control over money.
The Seasteading Institute shares those ideals. Just as libertarians in the Bitcoin community see the currency as a way to get free of fiat and avoid the financial transaction roadblocks erected at national boundaries or through credit regulations, seasteaders put their hope into the idea of new, independent cities as a way to escape the stranglehold of government systems.
Since April 2009, the Seasteading Institute has been working toward the goal of bringing about permanent, innovative communities that float at sea. The organization is headed by prominent libertarians, including Patri Friedman, the son of political theorist David Friedman and grandson of economist Milton Friedman.
Friedman stepped down as chief executive of the institute in early 2012, though he retains the position of chairman.
While creating a viable, floating city would cost billions of dollars, Friedman has insisted that funding is not the real obstacle to bringing the project to life.
“The challenge is getting people to see that this can be a route to political reform,” he said.
The Seasteading Institute lays out its goals like this:
The Seasteading Institute wishes to enable the creation of ocean city-states in order to advance humanity through innovative startup governments. We believe that competition in government will lead to better government for the whole planet. Governments are ultimately the stewards of institutions, which are more or less the “rules of the game.” Looking around the world, it is easy to see that some countries have better rules than others. Good or bad, however, rules can become entrenched in the absence of competition from new market entrants. Currently no new governments can peacefully enter the “governance market,” but with seasteading, experimentation with new rules is possible.
Thiel has noted, “When you start a company, true freedom is at the beginning of things.” He also draws a parallel to the inception of the US government.
“The United States Constitution had things you could do at the beginning that you couldn’t do later,” he said. What he seeks to explore is a way to begin fresh, with all the possibilities that suggests.
Thiel has supported The Seasteading Institute since its beginning. In 2008, he donated $500,000, the same amounted he put into Facebook in 2004. Subsequent donations have brought his total contribution to around $1.25 million.
The Seasteading Institute’s philosophy dovetails with the views Thiel espoused in an April 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, “The Education of a Liberatarian.” In that piece, he declares that libertarians must get beyond restrictive government systems by finding a place of their own:
“The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.”
Thiel identifies three possible spaces in which to find that freedom: cyberspace, outer space and the seas. He explains his support for seasteading this way: “From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the internet, but much more realistic than space travel … It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.”
Thiel is also betting on the success of Bitcoin, as his Founders Fund has invested in the Bitcoin merchant services firm BitPay. In fact, Bitcoin might in fact be the realization of what Thiel once envisioned for PayPal.
Though we think of PayPal today as just another part of the standard payment system, like Visa or MasterCard, Thiel’s early goals were far more radical and ambitious.
As the Details article revealed, PayPal was intended to serve “the techno-cool libertarian ideal: a way of emancipating money from government’s monopolistic clutches.” That ideal was even reflected in early company-issued shirts, which bore the legend, “THE NEW WORLD CURRENCY.”
Ken Howery, one of PayPal’s co-founders, explained that Thiel was convinced that “people should be able to store their money in any currency they wanted, without fear of governments devaluing it.” While PayPal has gone on to great success as a company, it’s fallen far short of those libertarian ideals.
Bitcoin, however, has awakened new hope for the ultimate solution to a government-free currency … which is one of the concerns of Seasteaders. One policy recommended by the Seasteading Mission Statement addresses the monetary system, emphasizing — for example — that the “Gold Standard would be set back in place.”
The proposed policy stresses it is not gold per se that is essential — what’s needed is for the monetary system to be determined by the marketplace rather by a governing authority: “So as libertarians, we really shouldn’t advocate a gold standard as it might imply that we think the government should manage it. For a truly free market, it is the marketplace that should decide on what will be used as money. Most likely, I would bet my fiat money that the market would choose gold again.”
For many today, though, the answer is to be found not in gold but in “Gold 2.0,, as Bitcoin as been dubbed. A recent Reason articleexplained that, while people have in the past looked to gold as a shelter from inflation and currency crashes, “the high-techBitcoin cryptocurrency recently stepped in to fill that role in a more portable way.”
Mike Caldwell, the creator of Casascius Coins put it this way:
“Bitcoin is two things. It’s a community, and it’s a technology … because Bitcoin is just today’s embodiment of the idea that we now have the technology to democratize money.”
In the same way, seasteaders seek to harness community and technology to establish a new type of civilization, one where Bitcoin could serve as a currency not tied to any nation and allowing free transactions among all.
Incidentally, The Seasteading Institute does accept Bitcoin donations. (It also notes, however, that the US government does not recognize these as tax-deductible contributions.”)
The New States and The Sea (Schweizer Monatshefte, March 2013)
Want to ‘Change the World’? Come to San Francisco (Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2013)
People who include the keywords “change the world” in their professional profiles on the business-networking site are far more common in the San Francisco Bay Area than in Greater New York or Los Angeles, Venture Capital Dispatch found. Out of about 8,300 people in the U.S. who use “change the world” in their profiles, 11.5% reside in the Bay Area, 10% in greater New York and 6% in Los Angeles.
Compared with the total number of LinkedIn profiles in each region, San Francisco has twice as many such profiles in its area as do New York and L.A. The amount of change-the-world profiles is still a tiny percentage out of the millions in the three urban areas.
The Bay Area “has long attracted people who in a way believed that they are doing visionary work, almost doing God’s work through technology,” said Chuck Darrah, chair of the anthropology department at San Jose State University and co-founder of the Silicon Valley Cultures Project.
The proliferation of self-proclaimed world-changers may be driven not just by the region’s pull on utopian thinkers, but by the increase in seed financing over the last two years and the resulting greater number of startups. With young companies increasingly competing for capital and talent, some founders may try to stand tall and shout from the mountain tops about their potential and worth, not to mention trying to instill a connection to their company in employees who have the option of working elsewhere.
“The space has become one where you need to sensationalize and hype what you are doing,” said Jon Sakoda, partner at Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture firm New Enterprise Associates. “That lends people to being evangelical and calling themselves the people that change the world. I don’t think they are delusional. I think they are trying to do their job.”
“We’re dreaming big dreams,” said Paul Rosenfeld, co-founder of startup Fanminder, which helps small businesses use social media for marketing and that was acquired by Total Merchant Services in December. Rosenfeld quit a well-paying job to start his company, which was a scary decision, he said. He and his partner needed to convince other team members to believe in their dreams, he said—that’s why he included the phrase “change the world” in his LinkedIn profile.
“We were getting [the engineers] through buying them into our vision,” said Rosenfeld.
For some people changing the world is just a core belief that drives their entrepreneurial dreams. Joe Lonsdale, an entrepreneur and general partner with new venture firm Formation 8, proclaims on his LinkedIn profile that he is “interested in understanding and reversing the decline of Western Civilization.”
He also writes in his profile that he is “helping [the Seasteading Institute] change the world by building a new frontier for humankind.” Lonsdale is a board member of the Seasteading Institute, which says on its website it is aiming to build “seasteads,” or floating cities, which will give people the opportunity to “peacefully test new ideas about how to live together.”
Lonsdale is hoping to invest in startups that make technology to improve financing, government, education and energy. “If you make any of those work better, you help everyone else,” said Lonsdale, who has founded startups such as Palantir Technologies, which has been deploying its software to optimize data processing in counterterrorism, fraud detection and other uses, as well as Addepar, which tackles financing system optimization.
“A lot of us think that there are a lot of challenges our civilization faces, and technologists have the best chance of tackling them,” he said.
While to those outside Silicon Valley the ambition and drive on display in the region may appear “egotistical,” it’s not necessarily delusional, says Darrah. For many the role of tech companies like Facebook and Twitter in galvanizing political change has been proof that Silicon Valley does, indeed, change the world.
In a way, Silicon Valley allows young people at least the dream of having it all. In other parts of the country, college graduates often face a dilemma–whether to pursue high-paying careers in finance or go into low-paying nonprofit work that gives them the opportunity to “change the world.” But those who come to Silicon Valley often don’t have to choose, said Darrah.
Nationally, people working in nonprofit organizations trail only people working in marketing and advertising when it comes to change-the-world profiles. But in the Bay Area, nonprofit workers take a distant fifth place, trailing would-be world changers working in the Internet, computer software and information technology categories. That suggests utopian thinkers aren’t confined to low-paying nonprofit work in the Bay Area and believe they can help society while also working in a financially rewarding field.
“The money is important to the equation,” said Behnam. “Money in the absence of a mission and doing good, sets you up for a culture that’s not sustaining,” he added.
There’s another reason why Silicon Valley residents may feel the ability to change the world, perhaps more now than ever. Technology is becoming more accessible and cheaper, so that people feel they have access to the necessary tools to implement their ideas. “There are few places in the world where a developer or a single individual can make a huge impact,” said Behnam.
“This is the part of the world where people who believe they can influence the future for the better come to build things,” said Lonsdale.
Unhappy with the government? Well then make one yourself! (Gizmodo, December 31, 2012)
Former Google employee establishing countries on artificial islands
Is the day near when an easy-to-live-in utopia for geeks can be achieved?
Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics. His grandson, the former Google engineer Patri Friedman, is along with his colleagues actively soliciting donations to establish new countries.
Originally starting from discussions among friends dissatisfied by politics, it has become a project to create their own ideal place. Launching artificial islands in international waters where national powers do not reach, they will enact their own independent laws and constitutions. The concept is detailed on their website. Starting by floating a boat near the San Francisco coast, they plan to begin by constructing a facility where engineers who do not hold a visa can live. The beginning of 2014 is the apparent target. We look forward to seeing just what kind of utopia they will achieve.
[Translation by Ian Erickson]
Don’t Like The Government? Make Your Own, On International Waters (NPR’s All Things Considered, December 17, 2012)
NPR’s All Things Considered is the latest prominent news show to take an interest in seasteading. Earlier today, the program aired a six-minute segment titled, “Don’t like the government? Make your own, on international waters“; we are grateful to the segment’s producer, Laura Sydell, for her more than year-long effort to put the story together. Overall, Sydell did a good job presenting our mission to NPR’s listeners. At the same time, we wish to address a few points where the story fell short.
Our biggest grievance was the segment’s failure to recognize seasteading as a movement to enable multiple competing visions of governance. Professor Holly Folk, the expert featured to provide a counter-argument to seasteading, demonstrated her incomplete understanding of our strategy by focusing on potential problems with starting a new libertarian intentional community. She alleges a desire by seasteaders to “game the global system,” and claims libertarians have “a worldview that’s going to be attractive to people who are in some ways probably not hard-wired to behave and take orders very well.” The segment contains no evidence for the first allegation. Folk’s second claim might have some validity, but only if we were advocating a single community based on a contrarian philosophy.
Another disappointment was the labeling of our supporters as “rich techies,” a framing which hardly does justice to the diverse composition of our movement. The defining feature of our local meetup attendees has always been passion for alternatives to the governing status quo, and dedication to enabling a broad range of new communities experimenting with innovative solutions. Being so close to Silicon Valley, many of our local supporters are naturally interested in harnessing recent technological progress to advance humanity in other realms, such as the rules for organizing into peaceful and prosperous societies.
Additionally, the references to profits as the motivation behind our efforts are overdone. Yes, the Institute explores ideas for making seasteads economically sustainable, but profits merely exist to signal which seasteads are meeting the demands of citizens and customers, and to encourage innovation. Seastead communities will not be “built around profits” any more than existing communities on land, which of course depend on the existence of economic opportunity to support their citizens.
As diverse as our support is, it continues to frustrate us when the media pigeonholes the concept of seasteading as exclusively libertarian. Fortunately, history will not remember us for a particular ideology, but instead for our pioneering of a movement to improve all of humanity’s relationship to its governments, and to the planet. We are hopeful our true vision will still reach many of NPR’s listeners, and we appreciate the opportunity to be showcased to their audience.
Executive Director Randolph Hencken interviewed on ABC Radio Australia (Radio National Drive, October 12, 2012)
With the spectre of oceans gobbling up available land – just ask the good folk of Tuvalu – could floating communities become a reality?
In some parts of the world people already live above water, not land.
There are fishing villages in Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia Indonesia and Hong Kong where you can see structures on stilts over the ocean.
But for most of us, living means living on land.
Could a movement known as seasteading change that?
Moon? Mars? No, it’s seaward ho! (New Scientist, September 28, 2012)
The vastness of Earth’s oceans and the limited extent of our knowledge and occupation of them often invites comparisons with space. But they are much more attainable than the moon or Mars. Hence the enduring fascination with “seasteading“, the idea of building permanent settlements at sea (see “Brave new sea worlds to redefine society“).
Those who push the idea are often dismissed as libertarian fantasists. The seasteading movement has its fair share of those, but it is also home to pioneers longing to conquer a new frontier.
We already have The World, a private residential yacht with permanent wealthy occupants cruising the globe. That hardly fulfils the vision of wagons rolling west. But it may be the start of something bigger. Shifting climate was what drove our African ancestors to colonise the world (see “Climate change determined humanity’s global conquest“). As climate and population pressures ramp up, perhaps the lure of the wide blue yonder will prove irresistible.
Start-up Nations on the High Seas (Discover Magazine, September 2012)
Indian IT startups flock to Silicon Valley ‘seastead’ Blueseed (Times Online, September 6, 2012)
For those Sri Lankans IT startups that have not yet heard of a “seastead” venture called Blueseed, now is the time to sit up and take notice. Particularly since their Indian brethren are already way up front in ways of getting their foot in the door of US based Silicon Valley’s venture capital funding mecca.
Model of the ship
A project launched last year in the US, Blueseed is in its basic form an off-shore IT startup incubator. Nothing special about that, but what is unique about this venture is that this off-shore project is actually a “seastead”, or an ocean-based environment, which will be docked in international waters around 22 km (12 miles) southwest of San Francisco Bay. Another distinct feature of this project is that it was launched with the premise that it is a work visa-free alternative for IT startups trying to access to the IT resource rich Silicon Valley area which is the apex of IT innovation, in terms of talent, hiring, research, etc., as well as being the home of heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, Intel, Yahoo, etc.
According to blueseed.co, the project will be renting space to 1,000 entrepreneurs starting at around US$ 1,200 per person, plus a small stake in the startup. This will be for basic, shared accommodation and work space as well as offering all the technical and entertainment facilities a startup need, from a a 40 Gbps point-to-point laser link, with satellite link backup, to restaurants, swimming pools, rock climbing walls, etc. Importantly, it will also feature a twice-daily ferry service, and even access to speed boats and helicopters for those wishing to get to meetings in Silicon Valley quickly and, presumably, willing to pay more for it. Incidentally, more luxurious accommodations are available for US$ 3,000 per person.
Further, the concept is being marketed as a high tech dorm room mixed with a 24-hour hackathon, i.e. what blueseed.co calls “[living] and working in an awesome startup- and technology oriented- space”. Essentially, an IT entrepreneur’s dream environment. And this appears to be generating quite a lot of the interest in Blueseed as demonstrated in blueseed.co’s real-time survey in which 56.7% stated that the “awesome” space was critical importance to them, and a further 30.2% saying it was of a high importance.
Before dismissing this idea as pure fantasy too soon, one must take into account the expressions of interest having been registered by 289 companies, with the top three countries represented being the US (89), India (25) and the UK (18), as well as the 920 plus entrepreneurs, according to real-time data provided at blueseed.co. Additionally, Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and PayPal’s founder, signed up in end-2011 to lead seed funding for the company. Mr. Thiel has already invested US$ 1.25 million in the Seastead Institute, according to mashable.com.
Why Silicon Valley?
According to the survey at blueseed.co, the proximity to Silicon Valley is another critical reason for this project, with 39.2% identifying this as a critical reason for their interest in Blueseed and a further 29.2% saying proximity was of high importance. In fact, while space maybe the key selling point for “seasteads” for the native populations of Asian countries such as Singapore, or even the Maldives, for Blueseed to fulfill its role as an IT incubator, Silicon Valley is a key selling point.
As per a presentation linked to blueseed.co, Silicon Valley has been responsible for 65,000 new technology patents filed in the US between 2006 and 2010, more than twice that of the New York / Long Island / New Jersey IT corridor, the site of the next big patent hub (25,000). It also indicated that, according to Price Waterhouse Cooper, US$ 11.93 billion, or 41%, of all venture capital invested in the US in 2011 was attributable to this area.
But perhaps the most telling of all numbers is that Internet search giant Google has bought a new company every week over the last two years.
Will Blueseed actually happen?
While there are many media reports deeply skeptical about this idea, a few have also embraced it in some small way.
Maybe because it does not offer up a utopia in the sea, away from big government and taxation, but rather serves an immediate purpose. For example, economist.com says; “The technical challenges are daunting enough. The legal questions that seasteads would face are no less tricky, and call into question whether it would really be possible to create genuinely self-governing mini-states on the oceans”. At the same time, it also adds that “countries short of available land, or whose leaders are struggling to pass liberalising reforms against resistance from vested interests, may tolerate limited experiments in low-tax, rule- free self-government. So the seasteaders may be in with a chance”.
Meanwhile, Casey Newton of sfgate.com, in May 20, 2012, wrote; “To make it happen, Blueseed will have to raise tens of millions of dollars, attract hundreds of high-quality entrepreneurs and negotiate complicated legal issues. (For starters: determining what nation’s flag to fly under.) And that’s before it builds a small floating city in international waters”.
Rituparna Chatterjee of India’s Economic Times states; “Blueseed is working on building relationships in Washington DC with immigration- related government agencies such as the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). If these work out, immigration authorities at US airports would be informed in advance about the arrival of Blueseed entrepreneurs, who could then enter the country almost in quasi-diplomat style, unlike the masses”.
However, newswire Associated Press quotes Christopher S. Bentley, a spokesman with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as saying his agency “has not seen the proposal and it’s premature to comment”.
Continuing on Associated Press also highlights maritime experts as indicating that this idea is “feasible, but very costly”. Says the Associated Press story in question; “‘A good single point mooring costs in the millions of dollars but it could restrain a ship-shape vessel in quite severe storms and in deep water,’ said Bill Stewart, CEO of Houston-based Stewart Technology Associates, an engineering consultancy specializing in offshore and marine structures. ‘But it would be prudent if the vessel had its own propulsion if you had a Pacific hurricane come along,’ Stewart added.”
Interestingly, tech news website Ars Technica offers up completely different perspective:
Ars asked Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney with a national employment practice, to evaluate Blueseed’s legal strategy. “What they’re proposing seems consistent with the law,” he told us. “They rightly have bypassed the most difficult part of the process, which is getting a work visa to come to the US. By moving all of the productive work offshore, it increases the odds that people will be able to do business in Silicon Valley.”
But he said the uncertainties of the immigration system could cause headaches for Blueseed residents. One source of uncertainty is in getting the B-1 visa in the first place—though potential entrepreneurs should be able to get that sorted out before moving to the ship. The more serious problem is the risk of being turned away during each trip from the boat to California.
There will be “a little bit of uncertainty every time they come in,” Siskind said. Each trip to the mainland would require an inspection by an immigration official who would have discretion to decide who to let into the country. “Depending on what that person had for breakfast may determine the future of your business,” he said.
However, Siskind said that the political environment has gotten better for a project like Blueseed. Entrepreneurs are popular among voters, and Siskind says that immigration officials have been “somewhat on the defensive” due to a perception that the immigration system is insufficiently welcoming of potential job-creators. “I think they’ll be the poster child to demonstrate what’s wrong with the system,” he said, which would make immigration officials reluctant to give Blueseed residents too much trouble when they arrive on American soil for business meetings.
Either way, what may scuttle this ship of dreams may not be the obvious fantastical, technical challenges of a long term community at sea, but the more down-to-earth legal problems that could crop up by countries increasingly hell bent on protecting their borders from perceived threats. Economic or otherwise.
What is Seasteading? (Marine Insight, August 31, 2012)
Regarded to be a major revolutionary spectacle, seasteading refers to development alternate nations and societies on the oceanic domain. The initiative’s origins can be traced back to as early as the start of the 1980s though it was only during the early 21st century that firm steps were taken to bring this visualised fantasy to life.
The concept of sea steading originated as a means of relocating to other feasible geographies so as to evade the problems and threats caused by contemporary societal and inter and intra-national conflicts.
Seasteading thus also involves constructing viable and workable structures that will allow the new-age citizens to combine healthy lifestyles of both work and pleasures, just like any other land-based avenue. Such a structure that would house the citizens is thus referred to as a seastead.
Founded in the year 2008, the Seasteading Institute has been developed as a unilateral establishment to assimilate all possible developmental avenues to come up with viable seastead models. Along with being pioneered by two exceptional visionaries, the Institute also possess the financial backing of a groundbreaking businessman – Peter Thiel.
Based upon the Seasteading Institute’s findings and analyses, the following have been highlighted to successfully bring the sea steading idea to realisation:
- Using ships as seastead colonies. Their hugeness of size and their optimum feasibility even otherwise makes them an ideal choice for seasteading.
- Using poles not dissimilar to drilling rigs in the high seas as sea steading colonies. The poles would provide the required base support required to maintain the colonies’ stability while on water.
- Coming up with other specially designed structures as highly functional seasteading colonisations.
Even as the concept idea of the Seasteading Institute and the people associated with it remains firmly in place, its visualisation is not exempt from flaws. Apart from the huge financial investment required, the non-workability of the seasteads themselves poses a huge threat.
Considering that the oceanic domain is highly unpredictable and subject to volatile changes, it is important to come up with a strong structure with an equally strong foundation. A strong foundation at the structure’s base would ensure that the structure remains poised even in the most volatile of oceans without hampering the day-to-day activities of the citizens.
However even as these problems are discussed and debated, proponents are optimistic about the concept taking-off successfully across the globe. With a specified time-period of three decades hence charted, this optimism doesn’t seem to be unfounded.
The right amalgamation of technical infrastructure and innovatory thinking can definitely bring about the expectantly desired changes for the betterment of populace across.
Cities in the sky, sea and desert: The world’s population has to go somewhere (The Province, August 19, 2012)
When Curiosity, NASA’s one-ton, nuclear-powered robot landed safely on Mars earlier this month, after a 352 million-mile journey from Cape Canaveral, a cheer went up at Mission Control that was echoed around the world. Suddenly, after decades of idle talk about human colonies in outer space, there seemed a real chance of escaping our overcrowded, over-polluted planet.
“There are people living now who will walk on Mars,” declared Lord Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal. “Moreover, a century or two from now, small groups of intrepid adventurers may be living there quite independently from Earth.” And so they may. But while stargazers draw up plans for a new home across the galaxy, there are hundreds of people — entrepreneurs, engineers, architects and scientists — who are already working on incredible alternatives to conventional towns and cities here on Earth.
One of the most radical ideas is to build vast numbers of “superskyscrapers”. Far taller than conventional skyscrapers, these buildings will gradually come to dominate cities, from London to Moscow, and house millions of people who currently live in the countryside or the suburbs.
Some superskyscrapers already exist; Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, a 2,723ft “vertical odyssey”, features 900 apartments and 144 “Armani Residences” on 163 floors. But plans are already underway to build towers that will dwarf this, including the 7,900ft Dubai City Tower, and the X-Seed 4000, in Tokyo, which will stretch a staggering 2.5 miles into the air, and house a million people. Other architects are turning the skyscraper on its head. Take the pioneering design for Earthscraper, a 65-storey, 984ft inverted pyramid under Mexico City, with a hole in the middle to let in daylight; or Above Below, a 900ft structure destined for a disused copper mine in the Arizona desert.
Eric Howeler, the author of Skyscraper: Vertical Now, cites Hong Kong, where most people live in 50-storey buildings, in the city centre, as a blueprint for the future.
“It’s a great model,” he says. “It has the lowest per capita consumption of gasoline [and] the highest per capita use of public transport. People will have to shed this idea that they deserve their own car and their own lawn.”
And it’s not just people who’ll be re-housed. Architects are working on incredible “vertical farms”; 30-storey towers where crops normally grown in fields would instead be grown in “greenhouses” stacked on top of each other. These could theoretically produce the same amount of food as a 2,400-acre field every year. Last year, Dickson Despommier, the American microbiologist who devised the concept, visited Manchester to endorse Alpha Farm, a prototype vertical farm planned for an unused office block in Wythenshaw.
High upfront costs have stalled the Alpha Farm project, but there’s a bigger problem faced by anyone planning a super-tall structure: the wind.
“Buildings move, although we don’t like to talk about it,” says Dr. John Roberts, the principal engineer of the London Eye. For every height rise, there is an exponential increase in a skyscraper’s tendency to sway, and, even with 100-ton dampers as stabilizers, the swaying eventually becomes intolerable. Which, in Roberts’ opinion, makes some of the tallest projects nothing more than pies in the sky.
It rises from the ocean, looking like the lair of a James Bond villain. Two hundred miles from land, the awestruck mariner sees a steel and glass structure held high above the waves by giant pillars.
Drawing closer, he can see houses, offices, hotels and parkland behind the curved glass and he realizes, with astonishment, that people are living here. This is a “seastead”; a settlement on the sea, and, its supporters believe, the ideal home for people who want to alleviate overcrowding on land and build a better society from scratch, away from the jurisdiction of nation-states.
The idea’s founding father is Patri Friedman, 36, the grandson of the Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman. A former software engineer for Google, Friedman abandoned his job in 2008 to create the Seasteading Institute, based — perhaps inevitably — in San Francisco, with the express objective of raising funds to research and, eventually, build a network of seasteads around the globe and to “experiment with diverse social, political, and legal systems.”
The idea sounds fanciful, but it has garnered support from some very serious people, the most prominent of whom is Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of PayPal, who has donated $1.25 million to Friedman’s institute.
In turn, the institute has sponsored highly acclaimed marine engineers to overcome the considerable technical challenges of its ideas, and lawyers to investigate the possibility of setting up a genuinely self-governing mini-state out at sea.
The institute is aiming to start with a floating holiday resort. Weighing 20,000 tons, with 90,000 square feet of open recreational space, the so-called “Clubstead” will contain a luxury hotel and casino, and would be fitted with thrusters powered by four diesel engines, so it can move location.
Friedman hopes to launch Clubstead by the end of the decade. However, he admits there are considerable obstacles to overcome. Any structure so far out at sea would have to withstand huge waves. Even oil platforms, which are built to resist rugged waters, bob up and down and make people seasick.
What’s more, a seastead for 200 people would cost around $220 million to build, so residents would have to be rich, but not care about luxuries like personal space and unrationed water.
“The ocean is expensive to build on, so we must economize on space,” says Friedman. “Early seastead adopters will care more about a new society than [having] as much water as they want.”
Closer to realization are other water-based settlements. Hydro Properties, in Surrey, is developing plans for Britain’s first floating housing estate. Built on a concrete-and-air pontoon, the complex comprises 16 town houses and 48 apartments, costing between pounds 550,000 and pounds 750,000, and connected to land by short gang planks. If successful, it could pave the way for many more homes on flood plains and inland waterways.
It could also solve huge housing problems and save thousands of lives in countries like the Netherlands and Bangladesh, where people live under the constant threat of floods.
Koen Olthius, a Dutch architect who specializes in floating cities, has designed a platform made from plastic bottles that will support urban homes in Bangladesh. He is also working on a city for 120,000 people in southern China.
Artificial oasis: The Eco-City
Rising from the desert, just 10 miles from the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi, is a development that borders on the revolutionary. Masdar City promises to be the world’s most technologically advanced eco-city: 40,000 citizens living in the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste metropolis.
On top of city HQ, 15,590 solar panels will form one of the largest roof-mounted solar fields. The city is still under construction but the Masdar Institute’s 150 students and staff are already installed. Phase two of construction has just been announced. But the future won’t come cheap. The development will cost about pounds 11 billion. Even with Abu Dhabi government funding, Masdar has proved vulnerable to the financial crisis. When conceived in 2006, its completion date was 2015. Deadlines now hover around 2021.
And there have been disappointments. The excited early visitors found that, for now, their driverless magnetic electro pods could only shuttle between two stops just half a mile apart. And some reports have suggested that the zero-carbon ambition has been replaced by more modest ambitions of “low carbon”.
Respectable engineers like Paul Westbury, the lead engineer for London’s Olympic Stadium, now question whether Masdar really is a model for the world’s masses. “It sounds lovely,” he says. “If you can afford to live there.”
Then there is the 45 metre-tall wind tower dominating the plaza of the Masdar Institute. It works perfectly to draw down cooling breezes. But running down the tower’s spine is low-energy LED lighting, revealing how much energy the city is consuming. Blue means Masdar is within its goal of using 50 per cent less energy than a similar-sized conurbation. Red tells citizens they are guilty of high energy use. Even Martyn Potter, the institute’s director of facilities, has called it his 147-foot “guilt trip”.
He also confesses that not every student loves the digital “smart grid” that monitors and limits everyone’s energy use. Showers stop after a few minutes. Attempts to turn up the air conditioning are thwarted. “Yes, they complain,” Potter has said, “but I have told them that’s how it is.”
China’s Tianjin Eco-City is trying something different. The first residents, who moved in last March, will not be forced to be fanatically green, a city spokesman said. Instead, its pioneers will be used to see what designs could work in a real city, with real people. Would they, for example, cope with self-emptying rubbish bins sucking litter into an environmentally sensitive underground network? “We are not sure,” admitted a spokesman. “It requires people not to put the wrong sort of rubbish in.”
Britain, too, is finding the biggest eco-city challenge may be what people are prepared to accept. In 2007, the Labour government announced its Eco-Towns Prospectus, calling for “local areas to come forward with ideas [for] a new generation of eco-towns”. In July 2009, approval was given for the first to enter the planning process. The only problem was that locals came forward with ideas for opposing them.
In Bicester, at least, they seem to be making progress, with recent talk that their eco-town will pioneer low-cost, low-energy LED lights. This reminded Dan Llett, the founder of the think-tank Greenbang, of a conundrum. “It’s called the Jevons Paradox. For every energy-efficient technology you introduce, people will end up using more energy, because it is more abundant and cheaper.”
When it comes to shaping the future, it seems, science may prove capable of solving technical problems, but controlling human nature may prove more difficult.
Center for International Maritime Security interviews The Seasteading Institute (CIMSEC, August 27, 2012)
The idea of creating a base, or even a fully fledged nation, in the middle of the ocean where none previously existed is not new. Through the undersea bases and floating man-made islands of science fiction humans have long pondered how to colonize the vastness of the ocean for both warfare and peace. As far back as the 19th century, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo took to sea in the Nautilus to escape the governments ashore. Such thinking has on one hand guided the Navy’s development of aircraft carriers and the U.S. Marine’s Mobile Landing Platforms – and on the other hand given us cruise ships and man-made islands in Dubai.
But no one has yet created a new nation from scratch. The so-called Principality of Sealand, founded on an abandoned sea fort 6 miles off the coast of England (then beyond the standard 3 miles of territorial water) in 1966 comes close, but has not been internationally recognized, is not self-sustaining, and was created without much forethought or room for growth (although you can purchase yourself a title of nobilty from the website).
While not short of enthusiasim or imaginination, the non-profit Seasteading Institute, founded in 2008, has set about to make the dream of colonization of the seas, or seasteading, a reality through practical steps and grounded analysis. By taking a long-term approach and funding detailed studies of international law and engineering the institute hopes forethought will help the endeavors that do materialize avoid the pitfalls of a type that bedevil Dubai’s islands, which carry on a running battle against the sea’s attempts to angrily reclaim its territory. As a first step in their journey the Seasteading Institute announced this weekend that they had received a donated 275-foot boat, appraised at $10 million and capable of carrying 900 passengers, which they hope to use as a platform for testing seasteading business concepts (more on the boat in a later post).
Last week I had the chance to interview Randy Hencken, Seasteading Institute’s Executive Director:
What is the mission of the Seasteading Institute?
We’re interested in providing people with new opportunities. We think seasteading can give people the chance to create new business opportunities, new societies, and new governments in international waters. This is a long-term dream that we realize is not going to happen overnight. We are going to start small and have to provide financial opportunities that will pull people out there; they’re not going to be pushed.
According to your website, one of the aims of seasteading is to “Improve Governments” – how would it do so?
We have no stance on what governments ought to look like – but we recognize that established governments have a difficult time changing. They’re rooted in a particular way of doing things and bureaucracy. We want to provide the opportunity for all kinds of innovative ideas that can’t be tested as easily in established governments.
Do you envision seasteads as clean breaks from existing governments, extensions akin to new territory, or a mix of both?
There’s potential for a mix of both, especially in the early years of seasteading. To avoid legally being a pirate, seasteads will have to flag themselves with the flag of an existing nation and partner up. As seasteading matures and grows, we foresee seasteads eventually breaking off when they have enough of their own economic power and population to no longer need to be binded to existing governments, when they’re at a point where they can be recognized by others as a micro-nation.
Have you talked with any states about flagging options?
There’s a study on our website that gives an outline of aspects of different flags. The choice for an individual seastead would be based on what business you’re running, but generally you want it to be one that has good diplomatic and legal systems. If you do get into a conflict, you want it to be one you can trust has a good legal backbone and that you can trust will respect you.
Do you have any thoughts on where seasteads may be initially located?
On our website we have also put up a location study online. Weather is a major variable, as are sea conditions, proximity to economic opportunity, and a location near a major metropolis. It’s not until sometime in the future that you’ll see seasteads further out into the ocean.
What sort of opportunities besides flagging are there for partnering with existing governments?
For example if a government were to offer a special economic zone close to or within their territorial waters. There’s no official cooperation at this time between seasteaders and any governments, but in the past we have spoken with higher-ups in governments and been treated with respect, not faced by people resistant to the idea.
Is there a worry that if seasteads do ultimately prove successful some governments may try to annex the territories, or force an evacuation if their citizens are threatened?
Of course there’s that concern, which is why we really want all seasteads to be diplomatic. We don’t want them to scare the horses. They have to choose practices that aren’t going to be perceived as threatening to their neighbors.
Has there been any thought given on the need to defend seasteads against a potential hostile government?
There’s a report that an intern did on security on the seasteads. We advocate the use of non-lethal force and would like to promote peace. Not putting a seastead in heavily pirated waters would be a good place to start. Maybe 40-50 years from now they could have a very sizable Navy, but the reality is no seastead is going to have one that would contend with the U.S. For the foreseable future is makes more sense to act cooperatively and diplomatically with existing governements.
Our goal early on is to communicate to legislators and bureaucrats in the government what we are, who we are, and what we’re promoting so they’re prepared for us. We plan to keep our eyes on laws to try to influence them so they’re friendly to us. Additionally, in these pioneering years it’s important to not do something that provokes a hysterical reaction, and instead to get people excited about the opportunities we hope seasteading will provide.
We believe seasteading can benefit anyone eventually. The best ideas will be transferred to existing nations, and we may see some problems in the U.S. government recede when ideas first tested in a micro-nation are implemented.
What models or historical examples do you draw lessons and parallels from?
Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai – these are very successful major metropolises that have broken off from a major nation and been able to provide new opportunities.
What sort restrictions does international law place on seasteads within territorial waters and a country’s Exclusive Economic zone [EEZ]?
Some of that is still pretty grey. I don’t want to overstate something and am not a legal expert. Right now a vessel is a vessel in the eyes of some courts. We recommend a seastead locate at least outside of territorial waters [12nm], or 24nm to reside out of a nation’s contingency zone depending on what they’re engaged in.
Personally, what excites me the most is aquaculture. I think seasteading has the opportunity to feed the world’s population, take carbon out of atmosphere, reduce ocean acidification, and provide economic opportunity to farmers and ranchers in the U.S. by raising bivalve, fish, etc. Currently this can’t be done within 200nm of a country’s coast – it would have to be done further out or with permission of the government. The U.S. is almost the most conservative nation when it comes to what it will or won’t allow in its EEZ. It’s easier in Asia to do ocean farming. We’d like to do some trial projects, but I don’t know of any permits for ocean aquaculture at this point.
One the Seasteading Institute’s areas of strategic is “Conducting engineering research for long-term engineering challenges.” What are you looking into?
What can we do to make a city that will stand up to the difficulties of the sea? How do we make people comfortable living there and confident the city won’t sink or rust away? What’s the best way to design and deploy floating breakwaters? How can they get their energy in a responsible way? Wave power, solar polar, thermal conversion. Making materials longer-lasting than steel or maybe even concrete.
And “Pursuing political and institutional diplomacy to make way for the era of seasteading?”
We’re trying to network with those in both industry and politics, so that they might be both interested and prepared. There are lots of opportunity for industry. If we can excite them about seasteading, they’ll get behind us and also exercise their influence to encourage governments to embrace the concept and what seasteading can do for both governments and their people.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments of the past 5 years, and what should we look for in the next 5 years?
We’re proud of how seasteading’s base has grown. We’ve helped make seasteading a word recognized in pop culture, we’ve helped conduct research in legal and engineering fields. And, as you’ll notice in our newsletter on Sunday – we’ve just been given a ship that we’ll be able to use as a seasteading platform to advance tech for long-term ocean inhabitation.
As for the next five years, we’re looking for partners. We see ourselves as a think tank, helping others figure out ways to grow. We believe the for-profit sector ought to take the lead in investing in the business opportunities – we don’t have enough money to do so ourselves. We think we’ll eventually see viable seastead platforms in the next 5-10 years.
Getting Around Big Government: The Seastead Revolution Begins to Take Shape (Forbes, July 30, 2012)
Getting Around Big Government: The Seastead Revolution Begins to Take Shape
Seastead Model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
No matter who wins the November election, the federal government will grow more expansive and expensive.
Democrats enthusiastically promote the Leviathan State. Republicans believe in the same, only they want to expand government a little slower and charge taxpayers a little less. George W. Bush was a bigger spender than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama was a bigger spender than Bush. If Mitt Romney is victorious in November, he likely will be an even bigger spender.
Such is the unending political battle over individual liberty.
But it may be possible to leapfrog government entirely. Imagine “seasteading”—living on a floating city outside of any country’s jurisdiction.
Four years ago Patri Friedman, a young software engineer who is grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman and son of even more radical economic theorist David Friedman, founded the Seasteading Institute with seed capital from Peter Thiel, lawyer turned PayPal founder. Since then the national government has spent more wildly and irresponsibly and regulated more irrationally and expensively. Washington has started more unnecessary wars and restricted more essential liberties. Americans should challenge the Leviathan State’s land-based monopoly.
Seasteading would allow residents to avoid supporting the usual tangle of public bureaucracies and accompanying gaggle of private parasites—lobbyists, journalists, even think tank analysts—that dominate Washington. There would be no more paying for endless yet needless wars.
Creating communities independent of existing states would help the rest of us as well. Most existing proposals for change, argued the Seasteading Institute’s Friedman and Brad Taylor, “rely on the reform of existing institutions or the consent of existing governments. In a competitive market for governance, we should expect governments to make such concessions; in the current uncompetitive system, we should not.”
Seasteads could help provide that competition. They would, argued the Seasteading Institute, “allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government. The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world.” Show people that genuine limited government works and people will choose that option.
History is filled with visionaries who overcame the doubts of others. Like past explorers, traders, and colonists. People who crossed the forbidding Atlantic Ocean in rotting wooden boats to settle in the New World.
Looking toward the future today are people who hope to mine the seabed. And those who envision space exploration and colonization. Although Star Trek might never become a reality, we won’t know if we don’t try. Those promoting seasteads also are visionaries.
The Seasteading Institute’s objective is “to set the stage in order to empower others to do so.” The organization recently held a conference in San Francisco bringing together entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, investors, and others whose collective effort will be necessary to turn theory into practice. The group is offering the Poseidon Award for the first genuine seastead and hopes to award the prize within three years.
The Institute also has a wide-ranging research program. Studies look at engineering (what are the best ways to construct viable seagoing communities?), economics (what kind of businesses could be run off-shore?), and law (what kind of legal regime should govern seasteading?). The Institute even has acquired a ship to be used, according to Randolph Hencken, the Institute’s Senior Director, to test “experimental technologies that may contribute to the sustainability of long term ocean habitation.”
Finally, the Institute is the principal public advocate for the movement. Serious work will be necessary to stop avaricious governments from grabbing control of any new seasteading communities.
The Seasteading Institute’s archives offer an interesting read for anyone hoping to find a practical way to escape today’s increasingly parasitical and violent Leviathan. Indeed, the detailed research suggests that it really might be possible to create such independent communities.
Seastead advocates are not crazed anarchists against government. They are promoting new forms of governance.
For instance, in his paper “Governing Seasteads: An Outline of the Options,” Brad Taylor observed: “We tend to take the existence of states—monopolistic providers of governance and wielders of coercive force over some large geographic area—for granted. Throughout most of human history, though, rules have been created and enforced in a decentralized way, producing customary systems of law.” Taylor reviews many of the options which exist outside of formal civil government.
The greatest legal-political challenge likely would come from traditional governments. From large cities which annex neighboring communities to nation states which conquer other countries, governments don’t like competition. Existing international rules likely would consider seasteads to be ships (which would be subject to the laws of their “flag” state) or artificial islands.
The Law of the Sea Treaty might hinder seasteading. In their paper, “Charting the Course: Toward a Seasteading Legal Strategy,” Dario Mutabdzija and Max Borders warn that LOST’s declaration that ocean resources are the “common heritage of mankind,” backed by the provision which bars subjecting “any part of the high seas” to state sovereignty, “could be one of the most formidable obstacles seasteaders face while creating permanent societies at sea (at least societies that are outside the auspices of established governments).”
Worse, piratical governments may concoct new rules, either unilaterally or perhaps through another United Nations conference, to control seasteads. In their paper, “Building the Platform: Challenges, Solutions and Decisions in Seasteading Law,” Dario Mutabdzija and Max Borders warn: “In all probability, nation-states and international organizations will try to interfere with the activities of seasteaders.” The authors point to Great Britain’s attempt to block so-called “pirate” radio stations operating from international waters.
Washington poses a particular threat. In his paper “The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas,” O. Shane Balloun warns: “In the long run, however, avoiding the global nature of United States admiralty jurisdiction will require far greater patience and creativity of seasteaders than will conquering a platform-sized area of the ocean.”
Whatever the law, if seasteads are going to become more than a visionary’s dream, they must take practical form. Although the idea seems simple enough—a movable, ocean-going city of some sort—it could take many forms. In their paper, “Seasteading Business: Context, Opportunity and Challenge,” Max Marty and Max Borders discuss a variety of organizational forms, including an enterprise owning one all-encompassing business, a variety of smaller operations, or only a physical platform.
The authors also discuss possible locations, including the Mediterranean off of France and Israel, Pacific off of China and Japan, and Atlantic off of the American Northeast. Their discussion moves the issue from the theoretical to the possible. Another paper, “Seasteading Location Study: Ship-Based and Large-Scale City Scenarios,” by multiple authors, studies the many factors which would go into siting a seastead.
Obviously, it is essential to overcome the engineering challenge of constructing cities at sea. How to do so? George Petrie has written a paper with a mouthful of a title: “Parametric Analysis of Candidate Configurations for Early Seastead Platforms.” His work highlights the serious thought that has gone into turning seasteads into more than artist renditions. The potential costs are significant, but he argued: “future technological advancements offer the possibility of additional cost savings, putting seasteading within the reach of a much broader segment of the population.”
Seasteading might never be technologically, economically, or politically viable. On the other hand, seasteading might become one of this century’s most important social advances, offering people not only a new lifestyle but also an opportunity to escape the increasingly suffocating, parasitical state. We won’t know until entrepreneurs attempt to turn this vision into reality.
Successful seasteading likely would have far a more important impact than will the outcome of November’s election contest between big-spending warrior wannabes. Whoever wins will deliver more and bigger government. But seasteading could transform the battle for liberty. We all will gain if seasteads go from drawing board to water.
10 Structures That Could Help Us Build Civilizations on the Ocean (iO9, July 20, 2012)
10 Structures That Could Help Us Build Civilizations on the Ocean
Many visions of the future involve people living in the middle of the ocean. This makes all kinds of sense, since oceans make up two-thirds of the planet’s surface. Plus you can live independently, free from corrupt governments and the like. The biggest question, though, is how can you go about doing this? And the good news is, there are plenty of ways to stake out some marine real estate.
Here are 10 incredible structures that could allow you to live on the ocean.
1. Repurposed oil rigs
Aside from being an exemplary hiding place during the zombie apocalypse, oil rigs could offer the pre-existing infrastructure required to build something greater. Oil rigs are typically forgotten after their work is done (there are a reported 27,000 abandoned oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone), but if visionaries like Ku Yee Kee and Hor Sue-Wern have their way, they could be among the coolest places to hang-out when venturing into the deep ocean. Their plan calls for the reconstruction of oil rigs into self-sufficient structures equipped with apartment complexes and marine research stations. Alternately, you could stay at an oil rig repurposed as a hotel — either a luxurious oil-rig-aqua-resort or a diving station from where you can embark on your undersea adventures.
For those of you looking to escape into international waters, there’s always the possibility for seasteading. And in fact, this is more reality than mere speculation. Already today there are plans to set up repurposed ocean liners (or anything else that can float on the water) where they will serve as incubators for adventurous start-ups. The basic idea is that entrepreneurs and other forward-thinking people can accomplish their goals, without all those pesky laws and taxes getting in the way. Peter Thiel and hisSeasteading Institute hope to set up a base just outside of Silicon Valley where occupants can “peacefully test new ideas about how to live together.” Seasteaders plan on building everything required to kick-start a new society, including hospitals, casinos, hotels, and offices. And indeed, Thiel’s idea is not the only one. There have been calls for a psychedelic resort/lab seastead, and some Brits have taken it upon themselves to squat on abandoned sea-based military bases and declare sovereignty. Hail, Sealand!
3. Artificial islands
For some coastal nations looking to expand upon their existing real estate options, building an island from scratch is another valid, albeit expensive, option. Perhaps the best example of this is Dubai, the home to several artificial island projects. These artificial archipelagos are spectacularly beautiful and can accommodate the needs of tourists, the commercial sector, and even residents. They’re constructed of sand drawn from the bottom of the Persian Gulf and are sprayed by the dredging ships. Dubai’s Palm Islands, which are currently under construction, will feature settlements shaped like a palm tree, topped with a crescent. Once complete, they will add 520 kilometers of beaches to the city. While this all sounds spectacular, recent financial woes in the region have slowed construction. Oh, and the fact they’re sinking may also pose a problem. And if all this is too pretentious for you, there’s always the possibility of moving to Thilafushi Garbage Island.
4. Advanced ocean liners
Ocean liners are another interesting option. These tried-and-true marine vessels are only getting bigger and increasingly sophisticated. And the future looks particularly bright — especially in consideration of the Freedom Ship, a water-based behemoth that would boast a length of 4,500 feet, a width of 750 feet, and an astounding height of 350 feet. It would be four times larger than the Queen Mary. The Freedom Ship would essentially serve as a floating city, featuring luxurious living, an extensive duty-free international shopping mall, and 1.7 million square feet for commercial and residential occupancy. More modestly, there’s the M.S. America World City, an advanced concept ocean liner that would be larger than an aircraft carrier.
5. Underwater sea resorts
But why limit yourself to living on the water when you can also live under it? This is the idea behind such projects as Hydropolis andPoseidon Mystery Island. Hydropolis is a $500 million-plus, 220-room hotel that’s currently in development near Dubai in the Persian Gulf. Once complete, it will be the world’s first underwater hotel. And if all goes planned, it would sit 60 feet below sea level and cost $1,500 a night. Hydropolis will feature a shopping mall, three bars — oh, and a missile defense system to guard against terrorists. Poseidon, which is also under development, is a $200 million resort that’s slated to be built near Fiji. Though much smaller than Hydropolis, it will feature a spectacular view of the world’s liveliest coral reefs.
6. Floating homes
Houseboats have been popular for some time now — but what if you want something more sea-worthy and, well, sexy? The need for viable floating homes is all the more important these days when considering how rising sea levels may cause the destruction of shoreline residential areas. And there are already a number of architects ready to deal with the situation. Dutch designer Koen Olthuis has devoted his company,Waterstudio, to the design of waterborne structures, including houses, garages, floating villas, and apartment buildings. There’s also the work of Italian architect Giancarlo Zema. He’s designed the mobile egg-shaped Trilobis, a cross between a yacht and a floating home. Retailing for $5 million, it’s designed for up to six people and is powered by an environmentally-friendly combination of solar power and hydrogen fuel. Alternately, you can check out the way cool Jelly-fish 45 floating habitat, also designed by Zema.
7. Sea towers
Another option is the construction of a sea tower. Similar to the fictional structure portrayed in the film, The Life Aquatic, the tower would be based at the ocean floor and extend high over the surface. The tower could serve the needs of everyone from marine biologists right through to residents and tourists. Giancarlo Zema has put together a design for such a structure, what he calls the Neptus 60 Cliff Habitat. Built alongside a rocky cliff, the tower would contain a living area, observation deck (about 20 meter above sea level), dock, and an underwater observation globe. The tower would be equipped with an elevator and a diver lock-out option for easy in-and-out privileges.
8. Modular floating cities
But why limit ourselves to small-scale ocean ventures? Like the inhabitants ofWaterworld, the future of ocean living could very well come in the form of large floating cities. Such cities could take on the form of gigantic crazy quilts comprised of smaller floating dwellings. Already today in Hong Kong there’s Boat City in Aberdeen Harbor. Looking to the future, there’s the possibility of creating modular self-sustaining ocean habitats. The Open_Sailing model is a good example. Designed by Cesar Harada, the environmentally friendly floating city could provide a low cost alternative compared to more larger scaled visions. In addition, this mobile city could be expanded or contracted depending on the needs of the community.
9. Space elevator base stations
The idea of living at the equatorial base station of a space elevator sounds as cool as it likely to be practical. Like a busy transportation hub at the center of a city, this unique location would allow you to live at the heart of the action. The support cable for the massive structure would be tethered right there at the station and serve as the starting and ending point for orbital missions. We’re still a few decades away from constructing a space elevator — but that hasn’t stopped some architects from designing their own stations. And rather than just plopping an oil rig-like structure on the ocean, their designs take aesthetic and practical considerations into account. With all this said, however, you better hope that cable doesn’t snap. An untapered space elevator cable needs to sustain a length of about 5,000 kilometers of its own weight at sea level to reach a geostationary altitude of 35,786 km without yielding (a specific strength of at least 100,000 kN/(kg/m)).
10. Floating ecopolis
Finally, and perhaps the most stunningly beautiful and dramatic possibility of all, there’s the potential for the floating ecopolis — or what the Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut has called the Lilypad. Designed for the Oceans 2008 conference to meet four specific environmental challenges (lack of fresh water, climate change, biodiversity, and health), Callebaut designed an ecologically friendly floating city capable of housing an astounding 50,000 people — and all in a completely self-sufficient way. The floating megastructure would produce more energy than it consumes and cleanly recycle most of its waste products. The city would be able of supporting a wide variety of plants and animals, and feature a central lagoon (which has the added effect of providing ballast). Renewal energy sources would include solar, thermal, photovoltaic, wind, hydraulic, tidal energies, and others. Yes, please.
Before signing off, I should also mention theSea Tree, a radical concept designed by Waterstudios. It’s not intended for human occupancy, but instead would serve as a safe haven for plants and animals. The hanging plant-like design would feature dozens of layers, both below and above the water. The structure would be as vibrant and verdant above the water as it would be below. The designers say that it would be useful in virtually any location, whether it be off the coast of New York City or parked in the Thames River. The design would also open an entirely new realm of architecture in which massive structures would be built for plants and animals rather than humans.
Images via: Forbes, Prospect Magazine, WebEcoist, Ocean Liner Museum, BloCu, Current, Sub-Find, Treehugger, SpaceElevatorBlog, and Konformist.
Workplace on high seas (Khaleej Times, July 14, 2012)
How about a floating office that has an on-board soccer field, spa, massage rooms, restaurants, swimming pools and rock-climbing walls?
THERE ARE ideas and ideas and ideas. And then, there is Blueseed. While the world of information technology might be exploding with path-breaking ideas that will make money for its creators and make life easy for the end users, many of those ideas simply don’t see the light of day because they are conceptualised far away from Silicon Valley where these ideas find backers by the dozen.
Paypal founder Peter Thiel is backing Blueseed, an entrepreneurial idea that will see its founders set up a floating office on the high seas, just off the waters of the United States of America, just off Silicon Valley.
Blueseed a sprawling home-cum-office for IT entrepreneurs will therefore beat the relentless scrutiny of the country’s visa and customs officials but still be within touching distance for business and exchange of ideas to flourish.
Some 800 entrepreneurs have already signed on with the San Francisco based start-up which will offer entrepreneurs every imaginable support for their work and life, including an on-board soccer field, spa, massage rooms, restaurants, swimming pools and rock-climbing walls. For upwards of $1,600 a month, entrepreneurs get a cabin working and living space of their own plus the opportunity to mingle with talented entrepreneurs from other parts of the world.
Networking can’t get easier than this, can it? For those with a bit more money to splurge, there are $3,000 cabins that provide more space and amenities. Entrepreneurs who sign up will need at the least a US business visa to take the ferry to land on US shores, plus $30 for the ferry ride.
The Blueseed venture will go live by end of 2013 and its promoters are saying that this could be the perfect way to give your winning idea a great chance to succeed. If you have a winning idea and moolah to spend for your stay at this floating home-office, we suggest you pack your bags and head to Blueseed. You having nothing to lose….
‘Seasteading’ Movement Third Conference (MarineLink.com, July 12, 2012)
The recent Seasteading Institute conference united those who aspire to live in experimental communities founded in permanent ocean habitations
The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to enabling the establishment of permanent communities on the ocean, recently held its third conference, at San Francisco’s Le Méridien Hotel. Since 2008,The Seasteading Institute has been the focal point of the seasteading movement, which aims to utilize the high seas to spur innovation within the government industry. Seasteading enthusiasts believe humanity would benefit from a new place to experiment with new societies, but since all of terra firma is claimed, they look to the ocean as the next frontier.
“The ocean provides a space to innovate with political and social systems that could advance and serve humanity,” says The Seasteading Institute director Randolph Hencken.
The conference, attracted over one hundred individuals from at least seven countries, representing an array of backgrounds and perspectives, and making for a lively and energetic affair throughout.
The focus of the conference was not politics or ideology. Rather, it was on what Maritime Alliance representative William Riedy referred to as the “blue-tech revolution”—the technologies, discoveries, and partnerships that could soon unlock the oceans’ vast potential.
Importantly for the maritime industry, seasteads and blue-tech companies are competing to provide sustainable sources of seafood, energy and freshwater to earth’s 7 billion people. They represent emerging markets both for existing marine services as well as new maritime technologies.
The diverse group of conference presenters included The Seasteading Institute’s director of engineering George Petrie, Blue Revolution’s seasoned expert Patrick Takahashi, OTEC International’s president Robert Nichols, University of Costa Rica’s professor of water science Ricardo Radulovich, and Kampachi Farms’ open ocean aquaculture expert Neil Sims. Others topics of discussion ranged from renewable ocean energy to seastead security and offshore medical tourism.
The blue-tech revolution, led by groups like The Seasteading Institute, must be preceded by solutions to the challenges presented by permanent ocean habitation, such as economically and sustainably harvesting food, energy, and freshwater, as well as providing safety and real-time communications.
Where Governments Fail to Tread, People Move In (The Economic Times, New Delhi, July 12, 2012)
The Seasteading Conference 2012: The Blue-Tech Revolution is Underway (The Maritime Executive, June 13, 2012)
The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to enabling the establishment of permanent communities on the ocean, recently held its third conference, at San Francisco’s Le Méridien Hotel. Since 2008, The Seasteading Institute has been the focal point of the seasteading movement, which aims to utilize the high seas to spur innovation within the government industry. Seasteading enthusiasts believe humanity would benefit from a new place to experiment with new societies, but since all of terra firma is claimed, they look to the ocean as the next frontier. “The ocean provides a space to innovate with political and social systems that could advance and serve humanity,” says The Seasteading Institute director Randolph Hencken.
The conference, which took place from May 31 – June 2, attracted over one hundred individuals from at least seven countries, representing an array of backgrounds and perspectives, and making for a lively and energetic affair throughout. Much to the surprise of the media in attendance (which ranged from Reuters to Mother Jones) the focus of the conference was not politics or ideology. Rather, it was on what Maritime Alliance representative William Riedy referred to as the “blue-tech revolution”—the technologies, discoveries, and partnerships that could soon unlock the oceans’ vast potential.
Importantly for the maritime industry, seasteads and blue-tech companies are competing to provide sustainable sources of seafood, energy and freshwater to earth’s 7 billion people. They represent emerging markets both for existing marine services as well as new maritime technologies. The diverse group of conference presenters included The Seasteading Institute’s director of engineering George Petrie, Blue Revolution’s seasoned expert Patrick Takahashi, OTEC International’s president Robert Nichols, University of Costa Rica’s professor of water science Ricardo Radulovich, and Kampachi Farms’ open ocean aquaculture expert Neil Sims. Others topics of discussion ranged from renewable ocean energy to seastead security and offshore medical tourism.
The blue-tech revolution, led by groups like The Seasteading Institute, must be preceded by solutions to the challenges presented by permanent ocean habitation, such as economically and sustainably harvesting food, energy, and freshwater, as well as providing safety and real-time communications. Past frontiers, like the Wild West, posed similar challenges, but motivated pioneers enabled by new technology rose to the challenge and built cities like Las Vegas, Dubai and other modern oases. Seasteaders will also need to resolve uncertainty regarding the legal status of floating platforms in international waters. Toward this end, the conference featured ocean law experts John Briscoe, Visiting Scholar at the Law of the Sea Institute at University of California Berkeley, and Myron Nordquist, the Associate Director and Editor for Oceans Law and Policy and Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia.
The conference began with a well-attended reception, and after two busy days of presentations and spirited question and answer sessions, it concluded with a dinner cruise on the San Francisco Bay. (Overheard on the cruise: who will be the Norman Borlaug of the Blue Revolution?). While seasteading and blue-tech present possibilities that cannot yet be fully conceived, both warrant the attention and consideration of the maritime industry. A list of conference speakers and special guests can be found at www.seasteading.org/conference2012.
How Can Seasteading End Somali Piracy? (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, June 9, 2012)
During the recent Seasteading Conference reports highlighted the benefits of different regions for proposed seasteads. Where some factors were favorable others were not – off the coast of East Africa is environmentally a very favorable location but the issue of piracy makes it forlorn.
The Seasteading Institute’s mission is to inspire political competition. In proximity to nations such as Somalia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia an atoll of innovative political thinking is very much needed. Not only is there perhaps nowhere on earth with a greater need for such a place politically, but there are greater benefits as well.
Piracy is a serious risk between Africa and India, and shipping companies and navies have been spending far more than normal in security. But why are there pirates in the first place? Foreign companies enabled by poor governance have polluted the shores and rivers and have left those nations without jobs or resources. Piracy is dangerous for all, yet it will continue as long as the causes are present.
What if seasteading could not only solve political instability, but the famine and piracy as well?
With little initial investment a small sea farming operation begins off the coast of Somalia. The operator comes into a Somali port to hire workers; they are trained on the principles of sea farming, desalinization and hydroponics. As production grows, experienced workers are trained on constructing expanded farming quadrants, crop management and even given the support to begin their own operations.
As primarily a concept farm incorporated for social benefit and not for profit, almost all food production can be offloaded at little or no cost to support the local communities – greatly diminishing the food drought in that region.
The same farmers who helped grow the food sail back to shore and distribute it in the markets, creating local wealth and good will. By using almost exclusively Somali fishermen to operate these farms you are thereby providing an alternative to piracy in their communities. By supplying food into their communities you attack an urgent humanitarian crisis and add an additional incentive to avoid piracy.
So… what about the seastead? The food is given freely so there is not much purpose in raiding it, the staff is entirely made of the desperate fishers and farmers that no longer have a reason to be pirates, so their ransoms would not be profitable.
The status quo will still exist and will be the largest obstacle to success. However, with the tide turning against the pirates on many fronts, and the specter of a stronger central government on the rise, even pirate masterminds will see the profitability in abandoning the trade for the increasing economic vitality of progress.
There is also the issue of Islamist militants who maintain a rocky relationship with the pirates. While seasteads may resolve many issues like the practice of piracy, I concede that seastead farming off the coast of East Africa may not resolve the issue of jihad.
Back to the question of initial investment: the growth of the seastead would be self-perpetuating, but the start-up would require a firm but gentle push. Here’s a few possible venues for start-up capital:
* The shipping companies and navies in the region may find cooperative contributions to be sounder investments than security personnel.
* Arab financiers sympathetic to the conditions in the region may find it a moral investment with endless returns in the eyes of Allah.
* Likewise there are Christian missions and NGOs that have the resources to kick-start this programming.
Although the concept is being proposed from far-off lands it is crucial to the success that the implementers be as largely from the depressed regions of Africa as possible. This will allow them to share their knowledge and experience at home, further accelerating the benefits.
Although the possibility exists for seastead farms to bequite profitable, it would be unwise to give that expectation to this scenario until the piracy issue has been resolved; instead reinvesting all capital into the growth and success of the operation and it’s mission.
Perhaps there could be no truer realization of the quote “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”
My Sunset Cruise With the Clever, Nutty, Techno-Libertarian Seasteading Gurus (Mother Jones, June 7, 2012)
We’re sitting in the sleek lounge of San Francisco’s Infinity Towers around a granite coffee table inexplicably stacked with unopened cans of wild sardines: one reporter and a handful of adherents to obscure political philosophies, flirting over cocktails.
“I can go either way on the caning,” says a guy I’ll call MH, a thirtysomething tech entrepreneur in an expensive suit who recently returned from a jaunt to Singapore, “but I have no fundamental problem with harsh punishment for people who deserve it.”
Kate Herrick, a teacher with an online school promoting the views of the late author and libertarian demigoddess Ayn Rand, smiles appreciatively and tosses her curly hair. “And I think they should go further with torture,” she offers. “When you read about these serial killers…”
Seasteading for Enterprise on the High Seas (Open Market, June 7 2012)
Complete exit from the state has long been a dream of many libertarians. From the defunct Republic of Minerva (perhaps the only nation every to fall prey to Tongan imperialism) to the still-existing Principality of Sealand, the history of individualist mavericks setting out to create new societies outside the bonds of established states is long — and, unfortunately, short on successes.
One of the latest and most ambitious iterations of this movement is the Seasteading Institute, which recently held a conference in San Francisco — with dinner on a yacht, fittingly — where participants aired all ideas, no matter how radical, on how to make new floating societies function. As Mother Jones‘s Josh Harkinson reports:
During the morning sessions, naval architecture professor George Petrie, the institute’s director of engineering, offers a condensed history of seasteading concepts, among them a “floatel” design dubbed ClubStead—a seasteaders’ ClubMed. There was also Oceania, a putative libertarian paradise off the Panama coast. Proposed in the early-’90s by web-hosting entrepreneur Eric Klein, the idea was ultimately abandoned. “The Libertarian party is small in number and too few members have the financial resources to bankroll their beliefs,” Klein explained in a letter on Oceania.org. “The poor performance of Libertarian candidates throughout the nation is reflective of these sad facts.”
Petrie is of the opinion that investors could create a seastead in international waters off the West Coast—perhaps using a repurposed offshore oil-drilling platform—for roughly $300 per square foot, about what housing costs in San Francisco. He favors a modular approach, “basically an at-sea trailer park,” though an anonymous donor recently gave the institute an $8 million, 275-foot gambling boat anchored in Florida.
Technical questions are important indeed. Yet equally crucial is the question of economic viability. Seasteaders have given thought to this. As Harkinson notes:
The institute has created the Poseidon Award, which it hopes, by 2015, to bestow upon the founder of the world’s first seastead that hosts at least 50 full-time residents, is financially self-sufficient and politically autonomous, and is willing to offer its real estate on the open market.
That’s a laudable goal. And the good part about how to make a new society function economically, is that in some cases you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. One example of entrepreneurs succeeding for long periods of time outside of state control is decades-old: the British pirate radio broadcasters who challenged the BBC’s monopoly in the middle of the 20th century.
University of Chicago historian Adrian Johns tells their story in Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age. The radio pirates didn’t seek to go out to sea because they wanted to be there. They went out to sea because it gave them a competitive advantage in that it allowed them to escape the dead hand of regulation that made British broadcasting such a dull affair back then.
Interestingly, one leading unlicensed radio entrepreneur was an ardent free marketer. AsReason‘s Jesse Walker notes in his capsule review of the book:
[W]hen Oliver Smedley helped launch the offshore radio revolution, he didn’t have music on his mind. A classical liberal—he preferred the word radical—influenced by F.A. Hayek and Ronald Coase, Smedley was on a mission to break up the British Broadcasting Corporation’s monopoly of the airwaves.
Smedley also helped Antony Fisher establish the influential Institute of Economic Affairs, Britain’s leading free market think tank.
The fact that Semdley’s radio ventures proved profitable didn’t hurt. Semdley and his competitors saw an unmet demand for variety in broadcasting and sought novel ways to fill it. Finding a similar niche today is a challenge modern-day seasteaders need to solve, in addition to the technical ones.
For more on unlicensed broadcasting, see Jesse Walker’s CEI OnPoint, “But now all the stations are silenced, ’cause they ain’t got a government license.”
Seasteading Institute Convenes In San Francisco: Group Fights For Floating Cities (The Huffington Post, June 4, 2012)
Northern California has always been on the lookout for Utopian societies. (Hello, Burning Man). So it’s really no surprise that the latest idea for Eden was cooked up in San Francisco.
The Seasteading Institute, a group working to form autonomous, floating cities in the ocean, met for its annual conference in San Francisco over the weekend. And, though the idea may sound like the plot of a science fiction film, supporters include successful entrepreneurs, professors from Harvard, Duke and UC Berkeley, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
Largely founded by successful libertarians, the organization aims to create independent ocean city-states free from national allegiance to host new forms of government, industry and society.
“We want people to have freedom to experiment with new ideas and this is the last territory in which they can do that,” said Seasteading Institute Senior Director Randolph Hencken in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Though the organization is still in its infancy, Hencken envisions ships and platforms of independent “islands” where scientists could conduct research without FDA regulation, communities could practice new forms of government and international entrepreneurs could set up shop off the coast of Silicon Valley without worrying about U.S. visas.
He also argues that, without allegiance, participants would be open to a new system of liquidity not yet seen on earth.
“Right now, if you don’t like your government, it can be nearly impossible to just get up and leave,” he said. “Immigration can be extremely difficult and if you own property, it’s just not practical in our modern world.” But as Hencken sees it, anyone unhappy with a floating island could simply lift anchor.
“When Seasteading becomes a viable alternative,” said cofounder Patri Friedman at the organization’s first conference, “switching from one government to another would be a matter of sailing to the other without even leaving your house.”
Unsurprisingly, more than one critic has called the plan a bit loopy. But Hencken argues that people should expand their horizons.
“The possibilities for innovation are limitless,” he said.
At the San Francisco conference last weekend, forums included Evaluation of Sustainable Energy Options, Seastead Security, Liquidity on the High Seas and Seasteading Medical Tourism, signaling that, while the group’s goal of a self-sufficient floating city by 2015 might indeed be a bit optimistic, some serious planning is already underway.
So should the Bay Area expect a new republic off the coast come spring?
“The Googleplex wasn’t built in a day,” said Hencken. The institute plans to start small with experimental ships, and work from there.
Floating Cities Could Be on the Horizon (SF Weekly Blog, May 30, 2012)
This weekend, seasteading enthusiasts will be flocking to the city for their annual conference at the Le Meridien Hotel to plan future floating cities.
The ultimate goal of the seasteading movement is to establish autonomously governed communities on the water — an ocean city-state, so to speak. The conference is hosted by the Seasteading Institute, and this year participants will discuss ways to implement sustainable energy options and recruiting real estate investors.
“We are not the first to see freedom on the high seas,” writes Randolph Hencken, the Institute’s senior director, “but we are the first to temper this idealistic vision with a realistic strategy.”
The 2012 Seasteading conference is expected to attract entrepreneurs and investors interested in starting businesses, engineers, and maritime professionals who can tackle the logistics and technology required to make this dream a reality, and ocean-law experts to weigh in on policy issues.
Opening remarks will be delivered by a representative of the Thiel Foundation, which has already pledged financial support for the Seasteading Institute in previous years.
The Seasteading Institute’s Poseidon Award is slotted for the first floating city that is financially self-sufficient, is politically autonomous, can attract a minimum of 50 full-time residents, and offers real estate on the open market — all by 2015. By the looks of the conference agenda, that deadline might be a bit optimistic.
Creating a Silicon Valley on the High Seas (Inc. Magazine, May 29, 2012)
Offshore incubator Blueseed will help entrepreneurs who can’t get U.S. visas get their start-ups off the ground.
All Aboard: An artist’s conception of Blueseed, an incubator for entrepreneurs who can’t get U.S. visas
Talk about a blue-ocean strategy. Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija are the founders of Blueseed, a planned offshore incubator for foreign entrepreneurs whose dreams of building companies in the U.S. are thwarted by work-visa restrictions. The incubator, designed to accommodate about 1,000 founders and employees of tech start-ups, will be based on a ship moored in international waters, 12 miles from Silicon Valley. It is expected to launch (literally) in late 2013 or early 2014.
The idea started at the University of Miami, where Marty, the son of Cuban immigrants, was an M.B.A. candidate. His fellow students from China, India, and elsewhere had great ideas for companies but lacked the proper visas to pursue them, says Marty. (Legislation that would make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to get visas is stalled in Congress.) He met Mutabdzija, who was born in Sarajevo, at the Seasteading Institute, an organization funded by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to promote floating cities that experiment with new types of government.
Blueseed won’t have a ship until it raises $40 million to $80 million. Marty says it’s a buyer’s market for cruise vessels that carry fewer than 1,800 passengers, which larger ships are making obsolete. The money will also cover retrofitting the ship with offices, meeting rooms, and collaborative spaces. Entrepreneurs will pay about $1,600 a month for room and board. Blueseed will also take about a 5 percent equity stake in each start-up.
Marty expects that most of the start-ups will incorporate in Delaware, and the vessel, like a regular cruise ship, will operate under the laws of the country whose flag it flies—likely the Bahamas. So far, about 130 start-ups from 43 countries have expressed interest.
Visa-free Offshore Community Plan For Launching Startups (Tech Week Europe, May 25, 2012)
Visa quotas mean that companies cannot always recruit the skilled workers they need to develop products. Blueseed, a US startup incubator, is planning to literally launch a solution to address the problem.
The company is planning a serviced environment – a twist on the serviced offices concept – by housing it on a customised ship. The “seastead” will be anchored 12 miles off the Silicon Valley coast in international waters, putting it outside the jurisdiction of the US authorities.
Floating a concept
The idea, co-masterminded by Dan Dascalescu, CIO of Blueseed, is at an early stage of planning and it appears that the actual design of the vessel has yet to be selected from a number of concept designs for cruiseships that can comfortably house a population of 1,000 people.
Startups can rent living and working space on the projected vessel with rent ranging from $1,200 (£765) to $3,000 (£1,914) per person per month depending on the grade of accommodation required. On top of this, Blueseed would also levy between two and eight percent of the startup’s equity, depending on the nature and development stage of the each organisation.
Like the pirate radio ships that were ranged off the UK shores in the 1960s, the, literally, offshore facilities put the community out of reach of local laws and immigration restrictions, freeing-up the nascent companies to employ the best people to bring their venture to fruition, assuming they are not prone to seasickness.
Startups would be expected to comprise three or four people, Blueseed estimates, and would be resident for about a year. This does not mean they will be onboard captives. US citizens can travel back and forth at will and workers without work visas can travel to the mainland on a business (B1) or tourist (B2) visa for a total stay of up to 180 days per year.
Dascalescu, an ambassador for The Seasteading Institute, said that he and his co-founders Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija plan to launch the project at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014. The company already has 240 startup applications which cover around 800 people from 52 countries. When any of these companies reach sufficient size, they can relocate to Silicon Valley with assistance from legal resources and contacts provided by Blueseed.
Romanian-born Dascalescu said that he got the idea when working at Yahoo in 2006 and became aware of the concept of “seasteading”, the creation of floating islands, when trying to get the necessary visa permits to start up his own company.
In an age of telecommuting, the concept of seasteading could be questioned but telecommuting has its drawbacks. Shane Mac, director of product at startup Zaarly, a local services search engine, said, “Many businesses can be run successfully from anywhere in the world, using collaboration software and teleconferencing. Other businesses are much more likely to succeed in an environment where people interact in person, and startups are a great example of that. Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, Zynga – they didn’t start online; they started thanks to the serendipity of a place that allowed the founders to meet and work together with the talent they needed, face-to-face.”
This does not preclude the use of telecommuting and the company has said that it will provide Internet connectivity through a variety of methods.
“We’ll provide reliable, high-bandwidth Internet connectivity starting with a point-to-point 1Gbps microwave link with a satellite link backup,” it said. “Later stage plans include a 10Gbps laser link currently used in military applications and being phased into commercial usage, submarine cable deployment, and a mesh network of WiMAX routers placed on buoys.”
According to Dascalescu, several British startups have enquired about shipboard accommodation, alongside US companies that want to use foreign workers but do not want the hassle of organising visas.
A College Bubble So Big Even The New York Times And 60 Minutes Can See It…Sort Of (Forbes, May 22, 2012)
In 2009 I was invited to speak to the annual meeting of a mid-sized accounting firm in Florida. Of course, the big topic of conversation was the housing bubble and the financial crisis which resulted. The audience, with the exception of one liberal academic, was generally sympathetic to the message that government, not the market, was the principle malefactor. And since the audience was made up of working accountants who had to live under the whims of federal regulators, they were more than sympathetic to the view, which had not yet been widely accepted, that the mark-to-market accounting regulations were a major factor in the disaster.
My wife, Susan, signaled from the back of the room that it was time to go lest we miss our flight. As I thanked my host and worked my way towards the back of the room to exit, questions kept coming from the audience, and I answered on the fly as well as I could. Just before I walked through the door there was one more question: “Okay, I get what happened with the housing bubble, but what’s the next bubble?” Silence, people leaning in with ears perked to hear the answer, and me not sure…autos, commercial real estate, commodities had been the leading candidates for next bubble in the financial press. None of that seemed quite right, though. They really wanted to know, and I wasn’t sure of the answer, so I said a quick prayer for an answer and out of my mouth popped “Higher Ed. There’s a College Bubble.” Shocked looks, murmurs, concerned looks. I didn’t know it at the time but the firm had an unusual number of higher education clients.
Since then, the College Bubble hypothesis has slowly gained acceptance. I wrote a number of pieces on the topic here starting in 2010 and most recently focusing particularly on seminaries. The Center for College Affordability is a think tank which has been largely dedicated to this topic long before I took it up. Mark Perry of the Carpe Diem blog and the American Enterprise Institute often writes on this theme. My friend Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame, who is also a law school professor, writes on it regularly and is about to publish a book on the subject.
And the College Bubble is not just for conservatives anymore. CNBC did one of their mini-documentaries on the subject, though like most liberal media it couldn’t decide whether the target was the higher-ed bubble or just for-profit schools. The New York Times did a piece recently along similar lines, and then there was the 60 Minutes piece, hosted by Morley Safer which focused on PayPal founder Peter Thiel‘s attack on the college bubble. The piece was, of course, strongly biased. It was a venerable old dinosaur hosting a venerable old dinosaur in order to defend a venerable old dinosaur. But the mere existence of a 60 Minutes segment examining the hypothesis that higher education has become a bubble was a devastating blow (or better yet, a sharp prick) to the overinflated wind bag full of nostrums about the essential value of a college education at any cost.
60 Minutes’ arguments were predictably weak. An ad hominem attack on Thiel’s philanthropic activities fell flat. So what if his foundation supports projects which Morley Safer finds odd? Thiel supports the Seasteading Institute in its dream to create floating libertarian city states. Yeah, it’s an odd idea. So were skyscrapers. So was PayPal. Some odd ideas work out and some don’t. At least seasteaders are using their own money.
Since Safer was just not up to the task of debating Thiel himself, he turned to an academic to make the case for college, Vivek Wadhwa. Wadhwa is one of those academics able to amass educational credentials and still mix in business circles. 60 Minutes neglected to inform their audience, however, that he is a fellow at Singularity University. For those unfamiliar with Singularity, it is the idea that man and machine will shortly merge together creating super-intelligent cyborgs who (or is it ‘which’?) will solve the problem of death, probably in the lifetime of many living today. It’s kind of like in Terminator, only with Skynet as a good guy. So much for Thiel’s crazy ideas about people living on floating platforms.
Wadhwa argued that Thiel’s plan to invest directly in promising young people who start businesses directly out of high school is a bad idea for several reasons. First, many of the kids will fail. But so what? Many students fail. About a third never graduate. About half take 5 or 6 years. And of those who make it through and get their degree, many fail in their careers anyway. Which kind of failure do you learn more from: Failing at school, or failing at business? Probably the latter since in that case you are forced to think about the things which really matter in the real world. And the students who fail to finish schools or to make careers out of their degrees still have all that debt, whereas the entrepreneurs who fail take only Thiel’s money down with them. And what’s so bad about failing anyway? Most of my lessons are imbedded in scar tissue, literal and figurative. Failure teaches.
Wadhwa argues that U.S. colleges and universities are the best in the world. Maybe that’s true, but so what? U.S. homes were probably the best in the world too, but that doesn’t mean that we had no bubble. U.S. tech firms in the late 90s were the best in the world, but that didn’t mean they were reasonably valued. Bubble-ness is a factor of quality AND PRICE. The point is that there is no asset of such great quality that it is a good buy no matter how high the price goes. A college diploma is no exception to that rule.
Furthermore, there has been a severe contraction in the quality of higher education in America. Did we really think we could open the floodgates and not affect the quality of graduates? Can you turn college into the new high school, and not get high school-like results? Grade inflation will only keep the problem concealed for so long before the general public becomes aware that outside of a few highly challenging programs and majors, the quality of American higher education is plummeting. Graduates are mastering fewer facts, can’t think critically about the facts they have mastered, and can’t express whatever ideas they have mastered in clear, cogent, grammatically correct sentences. Employers already know this.
The final straw Wadhwa grasps at is the idea of socialization. He argues (I am not joking) that partying is a valuable part of the college experience because it teaches students interpersonal skills. Whah? Look, it’s fun to party, I’ll give you that. But it is a consumption good, not an investment, and anybody who says otherwise has perhaps partied just a little too much.
Visa-Free Startup Community Off California Coast (Fox Business, May 21, 2012)
And you thought Silicon Valley was exclusive?
Meet Blueseed, which, after it sets out to sea in 2013, will be the first-ever sea-based tech incubator, according to its founder. This startup community space is being built for technology’s best and brightest, so long as they have their sea legs.
Romanian-born Dan Dascalescu, CIO of Blueseed, said he first learned about seasteading, or creating “floating cities,” in 2006 while working at Yahoo!. After struggling with visa issues to come to Silicon Valley and start his own company, Dascalescu said he was inspired by the notion of creating ocean communities in international waters, so that entrepreneurs wouldn’t need a visa to essentially startup 12 miles off the California coast.
“I think this is a huge draw,” Dascalescu said of the visa-free feature of the ship. “But when we asked applicants [why they were applying] the motivation wasn’t the visa-free aspect. They just wanted to be around others like themselves, to exchange ideas and get fresh ideas from outside the U.S.”
Dascalescu, who is an ambassador for nonprofit organization The Seasteading Institute, and his co-founders Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija, have so far received 240 applications from 800 entrepreneurs hailing from 52 countries. Venture capital firms and angel investors can also recommend startups to Blueseed.
Tech startups that would be best suited to apply have to obviously be able to operate at sea, he said, and specialize primarily in information technology, hardware design and electronics. However, the group has seen applications from across the board, including a lot of interest from the biotech community.
Those startups accepted into the program will give a small portion of equity to Blueseed, Dascalescu said, ranging between 2% and 8%, depending on what stage the company is in. Entrepreneurs will pay rent and equity with rent ranging from $1,200 for a shared cabin to $3,000 for a single accommodation cabin. Those without visas can, by law, travel back and forth to Silicon Valley by ferry for up to 180 days a year, he said.
The goal is to have about 1,000 entrepreneurs on board, and Dascalescu said each startup will have an average of three people on its team. Residents typically will stay aboard the incubator for about one year, he said. Blueseed will help foreign-born companies make the transition to opening up shop in the U.S. legally, he said.
“We don’t want them to stay too long on the ship,” he said. “The idea is once they incubate, they should move back to shore to start their company there.”
The boat itself will be a cruise ship anchored in place, Dascalescu said, and will “take off” in 2013. The model Blueseed is looking at is $30 million to buy, and while Blueseed declined to say how much cash they have raised so far, Dascalescu said the team has “bootstrapped a lot, and closed out its pre-seed funding round.” Internet business guru Peter Thiel is among its investors, according to Dascalescu.
In the next year, Blueseed will begin to seriously consider applicants for the venture. And Dascalescu is confident the incubator will be responsible for creating many jobs along the way.
“Think of Google and Yahoo!, which now employ a total of 40,000 people,” he said. “Let’s say just one company [that successful] comes out of Blueseed. That would be an average of 20,000 jobs. And we hope to have a much better success rate than just one company.”
Blueseed To Entrepreneurs: Your Ship May Come In (SF Gate, May 20, 2012)
Foreign tech entrepreneurs looking for easier ways to develop code may soon get a whole new way to ship. Specifically: a cruise ship.
Blueseed, a four-person Sunnyvale startup backed by prominent investor Peter Thiel, is working on a novel solution to the problems of gridlock in immigration reform and overpriced Silicon Valley real estate.
That solution: a giant floating startup barge anchored 12 miles off the coast of California, stocked with 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the world.
The project, which may take the form of a converted cruise ship, would bring startup founders within ferry distance of Silicon Valley’s key resources – venture capitalists, top talent and a business environment friendly to outlandish ideas. (Ahem.) But their offshore status would let them work without having to go through the rigamarole of obtaining U.S. visas.
To make it happen, Blueseed will have to raise tens of millions of dollars, attract hundreds of high-quality entrepreneurs and negotiate complicated legal issues. (For starters: determining what nation’s flag to fly under.) And that’s before it builds a small floating city in international waters.
Its organizers acknowledge that much of the media attention so far has been of the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me variety. But they’re making a serious effort to realize their plan.
“I don’t think this is crazy at all, from a legal or engineering point of view,” said Dario Mutabdzija, the company’s president. “Which is not to say it’s easy. It’s an ambitious project, and I’m fully aware of that.”
Company executives are speaking at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Adobe headquarters in San Jose at an event organized by the Commonwealth Club. It’s part of a campaign to raise awareness, and hopefully capital, for the year-old company.
Blueseed illustrates just how difficult it has become for foreign entrepreneurs to start companies in the United States, advocates of immigration reform say. Existing visa categories are designed primarily for employees of large multinational corporations and wealthy investors who are prepared to spend more than $1 million and hire at least 10 employees.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the past few years aimed at making allowances for highly skilled entrepreneurs who want to build startups in America. But with immigration among the most divisive issues in Congress, little progress has been made.
“The Blueseed Project is a not-so-subtle, but creative, reminder that we need bipartisan leadership from D.C. for substantial immigration reform,” said Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, in an e-mail.
Reform, he said, would allow Silicon Valley “to attract the best and brightest workers from throughout the world to work for – rather than compete against – American companies.”
“My first reaction was, good for them,” said Pelta, whose organization advocates immigration reform. “It really makes a statement about the limitations of our immigration laws with respect to entrepreneurs and startups.”
Pelta said that despite some recent progress in getting bills assigned to committees, legislation that might ease the visa shortage appears to be getting little traction.
And so Mutabdzija and his team are sketching out the details of their plan. More than 200 companies have expressed interest in the project through Blueseed’s website, the company says, representing more than 700 entrepreneurs eager to make a splash in the States.
If Blueseed is funded, they’ll pay anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 per month, plus an equity stake in their company, to live onboard. Coming ashore will require only a tourist visa, which typically are easier to get than work visas.
To get to Silicon Valley, Blueseed will offer ferry service at least twice a day, with faster helicopter transport available for emergencies. A round-trip from the vessel to San Francisco would take about 90 minutes, the company says.
Blueseed is marketing the boat as a kind of “high-tech university dorm” with a “24/7 hack-a-thon” atmosphere. Its marketing materials display the blithe optimism Silicon Valley is famous for. “Did your startup fail?” asks one slide in the company’s pitch deck. “The startup in the next cabin is probably hiring.”
If all goes according to plan, the Blueseed ship will make its maiden voyage at the end of 2013.
“We want to be one of the coolest and the best environments for high-tech startups anywhere,” said Mutabdzija, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia. “Our goal is to do a better job than the incubators and accelerators that exist in Silicon Valley.”
Kiribati Buying Land from Dictatorship to Flee Rising Sea Levels (Reason Hit & Run, March 12, 2012)
Faced with the threat of rising sea levels, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land in Fiji to relocate its citizens. Many of Kiribati’s atolls are just a few feet above sea level, so it’s particularly climate sensitive. Endorsed by Kiribati President Anute Tong, over 6,000 acres (around 9 square miles) on Fiji’s second largest island would be sold for $9.6 million.
Kiribati has around 113,000 people living on its islands, while Fiji is relatively larger, with 860,000 residents. In an interview with the state-run television network Fiji One, President Tong wanted the relocation, if necessary, to be gradually phased in:
We don’t want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go. They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.
Leaving aside the fact that I-Kiribati would be fleeing one Pacific island nation for another, Fiji is currently an autocratic state. In 2006, Commodore Josaia Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama led a military coup and has since become prime minister. According to Human Rights Watch:
Over the past five years, Fiji’s military government has aggressively curtailed Fiji Islanders’ rights to freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and association, the groups said. The military and police have arbitrarily arrested and detained human rights defenders, journalists, and labor and religious leaders.
In addition, Bainimarama has restricted religious freedom, most prominently Methodists. (His coup was widely criticized by Methodist leadership, while over one-third of Fijians are Methodist). While Bainimarama technically lifted martial law earlier this year, he has replaced it with emergency laws that are just as restrictive. Human rights activists argued this merely “cuts and pastes” from martial law.
Instead of relocating to Fiji, Kiribati should consider Seasteading, autonomous communities that would based in international waters. It’s not that far-fetched. President Tong actually wanted to build floating islands off the coasts of Kiribati. The proposed price tag would have topped $2 billion. But since Kiribati’s entire GDP in 2011 was $612 million, Tong wanted the international community to pay for it. They declined.
In addition, the Seasteading Institute has actually toyed with the idea. After all, seasteads are “geographically flexible.” This would be mutually beneficial for both parties: Seasteading would get first adopters and I-Kiribati can live in a place that isn’t sinking or ruled by an autocrat. In addition, the islands do have some capital to invest in Seasteading. In 1956, the Gilbert Islands established the Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund, to save money from mining guano, which was used in fertilizer. In 2008, the fund was worth $400 million. (So yeah, Kiribati literally made money from shit.)
Floating city conceived as high-tech incubator (The Globe and Mail, February 24, 2012)
You’re a Canadian businesswoman, let us say, with a brilliant idea for a high-tech startup. All you need is a year in Silicon Valley – time to network, sell the concept, raise capital and gain liftoff.
Only one problem: You can visit, but you can’t stay. U.S. immigration officials won’t let you.
Enter Blueseed, an enterprise that is the brainchild of two immigrants to the United States, Max Marty from Cuba and Dario Mutabdzija from the former Yugoslavia. They hope to launch America’s first experiment in seasteading, the creation of permanent, politically autonomous floating cities.
Although skeptics consider the project impractical and the estimated cost of startup is at least $25-million, Blueseed’s basic plan to convert a cruise ship into a complex that will incubate high-tech innovation has attracted interest and money.
To avoid the reach of maritime law, the Blueseed boat would be parked in international waters, 22 kilometres from San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley, terrestrial magnet for innovators and venture capitalists.
“Unfortunately, foreigner entrepreneurs have a hard time getting visas to stay legally,” explains Blueseed’s president, Mr. Mutabdzija, a 32-year-old lawyer who emigrated to the U.S. with his family from Serbia in the 1990s. “A standard three-month work permit does not give you enough time to raise money, network, find talent or do anything significant.”
A floating city, operating outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard and American port or immigration authorities – and offering daily ferry boat or helicopter runs into Silicon Valley – could be the answer.
If its plans proceed on schedule, Blueseed would acquire and moor its ship by the fall of 2013.
Rent would constitute Blueseed’s primary source of revenue from a potential of up to 1,000 tenants, each paying about $1,200 a month. But the company also intends to claim small equity stakes in the businesses it houses.
Blueseed residents would simply need a B-1 business visa. Relatively easy to acquire, they permit travel to the U.S., are valid for up to 10 years, and allow overnight stays. The ship would provide the venue for what the visa does not allow – actually doing business on American soil.
Blueseed already has at least one deep-pocketed backer. Billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel – co-founder of PayPal – has injected some $500,000 in seed money. It’s one of more than a dozen investments he’s made in innovative startups, some of which (Facebook, Yelp, Zynga, LinkedIn) have become game-changers.
In principle, building semi-permanent colonies at sea is less implausible than it might seem. Small cities of people now effectively reside on vast, ocean-going cruise ships. Sizable communities also live for months on off-shore oil rigs, outfitted with basic housing and recreation facilities.
And there have been a few attempts at sea-based colonization. Since 1967, for example, a retired British major, Paddy Roy Bates, and his extended clan have occupied the so-called Principality of Sealand, a Second World War U.K. naval encampment 10 kilometres off the coast of Suffolk.
Laying claim to sovereign status, the Bates community has adopted all the trappings of nationhood – a flag, a currency, passports and a national anthem. But no state has yet conferred formal recognition.
In the early 1970s, Las Vegas libertarian millionaire Michael Oliver imported boatloads of sand from Australia and established the Republic of Minerva – essentially a glorified sandbar – in the South Pacific, near Tonga. Alas, Mr. Oliver’s idyll of an independent fiefdom was quickly shattered. Tonga laid claim to the “territory,” and invaded.
But the seasteading ambition remains, and nowhere more prominently than at the San Francisco-based Seasteading Institute, which also claims Mr. Thiel as a benefactor.
Founded in 2008 and chaired by Patri Friedman, 35-year-old grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, the non-profit SI springs from the libertarian assumption that current political systems are sclerotic and beyond meaningful reform.
Only new frontiers, it maintains, can catalyze new experiments in democratic governance. Because habitable land is largely spoken for by the world’s nation states, what remains of virgin territory is the deep, blue sea. And, outside territorial waters, it is theoretically claimable.
“We’re not about creating libertarian utopias or billionaire playgrounds,” SI president Michael Keenan said. “The goal is to have a variety of floating cities, with different political systems and social ideas. We no longer believe that one ideology, one form of government, is right for everyone.”
In fact, the potential appeal of seasteading lies in what Mr. Freidman has called “dynamic geography” – a principle that would allow any given seasteading colony to join or secede larger units within the whole.
That reasoning “is deeply flawed,” said Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. “In a real-world seasteading community, powerful economic forces would…leave seasteaders no freer than the rest of us.”
For now, the Seasteading Institute is nowhere close to realizing its ambitions. The obstacles – legal, financial, environmental and technical – are profound, if not insuperable.
That’s why Mr. Mutabdzija, who is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., thinks Blueseed’s for-profit model represents a faster track for testing the idea, even though the project will need to navigate a minefield of U.S. regulatory agencies.
“It’s like building a bridge,” he says. “You need to create segments of the bridge before you can connect them and prove the viability of the whole.”
“The Institute is a useful organization,” allows Mr. Mutabdzija – until a year ago, he served as its director of legal affairs – “but it may be decades before the various hurdles are overcome.”
The engineering issues alone – designing an ecology-friendly, floating city able to absorb the ocean’s wave action and more than occasional storms – are daunting. There are ancillary questions about electricity generation, sewage and a desalinated water supply.
Then there’s the potential legal quagmire. A nation’s territorial waters extend 12 kilometres offshore, although many countries claim the right to enforce criminal laws 24 kilometres out, while others claim a 322-kilometre economic exclusion zone.
If seasteads became bases for business operations, which Mr. Keenan says they must, they’d be in violation. But even 50 nautical miles away from land is likely too far to maintain logistical supply lines.
Also unclear is how seasteads would protect themselves from marauders, pirates and would-be terrorists.
Despite the obstacles, Mr. Keenan believes the political vacuum is urgent enough to yield solutions.
“We need more experimentation and opportunities for people to live in different ways,” he says. “Let’s try a variety of ideas – libertarian, communist, direct democracy. Most startups fail – and that’s okay. We’ll find out what doesn’t work.”
In the meantime, the organization’s founder, Mr. Friedman, may be hedging his bets. He is also CEO of Future Cities Development Corp, which hopes to build land-based urban centres governed by libertarian principles. The first one would be located in a special autonomous zone recently established by the government of Honduras.
Mr. Keenan calls this “seasteading on land,” though another word for it might be homesteading.
Citizenship for Sales: St. Kitts and Nevis, Plus Seasteading (Reason Hit & Run, February 17, 2012)
St. Kitts and Nevis is one of only two nations, along with the island of Dominica, that formallysell citizenship (“citizenship-by-investment”). As tax consultants Henley & Partners points out, these West Indies locales are very enticing for libertarians:
The Government grants tax breaks, guaranteed repatriation of profits and concessions on import duties. There are no income or capital gains taxes, no net wealth taxes and no inheritance or gift taxes in St. Kitts & Nevis.
Plus, unlike the Free State Project in frigid New Hampshire, St. Kitts and Nevis are islands in the Caribbean. And Lysander Spooner fans can rejoice: There’s even a secession movement for Nevis to split away from St. Kitts.
To become a full-fledged Kittian, future citizens have two options: You can 1) donate at least $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (a program that assists retired and displaced sugar workers) or 2) buy upwards of $400,000 worth of real estate on those islands. After filing a bit of paperwork and waiting as little as three months, you become a citizen of St. Kitts.
Meanwhile, Dominica has a basic investment price of $75,000, but its passport is less valuable for international travel. In addition, Austria, the home of Hayek, Mises, Schumpeter, and Bruno, has a similar, albeit unofficial citizenship-by-investment program. Austrian citizenship has been offered to those of “extraordinary merit,” which can include investing over $10 million in Österreich. But Henley’s CEO cautions:
The candidate has to have all the right trimmings…It’s been done, it’s possible, but it’s fairly rare.
In addition to the minimal tax burden, Kittian citizenship is surprisingly useful for globetrotting. Henley & Partners have a Visa Restriction List, which ranks the countries where citizens can travel visa-free. On that list, Austria is 6th, St. Kitts and Nevis is 28th, and Dominica is 54th. (Meanwhile, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are tied for first, with the United States and Ireland in fifth.) So while Kittians can travel visa-free to fewer countries than Americans, they can still travel to the E.U. and Canada and even visit Cubafor up to three months without a visa.
It’s not enough to just move your assets anymore…Today, you have to move your ass.
Back in 2011, 1,788 Americans renounced their citizenship—a sevenfold increase from 2008. However, even those who renounced their American citizenship might still have to pay taxes. (Yes, the IRS is that powerful. Needless to say, always consult an attorney before doing anything that might provoke the wrath of the United States government.)
All this has some intriguing implications for seasteading. Currently in the planning stage, seasteads are ocean-based, self-governing communities popular among libertarians and Peter Thiel. Set in international waters, one goal is to escape the regulatory clutches of the state and experiment with polycentric law. Yet unless American-born seasteaders renounce their citizenship, they would still be liable to pay taxes to the United States. By investing in Kittian or Dominican citizenship, sovereign individuals could obtain some much needed legal protection. (Being completely stateless can be a real burden.)
If there’s actually a surge in anarcho-capitalist Kittians, this would be a double irony: Thomas Jefferson’s rival and national bank advocateAlexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, while St. Kitts and Nevis are technically still governed by the Queen of England.
Researchers, Ahoy! Should Futurist Science Move Offshore? (Ethical Technology, January 5, 2012)
Posted: Jan 5, 2012
What is the likelihood of seeing research vessels devoted to scientific research outside the bounds of national jurisdiction?
The idea of relocating for the sake of circumventing law, in particular the notion of establishing new nations in international waters, is an idea typically initiated with liberty in mind.
The Principality of Sealand, for instance, established in 1967, was founded with the intention of creating a space free from “oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation states.” Similarly, the start-up group, The Seasteading Institute, aims at creating platforms for experimentation with new forms of governance, which Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel suggests may include systems with no welfare and fewer building codes.
A means to liberty, and more specifically, improved health and wellness, is implicated by the prospect of science and medicine operating in international waters. Medical tourism, the practice of seeking medical treatment outside one’s country of residence, increases the range of treatment options for patients, as well as drives down cost, and counteracts local systemic inefficiencies. Medical boats, in particular, operating altogether free of national regulation, further these ends, as well as open up the possibility for even more pertinent and flexible treatment.
For instance, the idea of ships offering in vitro fertilization, flying Denmark flags, has been proposed to provide UK residents with a service, locally illegal. In the U.S., major delays in safe and effective regenerative medical services are likely. Regenerex, a company offering regenerative stem cell therapies, faces a potential halt in operation by the FDA. The company has been in dispute with the FDA over whether or not stem cell therapies should be considered ‘drug’ therapies. If the FDA succeeds in this dispute, Regenerex would then be required, by law, to discontinue treatments until appropriate certification is in place, which could be ‘staggeringly expensive’ and take several years.
Biotech companies researching longevity also inconveniently face roadblocks from the FDA, which only approves drugs aimed at treating diseases in a specific, defined manner. Aging is not currently considered a disease by the FDA, which makes the delay of essential treatment virtually inevitable. The need for extensive reform in policy is a reality of a good deal of near and future medical services, and both businesses and patrons are incentivized by the unique opportunity of circumventing regulatory systems.
More disruptive, perhaps, is the prospect of doing brand new research on international waters, using freedom from legislative constraint to expedite scientific progress. Controversial and experimental projects hold great potential; yet misunderstandings around the nature of heath, research and progress continue to threaten the boundless potential of scientific inquiry.
Research vessels are already in place for the fulfillment of the above purpose. For example, vessels of data collecting oceanographers often incorporate biotech facilities, as they are designed for processing specimens in on-board labs; some are equipped for expeditions several months in duration. There is also a well-established industry in place for making the undertaking of research in off-land settings safe and convenient for scientists. Professional crew members typically service research vessel needs so that scientists are free to focus on tasks at hand. The R/V Thompson, for example, is designed for conducting “multidisciplinary research projects that involve large teams of scientists”. It can support up to 36 scientific personnel as well as 22 officers and crew, and two marine technicians. The STLS 1370 has a passenger capacity of 133, a crew capacity of 49 and is designed to withstand extreme conditions. Vessels of this nature currently range from 2 to 7 million U.S. Dollars.
Potential challenges to consider include the interference from government and from pirates. It is important for researchers to stay apprised of their local government’s legislation and disposition regarding their particular field of research. Pirates are also a relevant concern. In October of last year the oil research vessel Ocean Rig Poseidon was attacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Tanzania. Careful choice in docking as well as staffing in anticipation of piracy can minimize these risks.
Long-term predictions regarding socio-technological evolution identify increasing tension between innovative technology and regulatory systems. Already, the pace of technological evolution is measurably greater than that of visible socio-political evolution, and many are frustrated by the inability to effectively capitalize on the new tools available for improving human health. Regulatory agencies have already proved ill-equipped to accommodate novel research and practice shepherded-in by new technology. The most efficient path forward, then, perhaps, will entail a means of operating outside the bounds of the established system—And science boats may be a feasible option for this intrepid purpose.
Frack That! The Innovators in Maine Have Plans to Power the Entire State with Offshore Wind (Forbes, December 16, 2011)
Debates over new sources of energy revolve around trade-offs—and those tradeoff are becoming increasingly desperate. From “drill, baby, drill,” to fracking to the Alberta tar sands commentators tell us that we must accept dirtier and dirtier and riskier and riskier solutions to fulfilling our energy needs.
A headline on Forbes.com over the weekend caught my (and more than 25,000 other people’s) attention, “Fracking Does Contaminate Groundwater: Carry on Drilling Regardless.” Tim Worstall contends that fracking should “carry on” despite the contamination of aquifers, because the environmental impacts are priced into the royalties of those most effected—the people whose land gets fracked. And besides, we collectively as a society need the cheap energy more than the clean water (at least more than some people’s clean water). Tim is entitled to his opinion, but saying that the true costs—social, environmental and long term—are priced into the royalties is like saying that the price of gasoline at the pump takes climate change and sea level rise into account—of course they don’t.
What are we waiting for to get to the really innovative ideas? There must be solutions with less severe tradeoffs than shale gas and tar sands oil. Why lock ourselves in to processes that will only get dirtier, riskier and more expensive over time rather than ones that will build sustainable equity and reduce long-term energy costs—and environmental impacts. Why continue to procrastinating the inevitable?
I met a man in Portland, Maine, this summer who’s not waiting around to find out. Dr. Habib Dagher is founding Director of the Advanced Structures & Composites Center, a National Science Foundation funded research Center based at theUniversity of Maine, Orono. Habib was in Portland to deliver a talk at our own homegrown TED conference,TEDxDirigo. Among the 125 R&D projects he has conducted in his 25 years at the Center, the most exciting is a plan to deploy huge offshore wind farms in the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine the could power the entire State by 2030—with an equal amount of energy left over to sell to our neighbors. That plan was the subject of his talk that day.
Dagher lays out the economic argument first. At $4 a gallon for gasoline, $5 Billion leaves the State of Maine every year. Our entire state budget is only $3.1 Billion. In 1998, energy represented 5% an average Maine family’s budget. Ten years later it was up to 20% and by 2018 he predicts it will consume 40% of an average family’s budget. Even without pricing in global warming or sea level rise, this is a shocking—and unsustainable—number.
What is the greatest opportunity to replace fossil fuels in this country? According to Habib, it’s offshore wind. One of his slides shows a map of wind energy in the United States and the largest concentration is off the far northeast coast. He has calculated that there are 149 gigawatts of wind within 50 nautical miles of the coast of Maine. That’s the equivalent of 149 nuclear power plants—with no risk of meltdowns!
The really interesting thing is that Maine turns out to be in a sweet spot for wind energy. We are far enough up the coast to be out of range of hurricanes, but close enough to the urban centers of the northeast, where 18% of the U.S. population lives, for there to be an efficient market for the excess energy we can produce. Dagher says, “there’s an opportunity for us to not only take care of ourselves, but create electrons in Maine and sell them, just like we sell paper and lobsters.”
Europe has had offshore wind farms since the early 90s, but all of the development has been in shallow waters, unlike the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine. So Dagher has used his Yankee ingenuity and come up with a truly innovative solution to erecting really big wind turbines in deep waters. He proposes to partner with and transform the Maine shipbuilding industry into a floating turbine industry. Simply put, the 300 ft tall towers can be built in dry docks at shipbuilding facilities, like Bath Iron Works, and then floated out into position. Once in position, the underwater columns are filled with water and anchored to the sea floor with giant suction cups and tension cables.
This may sound far fetched and fanciful but it’s very real and moving forward. The project has won funding from the Department of Energy and Dagher’s group is working with a consortium of 35 companies—many of them based in Maine. The first prototype turbines—the first floating turbines off the coast of the U.S.—will be installed off historic Monhegan Island this July. The first wind farm, with five floating turbines, will be completed by 2017 and a larger 500 megawatt farm (half the strength of a nuclear power plant) by 2020. This farm will be located 20 miles offshore so that the curvature of the earth will prevent it from being visible from shore and will contain 100 5MW turbines in a grid four by eight miles wide. By 2030 they plan to expand the grid of turbines tenfold, which would be enough to power the entire state and have 2.5 GW to sell. This is a $20 billion plan that could create 18,000 jobs.
The UK is embarked on a similarly ambitious plan to build 30 GW of fixed-based offshore wind by 2020, but Habib thinks we, in Maine and in the U.S. in general, have an advantage, “We’re going to float these things and beat them on cost and beat them on efficiency.” What could be a $20 billion business in Maine by 2030 could be a $200 billion business in the U.S., that could add 125,000 new jobs. And the cost differential between floating them 20 miles offshore from a domestic shipyard vs. 7,000 miles from China makes this a fairly Asia-proof business as well.
What’s the content connection here? All future tech is an exercise in speculative fiction. Turn the Peter Thiel funded Seasteading Institute‘s plans for floating, libertarian islands into empires of wind and the science fiction wheels go crazy. But what made my mind race when I heard Habib speak was imagining what kind of society we could build if we were not spending so much of working people’s wages on energy. How much more support we could give education, infrastructure, the arts, social welfare and new technologies? How much more productive we could be without the burden of punitive energy prices? And the technology to make that happen is not coming from Silicon Valley, Boulder, Atlanta or even Cambridge, but from the innovators in Maine.
A Quick Trip Inside Peter Thiel’s Dream World (Business Insider, December 16, 2011)
Peter Thiel supports a lot of big and crazy ideas — like building new micro-nations in the ocean and creating artificial intelligence.
But for now, he’d be happy if American tech companies could just get more qualified workers from overseas.
On Wednesday night, the Thiel Foundation held its annual holiday party at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thiel was using the party to show off some of the projects he supports, including the Seasteading Institute and the 20 Under 20 program (which encourages kids to drop out of college to form startups).
Thiel is pushing some things that he believes are important today: he wants recruiters to take a hard look at hiring students without college degrees — he believes that degrees are overrated and saddle a lot of brilliant graduates with unnecessary debt, which makes them reluctant to take risks. He also would like the tech community to write recommendation letters for overseas workers to get O1-A visas for extraordinary technical talent (those visas are most often used for professional athletes and actors, rather than engineers).
But overall, the night had an almost wild-eyed science-fiction feel to it. Some moments that stuck out:
- I spoke to Seasteading president Michael Keenan for a few minutes about his group’s dream of building a floating island off the cost of San Francisco and filing it with startups manned by workers who can’t get full-time U.S. work visas. The group is working to buy a decommissioned ocean liner to park 12 miles off the coast of San Francisco, and has thought about issues like currency (U.S. dollars at first, but perhaps something like Bitcoin eventually) and a possible global economic downturn (it would reduce the pool of potential investors, but ocean liners would be really cheap!) But he admitted that they’re still a long way from actually launching something that a reporter could actually tour and see. Maybe in 2013.\
- A young man from the Singularity Institute pitched a small crowd on the promise of artificial intelligence, and how to make sure that humans can train it to do our bidding, rather than the other way around.
- Another person — he described himself as a “plus one,” not an invited guest — worked in the clean tech sector. We spoke for a few minutes about the difficulty of funding companies in an industry that’s so distorted by government. But he wanted me to know he was a true believer: “Put on your shades. The future is bright!”
There’s nothing wrong with big dreams, and Thiel is right that a lot of the tech industry is focusing on small ideas instead of changing the world.
But the panhandler stationed outside the front door of the party was a stark reminder of how tough a lot of people have it in the here and now. Fixing the future is great, but the present needs help too.
Peter Thiel Convenes His League of Extraordinary Wackaloons (Forbes, December 15, 2011)
In Silicon Valley crazy doesn’t get you committed. It gets you noticed. It gets you funded. It gets you rich. Crazy is even a corporate rallying cry. As the late Steve Jobs said: here’s to the crazy ones.
If that’s a toast, then billionaire Peter Thiel is buying the drinks. And little plates of sushi. And tables piled with platters full of desserts. And an evening at San Francisco’s landmark Museum of Modern Art, which the PayPal founder and venture capitalist rented to throw a party for his favorite charities Wednesday.
One attendee joked that the museum was now home to the world’s biggest gathering of would-be Bond villains. In some parallel universe the minor modernist masterpiece is their headquarters. In this one, the immortality researchers and people who worry about super-smart machines have just one night at the museum to pitch their plans to scores of Thiel’s guests.
To do that, each built a Lego sculpture to illustrate their big idea. Not an easy thing to do when you’re hollowing out a mountain and building a giant clock that will run for thousands of years inside it. Each group wants to remake the world, rather than save a few struggling wretches at the edge of it:
The Long Now Foundation is building a giant clock in the Texas desert that will run for thousands of years;
The SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Foundation is researching the biological mechanisms that cause aging and looking for ways to reverse it;
The Seasteading Institute wants to help establish offshore colonies for medical tourism, offshore workers, and even autonomous micro-nations;
Singularity University focuses on educating small groups of promising young leaders on how to deal with the growth of exponential and disruptive new technologies;
A separate group, the Singularity Institute, is preparing for a world where artificial intelligence surpasses that possesed by humans.
This sort of stuff is why feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte once described Thiel as a “complete wackaloon.” Thiel, however, is a billionaire. Marcotte is not. Wacking loons pays well, apparently. Aside from founding PayPal and funding Facebook, Thiel has stakes in data-sorting software company Palantir and commercial space venture SpaceX (see “Life After Facebook“).
If all of the above isn’t radical enough, Thiel is funding two separate efforts that aren’t looking for money. Kids participating in Thiel’s ‘20 under 20’ Thiel Fellowship milled around the crowd. In a jab to the kidneys of the higher education industry, every year Thiel pays about twenty students under twenty-years-old to stop out of school and pursue big ideas for two years. Thiel is also funding Breakout Labs, which will pay for research into radical ideas with potentially huge implications.
Thiel left the emcee duties Wednesday night to Jim O’Neill, the head of his Thiel Foundation. O’Neill called for attendees to stop requiring that new hires have college degrees and ask for specific skills, and to offer to write recommendation letters for ‘talented scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs’ for O-1A visas. “We need more extraordinary people working to solve hard technology problems,” O’Neill said.
Thiel and O’Neill are both libertarians. Grab O’Neill after his remarks, and he’ll admit he’s feeling good about libertarian champion Ron Paul’s prospects in the Republican presidential primaries. Thiel endorsed Paul during the last presidential race four years ago. Two years ago, he endorsed Paul’s son, Rand, for the U.S. Senate. “The political system is overdue for rapid innovation,” O’Neill said. The same might be said of the fields targeted by the charities Thiel is funding.
They’re only wackaloons until they change the world.
Seasteading: Cities on the Ocean (The Economist Technology Quarterly, December, 3, 2011)
Seasteading: Libertarians dream of creating self-ruling floating cities. But can the many obstacles, not least the engineering ones, be overcome?
THE Pilgrims who set out from England on the Mayflower to escape an intolerant, over-mighty government and build a new society were lucky to find plenty of land in the New World on which to build it. Some modern libertarians, such as Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, dream of setting sail once more to found colonies of like-minded souls. By now, however, all the land on Earth has been claimed by the governments they seek to escape. So, they conclude, they must build new cities on the high seas, known as seasteads.
It is not a completely crazy idea: large maritime structures that resemble seasteads already exist, after all. Giant cruise liners host thousands of guests on lengthy voyages in luxurious surroundings. Offshore oil platforms provide floating accommodation for hundreds of workers amid harsh weather and high waves. Then there is the Principality of Sealand, a concrete sea fort constructed off Britain’s coast during the second world war. It is now occupied by a family who have fought various lawsuits to try to get it recognised as a sovereign state.
Each of these examples, however, falls some way short of the permanent, self-governing and radically innovative ocean-based colonies imagined by the seasteaders. To realise their dream they must overcome some tricky technical, legal and cultural problems. They must work out how to build seasteads in the first place; find a way to escape the legal shackles of sovereign states; and give people sufficient reason to move in. With financing from Mr Thiel and others, a think-tank called the Seasteading Institute (TSI) has been sponsoring studies on possible plans for ocean-based structures and on the legal and financial questions they raise. And although true seasteads may still be a distant dream, the seasteading movement is producing some novel ideas for ocean-based businesses that could act as stepping stones towards their ultimate goal.
Floating some ideas
Seastead designs tend to fall into one of three categories: ship-shaped structures, barge-like structures based on floating pontoons and platforms mounted on semi-submersible columns, like offshore oil installations. Over-ordering by cruise lines means there are plenty of big, second-hand liners going cheap. Ship-shaped structures can pack in more apartments and office space for a given cost than the other two types of design, but they have a big drawback: their tendency to roll in choppy seas. Cruise ships can sail around storms, but static seasteads need to be able to ride them out. And the stabilisers on big cruisers only work in moderate seas and when the ship is moving.
Pontoon-type structures, or giant barges, are the cheapest of the three options, but they are even more vulnerable than ships to choppy seas. Shipbuilders like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan have proposed various designs for floating cities based on massive “mega-float” pontoons, with skyscrapers towering above the waterline. But these would only work in calm, shallow waters—and these tend to be within land-based governments’ territorial limits. George Petrie, a former professor of naval architecture at the Webb Institute in New York state who is writing a series of technical papers for TSI, has calculated that even in a relatively benign stretch of water off Hawaii, such structures would leave their residents pretty groggy much of the time.
As oil companies drilling in ever deeper waters have demonstrated, structures built on floating columns are the most rugged, though they are more expensive than ship- or pontoon-type vessels. The shipbuilding industry has plenty of experience in making them, but the expectations of comfort among the permanent residents of a seastead will be much greater than on an oil platform, where workers are paid well for short tours of duty in relative discomfort. Even in placid weather, floating-column structures bob up and down as the sea heaves beneath them, which can make people seasick. To prevent the vessel from drifting due to currents and winds, seasteads may need dynamic-positioning thrusters, but these would increase costs. In waters less than 1,800 metres deep, Mr Petrie calculates, a cheaper option would be to moor the platform to the seabed. As it happens, there are a number of barely submerged islands off the coast of California, the location of preference for early seasteaders. Alas, they tend to be volcanoes.
Even once a viable blueprint for the structure of a seastead is produced, the technical challenges are not over. The more it relies on land-based supplies of fuel and water, the harder it will be to achieve the libertarian dream of escaping the evil ways of existing governments. At sea there is plenty of wind and wave energy, and occasionally sunshine, but building renewable-energy systems that can survive harsh ocean conditions is even harder and more costly than designing land-based ones. Another problem is communication. Satellite-based connections are slow and expensive. Laying a fibre-optic cable would be difficult. A point-to-point laser or microwave link might work, suggests Michael Keenan, the president of TSI. But that would rely on a land-based transmitting station, again making the seastead reliant on landlubbers.
The long arm of the law
The technical challenges are daunting enough. The legal questions that seasteads would face are no less tricky, and call into question whether it would really be possible to create genuinely self-governing mini-states on the oceans. Until seasteaders are ready to cut their ties with the land altogether, they will want to build their colonies not much more than 12 nautical miles (22km) offshore—the limit of countries’ territorial waters—otherwise travelling to and from the seastead will take too long. But the laws of the sea give countries powers to enforce some criminal laws up to 24 nautical miles out and to regulate some economic activities in a 200-mile “exclusive economic zone”. Ships are granted exemptions, but a seastead tethered to the seabed would not qualify.
Some countries (notably America) assert the right to extend their jurisdictions, in matters affecting their citizens, across the entire planet. And like any other seagoing structure, a seastead would be obliged to register with a “flag state”, to whose maritime laws it would be subject. Some flag states are lax about enforcement but if, say, America disapproved of the goings-on aboard a seastead, it could lean on such states to get tough—and offer enforcement on their behalf. In the 1960s Britain’s government shut down pirate-radio ships not by sending the navy to attack them but by banning British suppliers and advertisers from doing business with them.
In all, the leaders of the seasteading movement concede that they will have to avoid getting into anything too provocative—drugs, pornography or money-laundering, for example. As for taxes, America already demands that its citizens pay income tax even when they are living abroad—and that would include living on a seastead. There is nothing to stop other countries following suit and indeed getting extraterritorial about other taxes too. Until seasteaders are able to bank their money with independent, ocean-going financial institutions, they may not be able to escape the taxman’s clutches.
And escaping the taxman may not, in any case, be enough of an incentive to lure residents to a seastead. Despite their stated preferences even libertarians, it seems, prefer to live in over-regulated, high-tax places like London and New York. Mr Keenan notes ruefully that the Free State Project, a scheme started ten years ago to get 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire and vote in a libertarian local government, has had little success so far. Unless a seastead were the size of Manhattan its citizens would have to forgo the cultural life, the parks and the wide choice of shopping and restaurants offered by large cities. The most realistic designs produced so far would reduce residents to living in cabins that, however sumptuously kitted out, would be little bigger than a typical millionaire libertarian’s bathroom.
Some seasteaders think the way forward is to build less ambitious offshore communities to demonstrate the potential of the idea. By basing themselves just outside countries’ territorial waters to avoid some of their laws, floating habitats could show land-based governments how such things as low taxes, light regulation and free access for foreign workers can produce wealth without ill effects. Such ocean-based businesses could be a step on the way to true seasteads.
Stepping stones to a seastead
In 2010 a group of marine engineers produced a detailed design study for the ClubStead—a floating resort city which would sit perhaps 100 nautical miles off the Californian coast, with 70 staff and 200 guests. It would combine the comforts of a cruise ship with the resistance to wind and waves of an oil platform, which its design closely resembles. Seven storeys of buildings would be cantilevered off the columns and, in an idea borrowed from bridge design, its extensive open decks are slung from cables. There would be solar panels (and gardens) on the roofs of these buildings, but the ClubStead would also rely on diesel power. It would make its own fresh water from seawater and have two helipads and a dock for boats.
The ClubStead design study includes a lot of detailed work on wind and wave resistance, construction methods, and so on. But its authors admit that much more would need to be done to produce a full blueprint ready for a shipyard to start building it. Nigel Barltrop, professor of naval architecture at Strathclyde University in Scotland, says he has “little doubt that you can do something like this and make it work”. But he thinks the structure may need further reinforcement to prevent fatigue—think of all of those metal joints constantly creaking in the waves. Otherwise the result could be a disaster like the collapse in 1980 of the Alexander Kielland, a floating accommodation block for North Sea oil workers, which broke apart and capsized, killing 123 people.
Besides its moderately spacious apartments, the ClubStead would have room for either a casino resort or a “medical tourism” centre. Many of the staff could be non-Americans who would otherwise struggle to get visas. They could spend most of the time aboard, taking occasional shore leave on tourist visas. The designers reckon it would cost $114m—less than some land-based luxury hotels—of which the biggest item is constructing and kitting out the apartments, at just under $50m. Running costs would be $3.4m a year.
A breakaway group from TSI is working on a simpler and cheaper idea called Blueseed. The idea is to convert a cruise liner into an offshore “incubator” for small, high-tech start-ups and position it just outside American territorial waters off California. The attraction for the start-ups is that they would be able to hire foreign engineers and scientists without the hassle of getting work visas for them.
Dario Mutabdzija of Blueseed says chartering and adapting a cruise ship should cost $15m-50m, depending on its size, and the combined rent for a tenant’s living quarters and office space might be around $2,000 a month, comparable with costs in Silicon Valley. So far the project is at the seed-capital stage, working to overcome venture capitalists’ doubts about getting involved in something subject to maritime law, an unfamiliar matter. Another problem, Mr Mutabdzija admits, is that it is unclear how American officials will choose to interpret the complex and vaguely worded immigration laws. He hopes that they will “just leave us alone for a while and see how it goes”.
If the sort of “just-offshoring” approach of the ClubStead and Blueseed projects can prove itself, it might be attractive for several industries in which large revenues are generated by relatively small numbers of skilled people, and which are subject to onerous taxes or regulation. Financial trading, gambling and cosmetic surgery are obvious candidates. Private hospitals could provide new treatments that have been approved by other countries but not by America’s sluggish regulators.
Rather than deciding in advance which line of business will be a seastead’s livelihood, Mr Petrie has a more Darwinian idea, one that libertarians should warm to: create a large expanse of floating “land” in mid-ocean and rent it out to whoever wants it. Individual homes and business premises would be winched aboard on cranes and bolted down. If their owners don’t pay the rent, they could be lifted out and replaced. The seastead thus “evolves and finds its way”, says Mr Petrie. He has set himself the objective of making the cost of living on a seastead not much more than the average for upper-middle-income housing in a typical American city.
Linguists quip that a dialect is a language without an army and a navy to enforce its status. Theologians likewise say that a cult is simply a church that lacks political clout. Seasteads may end up as wannabe sovereign states without the means to defend their autonomy against land-based governments. The first ones to overcome the many technical challenges, raise the money to construct their vessels and set out for the open seas will be quite dependent on terrestrial authorities’ goodwill. But countries short of available land, or whose leaders are struggling to pass liberalising reforms against resistance from vested interests, may tolerate limited experiments in low-tax, rule-free self-government. So the seasteaders may be in with a chance.
Who will jump in first?
Given the huge costs and risks involved, perhaps the ideal builders of seasteads will not be small groups of innovators like the Blueseed team, but giant engineering firms such as Mitsubishi, India’s Tata group or Samsung of South Korea. Indeed, as Mr Keenan notes, the most viable political model for a seastead may not be a libertarian democracy but an enlightened corporate dictatorship.
Sceptics will say that floating pies in the sky are more likely to materialise than floating cities on the oceans. But the seasteaders are undeterred. Nobody anticipated the immense variety of uses that would be dreamed up for the internet, Mr Keenan observes, and the same may apply to the idea of creating colonies on the high seas. As Mr Petrie puts it: “All that is lacking is for the first one to go into the water and say, ‘Hey, come on in, the water’s fine.’”
Silicon Valley billionaire funding creation of artificial libertarian islands (Yahoo! News, August 16, 2011)
Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine.
Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”
“There are quite a lot of people who think it’s not possible,” Thiel said at a Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009, according to Details. (His first donation was in 2008, for $500,000.) “That’s a good thing. We don’t need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.”
The Seasteading Institute’s Patri Friedman says the group plans to launch an office park off the San Francisco coast next year, with the first full-time settlements following seven years later.
Thiel made news earlier this year for putting a portion of his $1.5 billion fortune into an initiative to encourage entrepreneurs to skip college.
Another tech titan, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced in June that he would be funding the “Clock of the Long Now.” The clock is designed to keep ticking for 10,000 years, and will be built in a mountain in west Texas.
Ocean cities? So says Milton Friedman’s grandson (CBS News, June 3, 2011)
A city floating in the ocean, one where tens of millions of people can live? No, not Atlantis but a project that a group of self-styled “seasteaders” want to get built off the shores of San Francisco by the year 2040.
Before dismissing this as a crackpot idea – and some experts have done just that – consider the following: Venture capitalists have already ponied up more than $2 million to fund an idea to build a nation flotilla – and a libertarian one at that – some 12 miles off the coast of California.
There’s justifiable reason for skepticism. In fact, UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture Margaret Crawford dismissed the idea, telling the San Francisco just that “the physical premises are just ridiculous.” (You can read the full story here.)
Of course, critics once poo-pooed the idea of sailing past the Pillars of Hercules or trying to send humans to the Moon. Maybe this is just one of those Big Ideas way ahead of its time?
That’s the hope of Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri, a former Google engineer whose vision is to build a libertarian nirvana a dozen miles off the California coast.
Being a true libertarian, Friedman hopes to foster conditions for startup governments to thrive which are “consumer-oriented” and “constantly competing for citizens.”
“I envision tens of millions of people in an Apple or a Google country,” he told the Chron. “If people are allowed to opt in or out, you can have a successful dictatorship.”
One can envision potential legal and diplomatic challenges down the road. But Friedman has already thought that out. A couple of years ago, he was profiled by CNET, where he sketched out the idea of seasteading. He explained how a short-term work-around would be to buy a ship registration in the same way that most merchant ships do. Questions of sovereignty and secession would come later.
“Innovation in society and serving marginalized groups has always happened on the frontier,” Friedman said in the interview. “We don’t have a frontier anymore. The reason our political system doesn’t innovate anymore is that there’s no place to try out new things. We want to provide that place.”
Nothing crazy about that. But it will remain a pipedream until engineering technology advances to the point where it can turn that dream into a reality.
Names You Need To Know In 2011: Patri Friedman (Forbes.com, November 2010; Forbes Magazine January 2011. Circulation 900,000.)
Patri Friedman is aware that his idea sounds crazy. The former Google engineer and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wants to build “start-up countries”: autonomous dwellings in the middle of the ocean, starting with a brand newindependent city-state off the California coast. He’s also the first to admit that past attempts to launch floating communities didn’t fare so well.
“The Freedom Ship, the Republic of Minerva, Oceania – they all comically failed,” he said. “This is very different. I was at Google before this. My second in command was at PayPal. We’re competent business people.”
Friedman’s Seasteading Institute also has a backer with serious start-up clout:Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, who has given $900,000 to the initiative so far via his foundation. Thiel and fellow young tech billionaireDustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, are slated to attend the next Seasteading Institute fundraising event in December, according to Friedman.
Attracting big names to his venture isn’t Friedman’s only plan for the year ahead. He’s refining the design of these proposed floating communities, and has hired a naval architect to oversee engineering. So far, the group has identified an area off San Diego where the waves are relatively low at a cost of $300 per square foot, or $120 million for a 200-person structure. The organization’s engineering team, aided by volunteer oceanography students, will now identify other locations for potential development. The aim is to allow any number of groups to relocate, not just Friedman and his colleagues.
“It’s not our utopia, it’s about enabling lots of people to try,” he said.
Friedman assures detractors that while he identifies as politically libertarian, his plan is not an elaborate tax evasion scheme.
“We’re not planning to do anything crazy so the U.S. will attack us,” he said. “Sometimes people on the left assume this is about rich people escaping taxation, which doesn’t fit with U.S. tax law at all.”
“Instead of complaining about the government, compete with it,” Friedman said.
He admits to “a couple of failed start-ups” in his 20s, and knows how much fundraising work lies ahead, but Friedman is confident that 2011 is the year he’ll be able to change some minds, starting with those who feel politically marginalized.
“I want people to be able to move to places that work from places that don’t,” he said.
And while his grandfather serves as an inspiration, his methods are markedly different.
“Parts of it – the passion for freedom, and for understanding systems and incentives, that’s my grandfather,” he said. “The difference is, my grandfather was very academic. He wanted to win the war of ideas. But the government doesn’t seem to have gotten that much better. It’s not about collecting ideas, it’s about creating start-ups.”
20,000 Nation Above the Sea. Is floating the last, best hope for liberty? (Reason Magazine, July 2009. Circulation 60,000.)
Ideas evolve quickly along the Friedman family tree. The late Milton Friedman, an economist at the University of Chicago, was one of the 20th century’s most respected and influential advocates for classical liberalism. In scholarly books and popular articles he argued that if we want the greatest possible wealth and freedom, government should be restricted pretty much to cops and courts. It shouldn’t be in the business of manipulating or dictating our choices, whether they involve education, the economy, or joining the military.
Milton’s son David took this attitude a step farther in several books on political philosophy and economics. Given the manifest inefficiencies of government, David argued, the healthiest and most efficient social and economic system requires no state at all.
Now David’s son Patri has taken the family tradition one step beyond. Inspired by his dad’s classic 1973 book The Machinery of Freedom, Patri Friedman has concluded that society’s design flaw goes deeper than just government itself. Think of the state as a business—but one with enormously high barriers to entry and enormously high exit costs. As it would in the business world, this set-up breeds sclerosis, inefficiency, and the tendency to treat customers like dirt.
From Patri’s point of view, Milton’s path of steady, sober education about the advantages of liberty wasn’t changing the basic negatives very much. And although David might be right that government isn’t even necessary, the fact remains that governments, however inefficient, control virtually every chunk of planet Earth. Winning control of a piece of land almost necessarily involves bloodshed, with very little likelihood of success. High barriers to entry, indeed. So while the libertarian movement maintained its traditional orientation toward scholarship, journalism, and political activism, governments were busy perpetrating mass murder on a scale no other institution could manage, mucking up market transactions that could improve everyone’s lives, and ruining millions of lives over private but illegal choices, such as consuming disapproved drugs.
Patri Friedman was doing all right himself, living with his wife and child in a mini-commune of sort—the kind people today call an “intentional community”—in Mountain View, California, a bit south of San Francisco. He had a great and challenging job with a great company, Google. But his preoccupation, his passion, lay elsewhere. He thought he had figured out the real underlying problem bedeviling society, and it went deeper than just governments themselves. The real solution, he came to think, would involve the lure of the bounding main, the unbounded horizon, our vast and empty oceans.
Remember those high exit costs? Friedman wondered: What if you could just move—not just you, but everything you own, including your home, and, if your neighbors agreed with you, your whole community? What if you could move all of it where no government would bother you at all, and you could make a new, better society?
Friedman called his theory “dynamic geography.” He remembered a line from his dad’s book The Machinery of Freedom about how differently terrestrial government would behave if everyone lived in trailers and could easily flee state oppression. If land itself could get up and go, the incentive structure of government would change even more, moving it in a libertarian direction.
In the past, such thoughts led many libertarians to dream of space colonization. But you don’t need to leave the planet, Friedman reasoned; just make “land” that can float on the ocean.
And so Friedman is no longer with Google. He is president of something called the Seasteading Institute. He thinks he has a feasible plan to accomplish something neither his father nor his grandfather managed, for all their inspiration to him and hundreds of thousands of others: actually creating a libertarian society. Even if it’s a small, floating one. “I would be sad if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime,” Friedman says. “But even looking at optimistic scenarios, I can see it will take several decades before I can say I really changed the world.”
A Sunken History of Floating Nations
Wayne Gramlich is a voluble, white-bearded tech geek and science fiction fan—the kind of guy who thinks about how things work, and could work, a bit deeper than most people do. A former Sun Microsystems engineer, he became interested in creating free lands on the ocean after stumbling across the website of the Atlantis Project, a.k.a. Oceania, a failed scheme to do just that from the early 1990s. Gramlich took an idle notion about liberated ocean living and turned it into an experimental social and physical engineering project. He set his ideas afloat on the sea of the World Wide Web in the late 1990s under the name “Seasteading: Homesteading the High Seas.”
Gramlich’s solution to building new land on the ocean was cheap and inventive: achieve flotation by lashing together empty two-liter soda bottles; convert the bottle-raft into usable land by covering it with five-mil-thick (roughly fivethousandths of an inch) black plastic sheeting and dirt. (He later realized he had underestimated the power of waves in the open ocean, and he now dismisses his plastic bottle idea as “just a glorified form of suicide.” But in calm waters, it could work.)
Friedman stumbled upon Gramlich’s seasteading manuscript in the early 21st century. The two men began chatting online, realized they lived near each other, and forged a partnership that in April 2008 was formally chartered as the Seasteading Institute. The organization now has two part-time paid employees in addition to Friedman (who is salaried) and Gramlich (who is not, as he spends far less time on the project). It is dedicated to pursuing and proselytizing for ideas and techniques that could allow human beings to live on stateless floating “land” on the ocean. The institute is throwing conferences, patenting aquatic platform designs, sending Friedman to spread the word at far-flung gatherings of tech world bigwigs and libertarian visionaries, and receiving friendly coverage on CNN and in Wired.
To longtime libertarian hands, though, seasteading seems like an old idea, one weighed down by the corpses of many ill-fated plans. Most of these efforts are legend, barely documented by history. Their tales are recounted in moldering tiny-circulation newsletters seen only by enthusiasts (and in 1970s issues of reason). One of the most influential of the small magazines pushing libertarianism in the 1960s was Innovator, and in its latter days the journal’s editors had come to think along the same lines as Friedman, though with far less rigor.
Innovator’s leading theorist of taking to the seas for liberty was an anarchist writer named Kerry Thornley. Thornley’s essays on oceangoing freedom inspired the science fiction writers Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson to create an anarchist yellow submarine that was central to the plot of their influential 1975 novel Illuminatus! But when it came to real-world endeavors, Thornley wasn’t the ideal pioneer. Among other things, he was confident that he had been groomed to be a patsy of sorts in the John F. Kennedy assassination, given his previous acquaintance with, and supposed resemblance to, Lee Harvey Oswald. (Before that fateful day in Dallas, Thornley had already written a roman à clef about Oswald, whom he knew from the U.S. Marines.)
Other libertarians, largely in the 1970s, actually attempted to create free nations on the open ocean, sometimes using existing islands and reefs, sometimes using boats or artificial islands. The history of these attempts is equally comic and terrible. The one that most resembles the Seasteading Institute’s efforts was Operation Atlantis, in which Werner Stiefel, an upstate New York pharmaceutical manufacturer, convinced a small gang of eager young libertarians to help him build a ferro-cement boat called “Atlantis II” in 1969. This vessel was supposed to sail down to the Caribbean, where the crew might grab some land in disputed territories such as Anguilla or the Silver Shoals near Haiti, or just use the ship as a staging ground to build some artificial concrete land.
The schemers had their own silver coin, dubbed the “deca”; they got some press in Esquire; and they had their own homemade boat. But the ship sank in a hurricane, attention from the Haitian government forced the project into quiet mode (canceling the highly entertaining newsletter Atlantis News), and no new libertarian Atlantis ever arose in the Caribbean.
The king of the “take over existing land” plan was Mike Oliver, a Nevada-based real estate developer and coin dealer who had published a book called A New Constitution for a New Country in 1968. Oliver had a winning never-say-die approach to his dream. In 1972 he attempted to claim space for a Republic of Minerva on a series of reefs in the southwest Pacific, 260 miles from the tiny kingdom of Tonga. Perhaps create is a better verb than claim: Oliver had to pay dredging boats to build up usable land between a couple of sturdy reefs. Shortly afterward, the king of Tonga conquered the colony with one boat. The land Oliver paid to build eventually was reclaimed by the ocean.
For the rest of the 1970s, Oliver concentrated instead on islands that had the advantage of already existing but the disadvantage of already being governed. He made common cause with separatist groups on the Bahamian island of Abaco and the New Hebrides island of Espiritu Santo. Such conspiring failed to instigate any independent libertarian nations; it just resulted in the arrests of some rebellious natives.
I called Oliver to ask for an interview while researching my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism. A weight of angry regret and failure seemed to block his throat as he testily informed me he had nothing to say about any past attempts to start a new libertarian nation.
So Why Expect Seasteading to Work?
Patri Friedman, who has been sailing around some of the very reefs on which earlier utopias capsized, is well aware of these past failures and says he has learned from them. The Seasteading Institute’s website is as thorough and thoughtful a guide as you’ll find to the foibles and follies of previous attempts to create new and/or floating nations. And there are some important points of departure that Friedman says will make the difference this time around.
First, seasteading does not require anyone to take over existing terrain. That was hopeless; the land’s all claimed by some government or another, even the parts barely above water. And an open rebellion against an existing regime is unlikely to succeed. Seasteaders therefore will make their own “land.”
Second, seasteading is modular. Unlike various floating nations that never got off the drawing board—the “Freedom Ship,” the “Aquarius Project,” and other pipe dreams—the institute’s plan doesn’t require an upfront multimillion-dollar buy-in. Seasteading can start small, and in fact Friedman is sure it will start small, with tiny family-sized platforms called “coaststeads” near the mainland serving both as proof of concept and a laboratory for working out the kinks before community-sized seasteads are ready to sprout in international waters. Friedman figures the cost of such starter sea homes won’t be too out of line with housing costs on land, especially if people are buying in a communal or time-share fashion. In fact, most recent cost estimates for a particular hotel/resort seasteading design came out to roughly $258 per square foot (without factoring in some assembly and deployment costs), which is quite a bit cheaper than the current price of many single family homes in the San Francisco Bay area.
Third, seasteading isn’t just based in libertarian theorizing and hopes. Friedman knows that seasteads will need to have some business hook, and he’s busy working those angles. There’s SurgiCruise, a nascent floating medical tourism company that is seeking venture funding. If Americans will fly to Mexico, India, or Thailand for cheaper medical care free of U.S. regulatory costs, the idea goes, why wouldn’t they sail 12 miles for it? Among the other first-tier business ideas being bruited about with varying levels of intensity are vacation resorts, sin industries, aquaculture, deep-sea marina services, and universal data libraries free of national copyright laws.
Fourth, because the open ocean plus “dynamic geography” allows for experimentation with governance in any form, seasteading shouldn’t appeal only to libertarians. Sure, any seastead that Friedman would want to live in would get as close to anarchism as can be managed. But he thinks a variety of ideologues should be willing to leap on board, from sustainability-oriented environmentalists to members of various intentional communities, religious or philosophical or whatever, that want to shape their own lives in peace without government interference. Such communities might not be individualist in their internal policies, but they fit within the libertarian framework of seasteading itself, which allows for a wide variety of freely chosen social structures.
In April 2008, Friedman’s vision received a tangible and encouraging business reward: a half-million-dollar stake from Peter Thiel, the libertarian co-founder of PayPal. Friedman’s high profile on the Internet, particularly on his always engaging and interesting LiveJournal blog, coupled with his personal history in the Silicon Valley, had won his project the attention of local programmers and money people. A job interview with Thiel’s venture capital management firm Clarium soon morphed into a meeting with Thiel himself.
Thiel supports many endeavors to create a future filled with wonderful science-fictional ideas, including the Methuselah Mouse Prize for life extension research and the Singularity Institute, which focuses on wild futuristic accomplishments of all sorts. He was a natural audience for Friedman’s vision, and he was sold. As Thiel’s colleague Joe Lonsdale tells me, “To Thiel and others involved in lots ofdifferent innovations in Silicon Valley, this seems like the coolest new thing you could create: a new government. That sounds really neat.”
Seasteading, Friedman insists, should be of interest to any philanthropist who wants to preserve and protect a wider and more secure human future. As he writes in his book-in-progress on seasteading, “The ability to experiment with a new system will produce both internal benefits to the pioneering seasteaders and external benefits to the world. Seasteaders will be able to choose a society which is in harmony with their values. And each society will serve as an experiment, to see how its system works in practice.”
A Seasteaders’ Convention
The First Annual Seasteading Conference, held in October 2008, draws about 50 people to an Embassy Suites meeting room in Burlingame, California. Most but not all of the attendees are male libertarian Americans in the computer industry. Friedman and Gramlich do a lot of the talking, selling the reasons why you should, and the ways that you could, seastead. Representatives of Marine Innovation and Technology, a reputable ocean engineering firm, give detailed discussions of designs for small, relatively affordable, modular and movable seasteads. (The firm later supplied the Seasteading Institute with a design for a floating seven-story hotel-casino resort, patent pending.)
The conference attracts solid, serious people with lucrative occupations and (in at least a few cases) cash to invest. Friedman says he is “pleasantly surprised by the low wacko factor.” He detects hardly any “people who were not competent, not practical, who have a crazy vision and don’t think about how to make [it] a reality.” This already puts the project ahead of most past new-country schemes.
I am struck by how few would-be seasteaders have actual nautical experience, as opposed to lots of clever ideas about flotation, breakwaters (to protect floating domiciles from waves, including the dreaded, superpowerful “rogue waves”), and transportation of seastead-sized objects. One attendee—Mikolaj Habryn, who works for Google—tells me he took a sailing course out of his interest in the topic, but for the most part these are not people with saltwater in their veins. They are computer types, social and physical engineers, and visionaries who for various reasons think experimenting with new social forms is an exciting challenge. Many of them tell me they are not likely to be early adapters living on small-scale experimental seasteads; instead they plan to wait until the business environment offshore has room for their careers, or until the comfort level for landlubbers rises a bit.
This lack of high-seas experience might be just fine. While ocean living creates unique challenges and costs—Friedman refers to these as the “ocean tax,” recognizing that seasteaders must eventually make the cost lower than the “government tax” you suffer on land—most prospective seasteaders think the obstacles can be largely overcome through money and thought. Human beings already know how to generate power on isolated locations off the grid. Wind, solar, and diesel strike Friedman as the most obviously feasible, and the ocean will probably provide a particularly suitable environment for wind power. Although seasteads probably will try to grow their own food, it can be shipped in if needed; the ocean is all about moving big things cheaply.
What about that most time-tested vessel for living on the sea: the boat? Modularly connecting the vehicles into larger communities seems tricky. Friedman’s ideal seasteading community can start small, grow marginally as the idea or the techniques improve enough to attract more people, and be able to both expand and contract as social experiments succeed or fizzle in the judgment of each individual seasteader. He fears boats don’t provide much room for self-sufficiency in food and power, let alone comfortable long-term living, given their space limitations. Finally, he’s leery of the “Just use boats!” line of thinking because ships are simply too old-fashioned to capture the visionary imagination in the way he thinks seasteading must if the movement is to thrive. Still, Friedman has been moved enough by the obvious immediate advantages in cost and proven legal status to think that living on retrofitted old ships might be a reasonable starting point for experimenting with his ideas.
Oil platforms, another existing model of ocean living and working, are cost-effective because they extract a valuable commodity. But seasteaders cannot, and don’t expect to, begin with resource extraction. That would certainly run afoul of both the Law of the Sea Treaty and any number of existing government and corporate interests that claim to have a say over how ocean-based resources should be used and allocated. For the same reason that taking over existing land is a bad idea for nascent seasteaders, anything that suggests a challenge to existing wealth and authority could hobble the movement while it’s still trying to find its sea legs.
Indeed, this aspirationally lawless bunch muses throughout the conference in Burlingame over the extent to which the world would view all seasteaders as a part of the same team, and thus whether seasteads would have to, gulp, police each other to prevent one bad apple from spoiling the bunch. They do not reach a conclusion.
Seasteaders do have a legal adviser: Jorge Schmidt, an attorney who has experience with the Law of the Sea Treaty. Schmidt is careful to tell me there are plenty of unknowns awaiting future floaters, although he approves of Friedman’s basic framework: get your seastead out of the 12-mile range that countries claim full sovereignty over, don’t mess with resources in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone that most nations also assert, and emulate existing ships in international waters by arranging with some nation to obtain a “flag of convenience” marking seasteads as under its protection. In open waters, only nations have rights. Individuals without a stable flag are considered pirates and outlaws.
The seasteading project benefits from the fact that many poorer countries are willing to sell their sovereignty to the highest bidder in a flag-of-convenience process that works to the buyer’s advantage. “I definitely think at the start those countries will want a cut [of whatever economic benefit a seastead produces], but keep in mind we’re in a good negotiating position,” Friedman says. “We can talk to every country in the world and only need one to give us the deal we want, and we can have them bid against each other for how low the cut can be.”
Schmidt speculates that full sovereignty might never happen for seasteads, but that it might not matter. “Maybe we’ll get 95 percent of what we want just paying Tuvalo,” he tells me. “If that’s the case, why go the extra step?” Reality is nine-tenths of the law: “What’s most important is to get things running, to have something concrete that works. Once we have that, the actual dynamics fuel themselves, rather than expectations and theory.”
Getting lost in these worlds of expectation and theory while talking to seasteading enthusiasts and reading their message boards is delightfully bracing, even if it’s difficult in sober moments to imagine their dreams materializing. Surely before it gets to the point of modular anarchy, some nation is going to say, “Screw existing international law; we’re not letting this happen.”
Friedman says something during our first interview in Palo Alto, something that sounds puckish at first but on second and third thought seems more and more true. Libertarians, he says, expend precious time and energy on truly and self-evidently impossible paths toward political change. “Like the Ron Paul movement,” he says. “Lots of libertarians’ effort and millions and millions directed in a way that’s hopeless! For real change [electoral politics is] totally hopeless. Think how much more likely to succeed [libertarians would be] if that amount of resources were put into something that could actually work.” By which he means seasteading. And you have to admit: When you compare it to the likelihood of creating a libertarian world through American politics, seasteading starts to look more and more sensible.
‘We Can’t Build Libertopia’
I have talked to a lot of people about the seasteading concept, normal human beings not particularly familiar with libertarianism or new-country schemes. Everyone offers at least some objections. Friedman and his team have heard them all, and they’ve got answers—or at least suggestive approximations that indicate the various critiques ought not to be deal killers.
Pirates, for example, are far more likely to attack wealthy ships than humble residential platforms. Seasteaders are very likely to have arms and can raise the cost of attacks higher than most pirates will be willing to pay. Storms? You can keep seasteads safe through breakwaters and a spar-and-buoy design in which most of the wave energy hits just a pillar or two while the city sits cozily on a top platform. And yes, tight communal living can be stressful, but residents of places such as Antarctica stations already find a way to muddle through.
Unlike most new-country dreamers, Friedman and his team are winningly scientific, as opposed to scientistic. They are scrupulous about avoiding claims that such-and-such technical solution must work. They are wary of oceandreamer concepts such as “seament” or “ocean thermal energy conversion,” which are based on the premise that both building materials and energy are easily gleanable from the open seas themselves.
And although he remains a happy anarchovisionary, Friedman knows that he and his confederates must take baby steps. He just wants to see marginal improvements in governance, and he is sure “dynamic geography” is the key. Thus, while the goal is to be totally free-floating, he is willing to let seasteads be encased in breakwaters if that’s the cheapest way to keep them safe from the ocean’s ravages.
“We can’t build libertopia,” he says. “Whatever we build will have to have security forces who will bust in your door if they think you’re designing nuclear weapons or funding terrorism.”
This concession is based not on principle but on the pragmatic concern that nukes and terrorism would make seasteads sitting ducks for nation-states. “It will be a bummer,” Friedman adds, “and not what I want ultimately, but with that constraint we can get a lot of freedom, a lot more than we have now.”
Friedman comes across as a consistently calm and reasonable man. So reasonable, in fact, that dealing with the rest of the world’s passions and irrationalities have come to bore and annoy him.
That’s why he embraced seasteading to begin with.
As Milton’s grandson says at the conference, the best thing about seasteading is that it doesn’t require any proselytizing to the masses. “Niche social and political movements [try to] argue with everyone they run across and convince the whole country,” he notes, but that’s “stressful and hopeless.” Why not just do it: build a version of the world you want to live in. Then you get to live in it, regardless of whether anyone else is convinced it’s proper or makes sense.
‘We Just Want to Create a Laboratory’
In his introductory talk at the seasteading conference, Friedman calmly tells a series of maddening stories: of men dying of cancer in prison because of stupid immigration restrictions, of tens of millions murdered by states in the 20th century, of people imprisoned and impoverished because of their choice of recreation. The context and political intent are clear: We have to figure out a way to escape governments.
As of this writing, seasteading is still mostly talk and dreams. Raising more money is in abeyance, as the Seasteading Institute doesn’t even have official nonprofit status yet. (The Internal Revenue Service is processing the paperwork.) The patent on the first hotel-casino design is still pending. The publicity generated by the article in Wired, seasteading’s first extensive major print media hit, more than doubled Friedman’s volunteer base within a few weeks.
The current economic crisis, everyone involved notes, makes the institute’s prospects both better and worse in the short term. It’s easier to sell the notion that the world desperately needs some new political and economic systems, but it’s harder to convince people to be charitable, especially toward experimental long shots.
The first real, physical thing the seasteaders plan is a fall 2009 event in the San Francisco Bay called Ephemerisle, a sort of aquatic Burning Man (the annual desert art festival in which Friedman is an enthusiastic participant). They plan to experiment with some flotation designs and begin to feel what a free life at sea might be like.
“You can read all the books you want that say freedom is a better system, but if people in their daily lives are surrounded by cops with guns, where government supplies emergency services, where every product has been regulated and tested by government, it’s hard to wrap your head around the crazy idea that all these things can be provided by a free market,” Friedman tells me. “So let’s do it. Let’s live it. It could be a disaster. People might die. But living it makes it so much more powerful than talking about it.” Through Burning Man, he adds, he’s “seen the power of experience to shape people’s perceptions about what’s possible.”
What will the experience of living on a seastead be like? What social structures will arise on a liberated ocean? Friedman recognizes that it is neither possible nor necessary for him to know. In his words, it’s “an enormous relief to realize that we can just throw up our hands and safely leave some of the questions philosophers have been discussing for millennia unresolved. We just want to create a laboratory for experimenting with social contracts, and a world in which people are free to create societies with groups of like-minded compatriots. The details of those societies are up to you.”
City floating on the sea could be just 3 years away (CNN.com, March 2009)
A floating city off the coast of San Francisco may sound like science fiction, but it could be reality in the not-too-distant future.
The Seasteading Institute already has drawn up plans for the construction of a homestead on the Pacific Ocean.
One project engineer described the prototype as similar to a cruise ship, but from a distance the cities might look like oil-drilling platforms.
According to the plans, the floating cities would not only look different from their land-based counterparts, but they might operate differently, too.
Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who now works for the Seasteading Institute, said floating cities are the perfect places to experiment with new forms of government.
Some of the new political ideas the group is tossing around include legalizing marijuana and making intellectual property communal — so that everyone would take ownership in art produced on the city at sea.
“The idea isn’t just about getting away from rules or getting rid of rules. It’s about a system that encourages experimentation with different political systems,” he said.
Friedman said the floating city may be built in modular pieces so that city blocks and neighborhoods can be recombined to create new urban layouts.
The idea of building cities on the sea is not new, he said, but the Seasteading Institute has come closer to realizing the goal than others.
“A lot of people over the past hundred plus years have had this idea and even specifically building cities on the ocean to try out new forms of government,” he said. “But they’ve pretty much been totally imagined and if they did try, they totally failed.”
There are several unknowns about future attempts to create floating cities, said Christian Cermelli, an engineer and architect with Marine Innovation and Technology, based in San Francisco.
Cermelli, who is part of a team of designers creating a blueprint for the first seastead, said it’s unclear if construction is possible — or what it would cost.
Still, a prototype for the idea may be finished in as little as three years, he said.
Friedman said seasteads are loosely based on oil rigs, but with important modifications.
“We care more about sunlight and open space, so the specifications are different,” he said. “Also, oil platforms are fixed in place. We think it’s important to have more modular cities. So you would build a city out of buildings that can actually be separated and rearranged.”
Cermelli said the ocean cities may use technology from suspension bridges “to expand the space at sea and basically get a roomier platform.”
Friedman says the idea of seasteading has met a range of reactions.
“Some people think we’re crazy. A lot of people think we’re crazy,” he said. “Some people think terrible things could happen, others think it would be great.”
About 600 people have joined the Seasteading Institute.
Some of them, like Gayle Young, say the idea is exciting partly because it’s so different.
“I love the idea because it’s audacious. It’s big,” she said. “It’s about pushing frontiers.”
Live Free or Drown (Wired Magazine Article, January 19, 2009, Circulation 790,000.)
Several dozen conference-goers are filing into the Mendocino Room of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Burlingame, a San Francisco suburb, arming themselves with coffee and muffins as they shuffle to their seats. It’s the kind of scene that occurs daily—if not hourly—in the Bay Area, where techies and businesspeople forever squeeze into drab meeting rooms to discuss how they are going to change the world. But even by local standards, the attendees gathered here are chasing a dream so grand and exotic it makes the typical Internet confab look like an OSHA seminar. Anyone can build a game-changing social-network platform or a virtual community or a set of open APIs. But the people here want to start a nonmetaphorical revolution by creating their own independent nations. In the middle of the ocean. On prefab floating platforms.
At 9:12 am, Patri Friedman stands up to address the group. A former Google software engineer, Friedman is 32 but comes off much younger, with close-cropped hair and a slightly nasal voice. He is executive director of the Seasteading Institute, the nonprofit he founded in April 2008, and this is the group’s first major event. He surveys the room, taking in a cross section of Silicon Valley culture: A white-haired nanotech millionaire in a suit sits next to a grad student in a Transformers T-shirt. If you were to break down the audience into high school classifications, you’d find a couple of hippies and goths, a few hipsters, and several preppies. The rest would definitely be at the nerd table. The male-female ratio is 7 to 1. “This isn’t enough to create a whole new civilization,” Friedman says. “But this is a seed.”
The morning sessions from the first annual Seasteading conference, held in Burlingame California on October 10th.
Friedman and his followers are not the first band of wide-eyed dreamers to want to build floating utopias. For decades, an assortment of romantics and whack jobs have fantasized about fleeing the oppressive strictures of modern government and creating a laissez-faire society on the high seas. Over the decades, they’ve tried everything from fortified sandbars to mammoth cruise ships. Nearly all have been disasters. But the would-be nation builders assembled here are not intimidated by that record of failure. After all, their plans are inspired by the ethos of the modern tech industry, where grand quixotic visions are as common as BlackBerrys, and they see their task not as a holy mission but as something like a startup. A couple of software engineers came up with an innovative concept, then outsourced it to a community and let the wisdom of the crowd improve on it. They scored financing from a top-tier venture capitalist and assembled a board of directors. They will be transparent, blogging their progress. If they fail—which, let’s face it, is the most likely outcome—they will do so quickly, in time-honored Valley fashion. But if they succeed, they have one hell of an exit strategy.
Friedman launches into what he calls “my standard rant”—a spiel about government’s shortcomings and why they’re so hard to repair. In his eyes, government is a sclerotic monopoly that can count on high customer lock-in thanks to inertia and the lack of alternatives. “Government is an inefficient industry because it has an insane barrier to entry,” he says. “To compete with governments on existing land, you have to win a war, an election, or a revolution.” He points to the democracy that emerged from the American Revolution as the last successful rollout and attributes the subsequent dry spell to the lack of uncolonized space on the map. “We’ve run out of frontier,” he says.
But there’s still one virgin realm left, and it covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface.
The purpose of the Seasteading Institute—and of this gathering—is to figure out how to make aquatic homesteads a reality. But Friedman doesn’t just want to create huge floating platforms that people can live on. He’s also hoping to create a platform in the sense that Linux is a platform: a base upon which people can build their own innovative forms of governance. The ultimate goal is to create standards and blueprints that can be easily adapted, allowing small communities to rapidly incubate and test new models of self-rule with the same ease that a programmer in his garage can whip up a Facebook app. “You could roll your own government out of pieces copied from all the societies around you,” Friedman says. “Google set my standards for how fast something should grow. This has potential to exceed those standards—if we make one seastead, there’s room for thousands.”
Your Home Away From… Everything!
|You’re ready to move to the middle of the ocean. What will your new digs look like? The Seasteading Institute hired Marine Innovation & Technology, an oil rig designer, to sketch out a $50 million, 20,000-ton platform with multistory living quarters and helipads.|
The 160,000-square-foot steel expanse puts the cruise ship lido deck to shame. Carbon-fiber cables anchored to the pillars reinforce the structure and make possible a larger platform surface.
Water, water everywhere—and plenty for you to drink! Desalination equipment provides potable freshwater and gray water for gardening.
Leave the Dramamine ashore. Water tanks inside four flotation pillars hold the seastead 30 feet above water and minimize the impact of rogue waves.
Don’t like your neighbors? Move! The island can travel at speeds of up to 2 knots, powered by four diesel engines that double as electrical generators.
Illustration: Kate Francis
Friedman’s optimism is easier to buy into if you ignore the history of previous would-be nation builders. There was Operation Atlantis, created by Ayn Rand admirer Werner Stiefel in the late 1960s. Stiefel, who made a fortune selling dermatology products, devoted his life to creating a sovereign society with the freest markets imaginable. He started with a ferro-cement boat that made a single successful voyage on the Hudson River. He erected a system of seabreaks near the coast of Haiti but was run off by president Franè7ois Duvalier’s gunboats before he could put land on it. He bought an oil rig and tried to anchor it between Cuba and Honduras, where it was destroyed by a storm. Stiefel died in 2006 with little more than a sporadically published newsletter to show for his efforts.
In 1971, real estate millionaire and committed libertarian Michael Oliver dumped large quantities of sand on two coral reefs in the South Pacific and dubbed it the Republic of Minerva, a land with “no taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.” Minerva was soon invaded by the nearby kingdom of Tonga, and it dissolved back into the ocean shortly thereafter.
The Oceania city project, a plan for a vast floating settlement off the coast of Panama, emerged in 1993. The founders took out a two-page ad in Reason, a libertarian magazine, promising to free prospective residents from governments “entangled in bureaucracy, corruption, and the free lunch philosophy.” The project was disbanded the following year due to lack of interest and funds. “The Libertarian party is small in number and too few members have the financial resources to bankroll their beliefs,” founder Eric Klien wrote on Oceania’s Web site.
Other projects still exist as hypothetical concepts. There’s the Freedom Ship, a mile-long floating tax haven, which will come into being just as soon as its organizers can drum up the $10 billion needed to build it. (They’ve accused their former president of absconding with the first $400,000 they raised.) The concept of failed aquatic libertarian havens has even entered the pop consciousness, providing the setting for the blockbuster videogame BioShock.
Wayne Gramlich will never move to the middle of the ocean—his wife forbids it. But when the former software engineer, who has been “on sabbatical” since the late 1990s, stumbled across the Oceania Web site about a decade ago, he was both enthralled by the vision and dismayed at the execution. An early Sun Microsystems employee who worked on browser security at the dawn of the World Wide Web, he thought what was needed was a dispassionate perspective—a realistic plan to build floating autonomous countries. “Oceania had a lot of pretty pictures, pretty concept art, but that was it,” he says. In 1998 he wrote a modest proposal, SeaSteading—Homesteading on the High Seas, to get beyond the grandiloquence. “Big and expensive projects will have a very difficult time attracting the requisite capital,” Gramlich wrote. An engineer at heart, he tried to devise a way to build islands on the cheap. His report outlined how thousands of empty 2-liter soda bottles could be used to create a floating platform.
That sounded like paradise to Friedman when he saw the paper on Gramlich’s site. He had always been interested in big-picture socioeconomic theories. The son of libertarian legal theorist David Friedman and grandson of the Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist Milton Friedman, Patri had until then expressed his worldview mainly through his lifestyle: engaging in “radical self-expression” at Burning Man, experimenting with drugs, living in intentional communities with several other families, and maintaining a polyamorous relationship with his wife. His BMW 328i has a customized license plate: FRRREAK.
Friedman had read about money holes like Oceania and considered them too fantastical to bother with. But the relative practicality of Gramlich’s ideas appealed to the software engineer in him. Here was a simple kludge for a floating platform that might be affordable. And if it could work, Friedman would love to be among the first settlers to live on the open sea. “My dad and grandfather write about stuff,” he says. “What interests me is doing something.” He sent an email to Gramlich, and the two discovered that they lived a few miles apart in Sunnyvale, California. In late 2001, they began to collaborate on a new paper on seasteading. They posted everything online, including their notes to each other. (Friedman coded a Perl script that would allow anyone to submit comments on each paragraph.)
Over the next couple of years, Friedman and Gramlich assembled a 150-page book on the logistics of seasteading. Their guidelines were intensely pragmatic, explaining everything from how to fend off barnacles (a “continuous discharge of low-level chlorination”) to how to fend off foreign navies (“sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles like the Chinese Silkworm are fairly cheap and quite effective”). They described the least far-fetched, least expensive design for a safe seastead they could find—the floating spar. The hypothetical dwelling looks like a giant dumbbell standing on end, with a large steel ballast underwater and a 48,000-square-foot platform suspended above, where 120 people could live. They estimated it could be built for about $3 million. “That’s the same price as a nice house in San Francisco,” Friedman says. (Their design has since evolved, as shown at above.)
Gramlich and Friedman’s online tome captured the imagination of like-minded geeks, who peppered it with suggestions and criticisms. It was also brought to the attention of millionaire tech investorPeter Thiel, who shared Friedman and Gramlich’s dissatisfaction with land-bound governments. Thiel was a cofounder of PayPal, and he viewed that company as a way to further his libertarian ideals—a way to move money around the world as 1s and 0s without the involvement of nations or their currencies. After selling PayPal to eBay and walking away with a reported $55 million, Thiel started the hedge fund Clarium Capital, which made a fortune earlier this decade by correctly betting that oil prices would rise and the dollar would weaken.
Thiel has invested in Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn, and Slide. He has also donated $3.5 million to Aubrey de Grey’s Methuselah Foundation, which seeks to extend longevity, and given money to the campaigns of small-government conservatives like Ron Paul.
“Peter wants to end the inevitability of death and taxes,” Friedman says. “I mean, talk about aiming high!”
Last April, Thiel pledged a $500,000 investment and installed his right-hand man, Joe Lonsdale, as chair of the Seasteading Institute. “Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that seasteading was an obvious step toward encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public-sector models around the world,” Thiel said in a statement at the time. Three months after the wire transfer went through, Friedman left his job at Google.
Friedman is quick to acknowledge that not everyone will share his vision. “At first blush, this all sounds kind of crazy, and to see the potential beyond that—that’s pretty awesome,” he tells his fellow enthusiasts at the seasteading conference. “There’s a lot of good craziness in this room!”
The afternoon sessions from the first annual Seasteading conference, held in Burlingame California on October 10th.
But good craziness alone will not make seasteads work, and most of the day is spent discussing the nuts and bolts of creating a floating community. First is the question of structure. “The ocean is a harsh and corrosive environment,” Friedman says. In addition to rust and barnacles, there’s wave motion, which is disorienting in the best of times and potentially fatal during a storm. The Seasteading Institute hired Marine Innovation & Technology as a consultant to solve these problems. Naval architectAlexia Aubault takes the lectern to describe the results of wave-motion analyses her engineering firm performed. To protect the organization from frivolous infringement lawsuits, she is barred by the institute’s lawyer from showing off the refined design until a patent gets filed. (That has since been done.)
And that’s just one of the legal torpedoes that seasteaders must dodge. According to the UN’s Law of the Sea, the jurisdiction of traditional nations extends up to 200 miles from shore, an exclusive economic zone within which countries can control fishing and mineral rights and police polluters. Friedman hopes there will someday be self-sufficient seasteads that can thrive on the high seas, beyond the purview of any country. But for the near future, he concedes, they’ll probably need to remain near shore and operate like cruise ships, which are bound by the laws of the country where they’re registered. Most governments won’t attack these kinds of vessels as long as they behave. “At this point, it matters who you piss off,” he says. (Raymond Peck, a former Reagan administration official, has agreed to do further research for the institute on the Law of the Sea.)
At 11 am, attendees break up into small groups to brainstorm business models. Seasteaders can depend on like-minded benefactors for only so long. Ultimately, these nations will need to pay the bills. Friedman notes that some enterprises—like euthanasia clinics—would incense local authorities, but almost all the ideas attendees come up with would capitalize on activities that skirt existing laws and regulations: Fish farming and aquaculture. Prisons. Med schools. Gold warehouses. Brothels. Cryonics intakes. Gene therapy, cloning, augmentation, and organ sales. Baby farms. Deafeningly loud concerts. Rehab/detox clinics. Zen retreats. Abortion clinics. Ultimate ultimate fighting tournaments.
(Lonsdale has his own ideas. “Bazooka bikini bachelor parties,” he says. “You get there and a Lithuanian model hands you a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.”)
But in the end, the seasteaders may face an even more fundamental challenge. During an afternoon session, Friedman asks, “How many people here know how to sail?” Few hands go up. He says plans are under way to offer group instruction at discount rates.
The first annual seasteading conference adjourns at 6 pm. A kayaking trip around the bohemian houseboat community just off Sausalito has been scheduled for the following morning, but it is canceled because of high winds.
Forbes Island isn’t really an island at all but a 5,000-square-foot, 700-ton sea vehicle decked out with palm trees, a white-sand beach, and a lighthouse. A houseboat designer named Forbes Kiddoo, inspired by the science fiction of Jules Verne, spent five years building it. In 1999, he converted it into a restaurant that today floats near San Francisco’s kitschy Pier 39, serving $35 rack of lamb to tourists who watch sea lions flop around on the nearby docks. Tonight, the eatery is hosting the Seasteading Institute’s post-conference dinner.
Kiddoo himself ferries the seasteaders from shore to restaurant in a tiny pontoon boat. On the way over, he explains that obtaining clearance for his island was a nightmare. “I had to get city, county, state, and federal permits,” he says, shouting to be heard over the bellowing of sea lions. “I had to deal with the ADA, the ABC … I had to become a merchant marine captain.”
Houseboat designer Forbes Kiddoo gives a tour of his manmade island. The structure, now converted into a restaurant, was host to the Seasteading Institute’s post-conference dinner last October.
Afterward, in the island’s bar, Friedman seems happy with how the event went, though he says some of his plans will have to be scaled back. He had wanted to hold a floating festival dubbed Ephemerisleon Fourth of July weekend; it was to be a sort of Burning Man on the high seas, where everything is permitted. But several conference attendees expressed concern about thelogistics—and advisability—of a free-floating bacchanal of guns and drugs. He’ll still host some sort of gathering to test a few miniature floating-island prototypes but expects it to be held in San Francisco Bay, not out on the open sea. “It’ll probably take a few iterations to get there,” he says. “But at least we’re doing something.”
Eventually, the seasteaders move to the Tahiti Room, which has a lovely moonlit view of Alcatraz. Chatter around the table gets louder as the wine flows, but the subject matter remains wonky. “The interesting issues are social and legal,” says Mikolaj Habryn, a site reliability engineer at Google. “You’ll get slavery. You’ll get drug dealing. Maybe there’ll be polygamous Mormons. The first people involved will inevitably be those who want to do things they can’t do on land, and we have to deal with that.” A ship passes, and even though Forbes Island is firmly moored a few hundred feet from shore and separated from the bay by a breakwater, the restaurant sways so much that some diners have to breathe deeply and focus on the horizon to settle their stomachs.
At the other end of the table, Patri Friedman raises his glass to make a toast. “I want to see us all at the 10th Annual Seasteading Conference,” he says, implying that he expects it to take place on an actual seastead, not in an Embassy Suites or a floating theme restaurant. “It’ll be in a bigger room, there will be a better view, it won’t move up and down as much, and there’ll be a better wine selection and better things to smoke!”
Friedman is joined by a raucous round of toasts. “To Peter Thiel for financing this!” “To having more women here!” “To being on the water!” “To freedom!”
Friedman wraps it up: “To being crazy in a good way!”
Want to Build Your Own Floating Country? (The Osgood File, February 7, 2012)
WANT TO BUILD YOUR OWN FLOATING COUNTRY?
The Osgood File. Sponsored in part by Barbasol Shaving Cream, America’s leader for a close shave. Close shave, America. Close shave, Barbasol. This is Charles Osgood.
And now, something completely different…
It seems that all over the world, there are lots of people who are very dissatisfied with the government of whatever country they’re in. But, they’re not sure they’d like the government any better anywhere else they know of. So, what can they do?
Listen to this: Michael Keenan is the president of something called The Seasteading Institute. Keenan says…
SOT – Michael Keenan, president of The Seasteading Institute
“There is no one kind of government for everyone – no one ideology for everyone. And so, if there was a new space to start governments, we would see an ideal society for everyone. But there’s no more land. However, seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered by ocean – and it’s unclaimed, it’s international waters. So, the Seasteading Institute strives to create to new countries on floating islands in international waters.” (:21)
Yes, you heard right. Stay tuned and you’ll hear more…
((( SPOT )))
The California-based Seasteading Institute is not talking about floating countries some day in the sweet by-and-by.
SOT – Michael Keenan
“In a decade, you’ll start to see custom-built semi-submersible platforms resembling oil rigs – and in a few decades, huge cities the size of Hong Kong on the ocean with millions of people living in very diverse, very effective and efficient societies on the ocean.” (:15)
The technology already exists, says the Institute’s chief engineer George Petrie. And the ocean sea covers two-thirds of our planet…
SOT – George Petrie, head of engineering at The Seasteading Institute
“Why don’t we just utilize what is so readily available to us by colonizing the surface of the sea and positioning ourselves to intelligently take advantage of the resources that the open oceans, the bounty that the oceans offer us.” (:15)
Don’t worry, says Petrie – you won’t get seasick.
SOT – George Petrie
“So, even in very inhospitable, very stormy sea conditions – the platform will remain very stable, very minimal motion. One would hardly know that they were on a floating body.” (:12)
Seasteading’s ideas are already taking off. Google “Seasteading” – and you’ll see.
Patri Friedman on floating cities (Interview on BBC’s One Planet, April 29, 2011)
[Patri’s contribution starts 11 minutes into the show. Download the .mp3 file here.]
Some 70 percent of the world’s surface area is covered by water – so it’s no surprise that architects and urban planners are looking down from their high rise towers and considering new horizons to build on: namely the world’s vast oceans.
On this week’s One Planet, Richard heads to the Hague in Holland to look around a building site, one that’s going to be deliberately flooded allowing a community of 600 homes to rise to the top of the flood waters. Dutch architect Koen Olthuis, a specialist in floating buildings, outlines his vision for the community and explains why – as more people go urban – the pressure on our cities means it’s a logical step to take to the water.
Also in the show we visit a floating home – now built and occupied – that sits in the waterways of Amsterdam. Take a look at our Flickr album to see pictures of the water house, the link’s below.
Plus, we hear from Patri Friedman, the head of the Seasteading Institute – an organisation promoting the construction of entirely new sovereign states on the open sea that will allow alternative types of government to be tested and developed.
As ever, tune in, have a listen and let us know what you think. Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join us on our Facebook page, the link’s below.
Innovation on the Ocean (Interview Podcast from Steppin’ Off The Edge with Max Marty, April 3, 2011)
What does it take to get 1,000 floating countries to set sail upon the oceans of planet earth? The Seasteading Institute (TSI) is an ambitious organization that wants to foster such platforms of innovation to apply the same entrepreneurial spirit of high tech to the high seas. This podcast features an interview with the director of business strategy for TSI, Max Marty. He steps off the edge with me and to cover a wide range of ocean living logistical issues including where could seasteads operate, how to foster a community of them, pirates, viable business models for floating cities, and where to draw the line between self-sufficiency and specialization. With the impact of humanities’ industrial scale lifestyle showing damage to planetary symptoms that only the most devout skeptic can continue to ignore, the climate change scales could soon tip so heavily that living on the high seas of this planet would become not a luxury but a necessity. Enjoy this episode to find out what sorts of innovation on the ocean are on the horizon!
Patri Friedman on Seasteading (Interview Podcast from Surprisingly Free, March 22, 2011)
Patri Friedman, executive director and chairman of the board of The Seasteading Institute, discusses seasteading. Friedman discusses how and why his organization works to enable floating ocean cities that will allow people to test new ideas for government. He talks about advantages of starting new systems of governments in lieu of trying to change existing ones, comparing seasteading to tech start-ups that are ideally positioned to challenge entrenched companies. Friedman also suggests when such experimental communities might become viable and talks about a few inspirations behind his “vision of multiple floating Hong Kongs”: intentional communities, Burning Man, and Ephemerisle.
Patri Friedman on Seasteading (Interview Podcast from EconTalk, October 13, 2008)
Patri Friedman, Executive Director of the Seasteading Institute, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about seasteading, the creation of autonomous ocean communities as an alternative to existing political and cultural forms. Topics discussed include the political and economic viability of seasteading, risks of piracy, the aesthetics of living on the ocean, and the potential impact of seasteading on conventional governments.
Stu Burgiere Gets Excited About Seasteading on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze Radio Program (The Pat and Stu Show, May 17, 2013)
Randolph Hencken and Joe Quirk Appear on Glenn Beck’s TV Program (The Wonderful World of Stu, May 18, 2013)
Blueseed’s start-up ship to steer past US immigration laws (BBC, June 4, 2012)
A Silicon Valley start-up called Blueseed wants to convert a cruise ship into a floating centre for foreign workers who cannot get visas to work in the US.
The ship would sit in international waters roughly 12 miles (20 kilometres) off the California coast in order to bring foreign entrepreneurs closer to the technology capital.
Blueseed president Dario Mutabdzija says ferries will take the heads of the small companies back and forth each day to attend meetings on land with venture capitalists.
More than 700 start-ups have expressed an interest in working from the boat, which will also offer housing and recreational services.
Mr Mutabdzija says the idea for the vessel was conceived because of the difficulty entrepreneurs face when trying to obtain B-1 US business visitor visas.
The BBC’s Matt Danzico took to the water to find out more.
Company Still Floating Idea Of Tech Community Off California Shore (CBS Local San Francisco, May 22, 2012)
SAN JOSE (CBS 5) – A company that made news last year when it announced designs to build a fully-functioning startup community 12 miles off of Half Moon Bay returned to San Jose Monday in hopes of finding funding for a scaled-down plan.
The company, Blueseed, had previously talked about building a floating platform with homes and work spaces. Placing the community in international waters would allow Silicon Valley startups to get around costly and time-consuming work visas. In San Jose Monday, CEO Max Marty said he is now leaning toward retrofitting a used cruise ship for $30 million to $80 million instead of building the platform village from scratch. Making the plan more affordable.
The community would still allow workers to get to the mainland on tourist or business visas, which are easier to get. But the plan still lacks funding.
Prominent venture capitalist Peter Thiel has promised half a million dollars in seed money, but has not yet written a check.
Researcher Vivek Wadhwa said the idea is interesting, but most high-tech entrepreneurs are married with kids. That could be a problem on a cruise ship.
“I’d love to see lots of companies come out of this. Any effort is welcome, but this is only a band-aid. That’s where the problem is. It’s a drop in the ocean,” said Wadhwa.
Still, the plan could be a blueprint for companies to hack immigration regulations. Marty said 200 startups have expressed interest.
Floating cities proposed as havens of future happiness (Reuters, February 3, 2012)
Feb. 3 – From Russia and the Middle East to western Europe and the United States, dissatisfaction with politics and politicians has led to protest, conflict and, in many cases, violence. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to a U.S. think-tank called The Seasteading Institute. Backed by wealthy donors, the non-profit group believes future peace and prosperity lies far out at sea. Ben Gruber reports.
California’s Seasteading Institute believes countries of the future will be built on the ocean. These nations will be fully sustainable, self-governing floating cities designed as havens for research and innovation. The institute’s president Michael Keenan, says the most successful will become thriving new societies. It’s an idea he says, whose time has come.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL KEENAN, PRESIDENT OF THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: “There is no one kind of government for everyone. There is no one ideology for everyone and so if there was a new space to start governments we would see an ideal society for everyone. But there is no more land, however, seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered by ocean and it is unclaimed, it’s international waters. So the Seasteading Institute strives to create to new countries floating in international waters.” Keenan says this is no idealistic pipedream. Paypal’s billionaire founder Peter Theil has donated more than 1.5 million dollars to the Institute and other wealthy donors are following suit. The design of these off shore communities is led by Institute engineer in George Petrie. He says much of the technology to build floating cities already exists.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) GEORGE PETRIE, HEAD OF ENGINEERING, SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: “Why don’t we just utilise what is so readily available to us by colonising the surface of the sea and positioning ourselves to intelligently take advantage of the resources that the open oceans, the bounty of the open oceans offer us.” Petrie says the first floating cities will be modelled after semi-submersible oil platforms.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) GEORGE PETRIE, HEAD OF ENGINEERING, SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: “So even in very inhospitable, even in very stormy sea conditions, the platform will remain very stable, very minimal motion. One would hardly know that they are on a floating body.” He says the cities will be able to expand by linking on new, modular parts – much like Lego pieces. Petrie says solar power, wind turbines, and other cutting edge technology will supply the floating cities with power.
(SOUNDBITE) ( English) MICHAEL KEENAN, PRESIDENT OF THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: “In a decade you will start to see custom built semisubmersible platforms resembling oil rigs and in a few decades – huge cities the size of Hong Kong with millions of people living in very diverse, very effective and efficient societies on the ocean.” And the institute’s ideas are already taking off. A company called Blueseed is converting an ocean liner into what it says will be a floating version of Silicon Valley. With no visa requirement, it’s designed to attract foreign talent to develop new technologies. The ship is is scheduled for launch late next year, the first of what Michael Keenan hopes will be hundreds of seasteads created over the next several decades. Keenan admits it’s an ambitious idea…but one that will eventually offer millions of people the opportunity to choose a country that suits them best. Ben Gruber, Reuters.
Seasteading on NBC Bay Area News (NBC Bay Area News, November 9, 2011)
Free Cities and Seasteading on The Stossel Show (The Stossel Show, September, 2011)
Direct Impact: NBC interview with Patri Friedman (NBC LA News, June 2011)
Non-profit floats around idea of high seas communities (ABC News San Francisco, December 2010)
Seasteading on CBS Sunday Morning’s “The Fast Draw” (CBS Sunday Morning, November 2010, approx 5,000,000 viewers)
Seasteading Ambassador Charles Peralo on Adam v. The Man (Russia Today, August 9, 2011)
(Segment starts at 6:30 and runs until 10:30)
Patri Friedman on The Stossel Show (The Stossel Show, February 2010)