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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Seasteading
Posted: February 24, 2017 at 6:19 pm
One of the biggest challenges facing the world today is climate change. With each passing year, the rate at which our polar ice caps are melting is increasingly alarming to many across the globe. Recently in Antarctica, for example, new reports indicated that a major ice sheet is cracking at a rate of five football fields per day, lining up a potential break from the Antarctic Peninsula sometime this spring. Such reports are compelling some scientists, engineers, and architects to fundamentally rethink the cities of the future. At the forefront of that movement is the Seasteading Institute.
The California nonprofit organizationwhich has currently raised about $2.5 million from more than 1,000 interested donorsis spearheading a plan called the Floating City Project. The blueprint is to build a cluster of buoyant dwellings that showcases innovations in solar power, sustainable aquaculture, and ocean-based wind farms. Recently, the French Polynesian government signed a historic agreement with the Seasteading Institute to work together on a legal framework to allow for the development of the Floating Island Project. French Polynesia, which comprises more than 100 islands in the South Pacific, seems like an ideal locale to explore the possibility of sea-dwelling communities, as its own territory is at the mercy of rising ocean levels.
According to the agreement, after economic, environmental, and architectural research in and around French Polynesia has been completed (much of which has been under way for years), the government will collaborate with the Seasteading Institute to develop a special governing framework for a land base and sea zone. The goal is to achieve this by the end of the year.
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Posted: February 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm
U.S. infrastructure is crumbling under its own lack of innovation.
While the country scrambles to figure out how to fund infrastructure projects, the root of the problem lies in the lack of change over the past century. Almost all of the countrys main infrastructure was designed between 1920 and 1960. The Babylon Long Island Rail Road line, which saw the most passengers in 2016, was completed in 1867. The Queens-Midtown Tunnel was completed in 1940. Even the Long Island Expressway is nearing its 60th anniversary.
Our subways, highways, sewer systems, power lines, airports and rail cars were never meant to handle the load they do now, even with the patchwork interfaces placed over the services.
By 2025, our failing infrastructure is estimated to cost the country 25 million jobs, $4 trillion in GDP, and almost $3,500 in personal disposable income per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Ideally, ASCE would like federal and state governments to work together to spend roughly $3.6 trillion to fix the countrys ailing infrastructure by 2020. But, the ideal goals are just that ideal. That $3.6 trillion isnt something to be thrown around. The United States cannot escape from the money and space constraints on its infrastructure.
Some groups in the United States are turning to the idea of the public-private partnerships to fix the funding issue. P3s allow for private groups to fund, build, and operate construction projects. Public money would then be used to provide a constant revenue stream for the contracts lifetime.
New York State, which unveiled a $100 billion plan to repair state infrastructure, is spending $4 billion to renovate LaGuardia Airport and $10 billion to redesign Kennedy Airport. Both projects are using the P3 model to accelerate the planning and building phases.
However, the P3 model doesnt necessarily mean progress. Private companies, which are only going to go as far as the government asks them to, do not necessarily have any added incentive to add revolutionary technology to their projects. P3s will rapidly fix current-day issues, but nothing more.
President Donald Trump has promised his version of a P3 investment in infrastructure in the first 100 days of his presidency. Trump had promised a $1 trillion plan that would touch on almost all of the countrys main infrastructure needs.
The idea of replacing and innovating all of the countrys infrastructure is far-fetched, but the presidents commitment to the issue is the right first step.
Innovation comes from necessity, and our infrastructure is at that point. Whether it be through private or government investment, the first dollar should be spent on pushing boundaries to better prepare for the future. And while innovation is happening in scattered instances across the country, we need to move forward on a much larger scale.
Countries like Dubai are doing it. Dubais international airport will begin using drone taxis in July as part of its continued effort to reduce congestion on the highways in the city. The drones will take a single passenger anywhere within 30 miles of the airport and are completely electric.
China has begun using automated buses to increase efficiency in public transportation. Its automated full-size buses have successfully traveled at 40 mph and have merged with traffic without any issues over the last two years.
French Polynesia is taking infrastructure to the ocean with their Seasteading Project. Dubbed the Floating Island Project, French Polynesia and Californias Seasteading Institute have partnered to construct a self-sustaining island off their coast by 2020 as a pilot to demonstrate the ability to create floating cities.
In the United States, utilities like Washington D.C.s Water Department are turning biowaste into fuel at their wastewater treatment sites, which not only provides power for the station, but also acts as a filter for water entering the water table.
Innovation is difficult. It takes time and money. However, if the country is going to embrace the challenges of the 21st century, future needs, not patchwork problem solving, should be at the forefront.
Jager Robinson is an intern with Newsday Opinion.
Posted: February 9, 2017 at 6:06 am
The French Polynesian government, earlier this year, officially signed an agreement with The Seasteading Institute to cooperate on creating legal framework to allow for the development of The Floating Island Project. The legislation will give the Floating Island Project it’s own special governing framework creating an innovative special economic zone.
Last year, French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch invited an international delegation from The Seasteading Institute to examine several potential sites near the French Polynesian islands of Tahiti, Tupai, and Raiatea. The team met personally with Teva Rohfristch, minister for economic recovery, the blue economy, and digital policy; Sylviane Terooatea, mayor of Raiatea, and Gaston Tong Sang, former president and mayor of Bora Bora and Tupai.
The Seasteading Institute and the government of French Polynesia will draw from the best practices of more than 4000 existing special economic zones around the world to create a special economic seazone, said Hencken. The seazone will combine the advantages of French Polynesias geopolitical location with unique regulatory opportunities specifically designed to attract investors.
Seasteading investors will self-fund the initial studies and the construction of the floating islands. The pilot project is expected to cost between $10m and $50m.
Our sustainable modular platforms are designed by the Dutch engineering firm Blue21, who showcased their engineering ingenuity with the famed Floating Pavilion in Rotterdam, said Joe Quirk, co-author with Patri Friedman of the book, Seasteading: How Ocean Cities Will Change the World, to be published in March.
From left: Egor Ryjikov, Thierry Nhunfat, Joe Quirk, Karina Czapiewska, Randolph Hencken, Jean Christophe Bouissou, Montgomery Kosma, Suzanne Dokupil, Greg Delaune, Marc Collins, Michel Monvoisin, Chris Muglia, and Nicolas Germineau
Blue Frontiers will create new clean-tech and blue economy jobs that will attract both international and local investment. We need to create new clean-tech and blue economy jobs for our youth, and this project has the potential to be a real game-changer locally, Collins said. This project could help us retain our bright minds, who would otherwise emigrate for work.
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Posted: February 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm
The future, as defined by the Seasteading Institute.
Will the smart cities of the future float?
With data suggesting sea levels could rise by as much as six feet before the end of this century, the possibility of building floating communities has captured plenty of imaginations. One Silicon Valley startup suggested and even patented self floating environments that would create communities immune to rising seas. Several years ago, a Paris architecture firm drew up renderings for biomimicry-inspired floating cities that could house climate refugees.
Now, a South Pacific government has entered into an agreement with a California NGO that will supposedly make such communities the reality.
Earlier this month, French Polynesia (which includes Tahiti, its largest island) signed a memorandum of understanding with theSeasteading Institute to embark ona development called theFloating Island Project.
Upon completion, the island or islands will have their own special governing framework and will comprise an innovative special economic zone. The territorys housing minister, Jean-Christophe Bouissou, touted the agreement as one allowing French Polynesia to find solutions to the problems facing Island communities by building ocean platforms.
Founded in 2008 by Patri Friedman and initially funded by Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, the Seasteading Institute at first had a lofty and libertarian goal to build in international waters in order to establish new nations and spur competitive governance from the outside. But the expense of building in remote oceanic areas, along with the access to land these proposed cities would need, convinced the organization to build its first prototypes adjacent to a nation or territory.
And these floating cities, in the shape of a small square or pentagon at least 50 meters (180 feet) on each side, promise a bevy of sustainable benefits.
They would be powered by solar, allowing them to function completely off the grid. Their design also suggests that they could host small-scale aquaculture and desalination projects.
But at first, they will not come cheap: Joe Quirk, an author and spokesman for the Seasteading Institute, said that the cost to build floating communities and house residents in three-story homes would cost just over $500 a square foot a price equivalent to real estate prices in London or Manhattan.
And therein lie some head-scratching questions. Randolph Hencken, executive director of the Seasteading Institute, told the New York Timesthe cost of building these cities could become cheaper and more scalable as more of them are constructed.
That would allow these communities to house citizens in low-lying island nations that are most vulnerable to sea-level rise. But as outlined in the Guardian, plenty of Tahitians and other French Polynesians see such a development as a ruse to allow wealthy foreigners to move to the South Pacific in order to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.
Furthermore, challenges such as waste management and procuring resources such as food are overlooked and left unanswered.
Then there are the logistics that could become involved if a community no longer wants to be subjected to a particular government: Where would residents move its platform?
Even Thiel, who has not been involved with the Seasteading Institute for several years, told Maureen Dowd of the New York Times earlier this month that such a utopia will not be the reality until far into the future. Theyre not quite feasible from an engineering perspective, he said.
Unless the Seasteading Institute and its allies can prove these floating platforms are more of a tangible climate change solution than a futuristic vacation or duty-free getaway, critics will insist that such money could be better spent on climate mitigation, healthcare or education.
Image credit: Gabriel Sheare, Luke & Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White (Roark 3D)
Originally posted here:
Posted: January 31, 2017 at 9:53 am
A bold vision of the near future: cities built on floating platforms in the ocean, where people will forge their own governments and by living sustainably will solve many of our critical environmental problems.
Our planet is suffering from serious environmental problems: coastal flooding due to severe storms caused in part by atmospheric pollution, diminishing natural resources such as clean water, and so on. But while these problems plague Planet Earth, two-thirds of our globe is Planet Ocean. The seas can be home to pioneers, seasteaders, who are willing to homestead the Blue Frontier. Oil platforms and cruise ships already inhabit the waters; now its time to take the next step to full-fledged ocean civilizations. In their fascinating examination of a practical solution to our earthly problems, Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman profile some of the visionaries who are implementing basic concepts of seasteading: farming the oceans for new sources of nutrition; using the seas as a new sustainable energy source; establishing more equitable economies; reinventing architecture to accommodate the demands of living on the ocean.
These pioneers include Ricardo Radulovich, an agricultural water scientist who has built prototypes for giant seaweed farms to create new food sources; Neil Sims, a biologist who has invented new sustainable free-floating fish farms; Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, a biotechnology entrepreneur investing heavily in algae fuel to replace fossil fuels; Patrick Takahashi, a biochemical engineer who wants to create floating cities that draw on the oceans as an energy source, and many others. Their research efforts have been supported by organizations like the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lockheed Martin.
An entrepreneurs dream, these floating cities will become laboratories for innovation and creativity. Seasteading may be visionary, but it already has begun proving the adage that yesterdays science fiction is tomorrows science fact. Welcome to seavilization.
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Posted: January 27, 2017 at 5:54 am
Principal Architect at NADAAA, Professor MIT (USA)
Nader Tehrani is professor of architecture at MIT, where he served as the Head of the Department from 2010-2014. He is also Principal of NADAAA, a practice dedicated to the advancement of design innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and an intensive dialogue with the construction industry.
Tehrani received a B.F.A. and a B.Arch from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1985 and 1986 respectively. He continued his studies at the Architectural Association, where he attended the Post-Graduate program in History and Theory. Upon his return to United States, Tehrani received M.A.U.D from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1991. Tehrani has also taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Georgia Institute of Technology where he served as the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished Chair in Architectural Design, and University of Toronto as the Frank O. Gehry International Visiting Chair.
As the principal and founder of Office dA, Tehranis work has been recognized with notable awards, including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture (2007), the United States Artists Fellowship in Architecture and Design (2007), and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Architecture (2002). He has also received the Harleston Parker Award for the Northeastern University Multi-faith Spiritual Center (2002) and the Hobson Award for the Georgia Institute of Technology Hinman Research Building (2012). Throughout his career, Tehrani has received fifteen Progressive Architecture Awards as well as numerous AIA, Boston Society of Architects and ID awards. In 2013 and 2014, NADAAA was ranked no. 1 in design for Architect Magazines Top 50 Firms in the United States.
Tehrani has lectured widely at institutions including the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Harvard University, Princeton University and the Architectural Association. Tehrani has participated in many symposia including the Monterey Design Conference (2009), the Buell Center Contemporary Architecture and its Consequences at Columbia University (2009), and the Graduate School of Design Beyond the Harvard Box (2006).
The works of Nader Tehrani have been widely exhibited at MOMA, LA MOCA and ICA Boston. His work is also part of the permanent collection of the Canadian Center for Architecture and the Nasher Sculpture Center.
Having won the commissions of three Schools of Architecture, Tehrani has completed the Hinman Research Building at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne, and is currently working on completion of the and the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.
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Posted: December 11, 2016 at 7:54 am
Following the election of Donald Trump, some Americans are asking whether they should move to Canada. Yet a more radical idea is re-emerging as a vehicle for political liberty, namely seasteading. Thats the founding of new and separate governance units on previously unoccupied territory, possibly on the open seas.
Imagine, for instance, autonomously governed sea platforms, with a limited number of citizens selling health and financial services to the rest of the world. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence might make the construction and settlement of such institutions more practical than it seemed 15 years ago.
Although seasteading is sometimes viewed as an extension of self-indulgent Silicon Valley utopianism, we should not dismiss the idea too quickly. Variants on seasteading led to the founding of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the caveat that conquest was involved, as these territories were not unsettled at the time. Circa 2016, there is a potential seasteading experiment due in French Polynesia. The melting of the Arctic ice may open up new areas for human settlement. Chinese construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea raises the prospect that the private sector, or a more liberty-oriented government, might someday do the same. Along more speculative lines, there is talk about someday colonizing Mars or even Titan, a moon of Saturn.
On the intellectual front, a book about seasteading, by Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman, is due out in March of 2017.
Seasteading obviously faces significant obstacles. The eventual constraint is probably not technology in the absolute sense, but whether there is enough economic motive to forsake the benefits of densely populated human settlements and the protection of traditional nation-states. Many nations have effective corporate tax rates in the 10- to 20-per cent range, which doesnt seem confiscatory enough to take to the high seas for economic motives alone.
Furthermore, current outposts such as Dubai, Singapore and the Cayman Islands offer varied legal and regulatory environments for doing business, in addition to the comforts of landlubber society. More and more foreign businesses are incorporating in Delaware to enjoy the benefits of American law. So, for all the inefficiencies and petty tyrannies of the modern world, seasteading faces pretty stiff competition.
Counterintuitively, I see the greatest promise for seasteading as a path toward more rather than less human companionship.
It is sometimes forgotten there is a good deal of de facto seasteading today, in the form of cruise ships. They sail in international waters, are owned by private corporations and the law on board is generated by contract and governed by private arbitration. Plenty of cruise lines and ships compete for business in a relatively unregulated environment, with global business approaching $40 billion a year, in the range of the gross domestic product of countries such as Ghana, Serbia or Turkmenistan.
One lesson of current seasteading is that it is not much of a vehicle for political liberty. To be sure, customers choose their cruise lines freely. (You might opt for the forthcoming Donald Trump Victory Cruise.) Still, the actual substance of most cruise contracts brings little democratic participation or libertarian autonomy on the high seas. The cruise companies dont hesitate to regulate passenger behaviour for the good of the broader enterprise.
The second and more important lesson is that some of the elderly have started living on cruise ships full-time. A good assisted-living facility might cost $80,000 a year in the U.S., more than many year-long cruises. (Cruising could also be cheaper than living in an expensive neighbourhood.) Furthermore, the cruise offers regular contact with other passengers and also the crew, and the lower average age means that fewer of ones friends and acquaintances are passing away. The weather may be better, and there is the option of going onshore to visit relatives and go shopping.
The cruise ship removes the elderly from full-service hospitals, but on the plus side, regular social contact is good for health, passengers are watched much of the time and there is a doctor minutes away. Better health and human companionship could be major motives for this form of seasteading. I could imagine many more of the elderly going this route in the future, and some cruise lines already are offering regular residences on board.
The goal of this seasteading enterprise is to pack people more tightly together rather than to open up broad new vistas for a Wild West kind of settlement. The proprietors make physical space more scarce, not less, to induce better clustering. So seasteading does have a future, but it is to join and build a new and crowded communitarian project, not to get away from one. Cowen is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation.
Originally posted here:
Posted: November 21, 2016 at 11:06 am
I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself libertarian.
But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. By tracing out the development of my thinking, I hope to frame some of the challenges faced by all classical liberals today.
As a Stanford undergraduate studying philosophy in the late 1980s, I naturally was drawn to the give-and-take of debate and the desire to bring about freedom through political means. I started a student newspaper to challenge the prevailing campus orthodoxies; we scored some limited victories, most notably in undoing speech codes instituted by the university. But in a broader sense we did not achieve all that much for all the effort expended. Much of it felt like trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I; there was a lot of carnage, but we did not move the center of the debate. In hindsight, we were preaching mainly to the choir even if this had the important side benefit of convincing the choirs members to continue singing for the rest of their lives.
As a young lawyer and trader in Manhattan in the 1990s, I began to understand why so many become disillusioned after college. The world appears too big a place. Rather than fight the relentless indifference of the universe, many of my saner peers retreated to tending their small gardens. The higher ones IQ, the more pessimistic one became about free-market politics capitalism simply is not that popular with the crowd. Among the smartest conservatives, this pessimism often manifested in heroic drinking; the smartest libertarians, by contrast, had fewer hang-ups about positive law and escaped not only to alcohol but beyond it.
As one fast-forwards to 2009, the prospects for a libertarian politics appear grim indeed. Exhibit A is a financial crisis caused by too much debt and leverage, facilitated by a government that insured against all sorts of moral hazards and we know that the response to this crisis involves way more debt and leverage, and way more government. Those who have argued for free markets have been screaming into a hurricane. The events of recent months shatter any remaining hopes of politically minded libertarians. For those of us who are libertarian in 2009, our education culminates with the knowledge that the broader education of the body politic has become a fools errand.
Indeed, even more pessimistically, the trend has been going the wrong way for a long time. To return to finance, the last economic depression in the United States that did not result in massive government intervention was the collapse of 192021. It was sharp but short, and entailed the sort of Schumpeterian creative destruction that could lead to a real boom. The decade that followed the roaring 1920s was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians have rendered the notion of capitalist democracy into an oxymoron.
In the face of these realities, one would despair if one limited ones horizon to the world of politics. I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called social democracy.
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. Let me briefly speak to three such technological frontiers:
(1) Cyberspace. As an entrepreneur and investor, I have focused my efforts on the Internet. In the late 1990s, the founding vision of PayPal centered on the creation of a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were. In the 2000s, companies like Facebook create the space for new modes of dissent and new ways to form communities not bounded by historical nation-states. By starting a new Internet business, an entrepreneur may create a new world. The hope of the Internet is that these new worlds will impact and force change on the existing social and political order. The limitation of the Internet is that these new worlds are virtual and that any escape may be more imaginary than real. The open question, which will not be resolved for many years, centers on which of these accounts of the Internet proves true.
(2) Outer space. Because the vast reaches of outer space represent a limitless frontier, they also represent a limitless possibility for escape from world politics. But the final frontier still has a barrier to entry: Rocket technologies have seen only modest advances since the 1960s, so that outer space still remains almost impossibly far away. We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space, but we also must be realistic about the time horizons involved. The libertarian future of classic science fiction, la Heinlein, will not happen before the second half of the 21st century.
(3) Seasteading. Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans. To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.
The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.
A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology. The future will be much better or much worse, but the question of the future remains very open indeed. We do not know exactly how close this race is, but I suspect that it may be very close, even down to the wire. Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.
For this reason, all of us must wish Patri Friedman the very best in his extraordinary experiment.
Editors Note:Mr. Thiel has further elaborated on the question of suffrage here. We copy these remarks below as well:
I had hoped my essay on the limits of politics would provoke reactions, and I was not disappointed. But the most intense response has been aimed not at cyberspace, seasteading, or libertarian politics, but at a commonplace statistical observation about voting patterns that is often called the gender gap.
It would be absurd to suggest that womens votes will be taken away or that this would solve the political problems that vex us. While I dont think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.
Voting is not under siege in America, but many other rights are. In America, people are imprisoned for using even very mild drugs, tortured by our own government, and forced to bail out reckless financial companies.
I believe that politics is way too intense. Thats why Im a libertarian. Politics gets people angry, destroys relationships, and polarizes peoples vision: the world is us versus them; good people versus the other. Politics is about interfering with other peoples lives without their consent. Thats probably why, in the past, libertarians have made little progress in the political sphere. Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian.
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Posted: September 3, 2016 at 11:36 pm
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Patri Friedman wants to make it easy for anyone to build an independent country: “If we make one seastead, there’s room for thousands.” Photo:Dustin Aksland
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 dailyif not hourlyin 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.
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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 failwhich, let’s face it, is the most likely outcomethey 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 Instituteand of this gatheringis 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 standardsif we make one seastead, there’s room for thousands.”
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.
1// Living Platform
2// Water Supply
3// Foot Tanks
4// Engine Room
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 Fran7ois 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 oceanhis 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 perspectivea 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, SeaSteadingHomesteading 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 findthe 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 investor Peter 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 idealsa 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 thatthat’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 architect Alexia 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 enterpriseslike euthanasia clinicswould 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.
During the Seasteading conference, Vince Cate showed video of a floating prototype of his own design: The WaterWalker, a tripod lashed to three soccer balls.
(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 Ephemerisle on 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 the logisticsand advisabilityof 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!”
Senior editor Chris Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote about Star Wars continuity in issue 16.09.
Originally posted here:
Posted: August 10, 2016 at 9:11 pm
An organization in which Paypal founder Peter Thiel is an investor is aiming to build a floating city-state by 2020. The Seasteading Institute says semi-independent floating cities would provide an opportunity to try out new modes of government and could also tackle a number of other problems.
The Seasteading Institute says the development of floating cities is the first step in fulfilling what it calls the “8 Great Moral Imperatives,” which include feeding the hungry, enriching the poor, curing the sick, cleaning the atmosphere, restoring the oceans, living in balance with nature, powering civilization sustainably and and putting an end to fighting.
The Institute believes that, in order to achieve these ambitions, humanity must harness the oceans. It cites their potential for providing space to accommodate a growing global population, for providing a source of food, and for being used to generate sustainable energy.
Not only would floating cities with some degree of independence lend themselves to these ideals, but the Seasteading Institute argues that they could create more innovative start-up governments unlike what it calls the “monopolies” of today. Now, it argues, individuals are born arbitrarily into states created by past wars and cannot change the government to which they are affiliated without leaving their home. Floating city-states, however, would allow individuals to sail their home to a new colony if they disagreed with the way a government was operating.
The Seasteading Institute argues that this would force governments to compete to attract citizens in a way that they currently do not. The city-states would be like floating jigsaws that could be shifted and reassembled at will, with popular and effective governments attracting more inhabitants. Indeed, governments could only form if people chose to attach to each other.
Since Gizmag last featured the Seasteading Institute, the group has had a feasibility report published by Dutch design firm Deltasync, crowdfunded a floating city design and explored other floating city designs. The Institute believes that there is a market for the concept, that it could be developed to a price-point suitable for the market, and that it can find a nation willing to host a residential seastead with significant autonomy.
Deltasync’s initial design took the form of modular platforms that could slot together. The platforms would either be 50 x 50 m (164 x 164 ft) reinforced concrete squares or pentagons with 50-m (164-ft) sides and could support three-story buildings. Apartments, terraced housing, office space and hotels were all factored into the design. The initial concept is based on 11 modules that together could host 225-300 full-time residents and would cost an estimated US$167 million.
The Seasteading Institute says that its work surveying potential customers is ongoing, and that it is in negotiations with coastal nations to develop the first floating city with substantial political independence.
The video below is a short talk given by Seasteading Institute spokesperson Joe Quirk and provides an overview of the concept and plans.
Source: Seasteading Institute