Did Peter Thiel’s massive donation pay off after all? Seasteaders’ slow progress turned into a new opportunity when the government of French Polynesia reached out with an invitation.
In the 2010 era, liberty activists moved forward with a big, first-rate idea and had a first-rate scalable plan for executing it. Known as seasteaders, they founded The Seasteading Institute, most known for their “Floating Island Project”.
The idea is to create a habitats, called seasteads, which are capable of supporting people on the ocean. This includes a possibility of leaving the area if that piece of ocean becomes unsafe for political, climactic or other reasons. The Institute received $1.7 million from PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
Subsequently, they have made some progress, but perhaps less than one might expect for that much money: some physical models and water tests, beautiful designs, substantial publicity, a web forum that is still quite active in the post-web-forum world, and a handful of conferences. But notably, no seasteads. However, the accomplishment to be noted is the external reaction to these modest feats – because of its source rather than the reaction itself.
An early design for a seastead. Image from Wikimedia commons by JackDayton – CC BY 1.0 license.
To preface the accomplishment: With any migrational endeavor which aims to increase freedom, there comes an assumption that the existing inhabitants of the final destination do not become xenophobic (having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries).
But what happened to the seasteaders was the opposite: a government sought them out. Not to threaten, but to invite them to its territorial waters. Being official invitees rather than perceived invaders is a big deal. Nervousness about possible rising sea waters has apparently outweighed nervousness, if any, about construction or inbound foreigners. In early 2017, official representatives of the French Polynesian government signed an agreement with The Seasteading Institute to, as the seasteaders put it, “cooperate on creating legal framework to allow for the development of The Floating Island Project.” There is now a memorandum of understanding between the two institutions.
ICO for Seasteaders
The seasteaders, through their new company, Blue Frontiers, are planning a crypto-related next step. “We are targeting a Fall release,” Managing Director Randolph Hencken tells Crypto Insider. He’s referring to Fall 2017 and the expected introduction of a sort of “seastead coin,” currently referred to simply as a “token offering.”
“I think we will stand out from other crypto assets,” he continues, “as our eventual token in some way will be tied to the physical world of seasteading.”
The expected nature and properties of the token are pretty shrouded in secrecy. The website just says this:
As part of our overall funding strategy, Blue Frontiers is in the final stages of validating a token offering. Our team, lawyers, and consultants have been conducting due diligence over the past months. We’ve taken into account the recent announcements by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, where we are incorporated. We will announce details in the near future. Sign up for our mailing list and be among the first to learn about it.
“We are not in a position today to say much more publicly about our coin offering than we have stated on the website,” adds Hencken. “We still have several important decisions to make internally. I will be happy to share more with you when we have specifics to announce about our eventual token, as well as opportunities for legal blockchain activity within our special economic sea-zone.”
As of August 19th, they had not yet carried through far enough with the hiring process to name the people who will be setting up the token. “Right now,” Hencken writes, “contracts are not complete and it would be unreasonable to name people prematurely.”
In the past, raising funds has not been the weak link in the seasteaders’ chain. The problem has been the enormity of the goal and the limited number of concrete achievements along the way. The “first-rate scalable plan” I refer to above would have involved building tiny model seasteads you might show off in a bathtub. These would be followed by larger and larger, presumably modular examples, re-sellable, each more usable and further from land until you had a full-blown city on international waters. The brilliance of that idea was that even if you only got a tenth of the way to the goal, then at least you probably had an amusing device that person could stand on. If you got halfway, then maybe you had a multi-family mobile dwelling. Thus, even with the smallest progress, you would have something to show for the effort.
A modestly successful initial coin offering (ICO) could easily push the originally-envisioned project from paper to usable device, because it has realistic goals.
Today, the modular idea has survived, and so has the concept of “escalating location.” Seasteaders tend to believe that you can’t just jump from where things currently stand to a full-blown, nation-rising seastead in international waters. So they’ve wisely chosen to try and “build something where they can, and maybe do the rest later” rather than start in the ultimate target location.
But how much of the scalability – the ability to start small and provide small results with small amounts of money – remains? “If something’s wrong,” as the saying goes, “something’s too big.”
Is it feasible?
When you first look at the Blue Frontiers page, it’s easy to get the impression that it comprises of many paid staff. However, the official number is not particularly large – yet. Hencken says they have seven staff who are paid and that the rest are volunteers.
As of now, what Seasteading.org has done with previous fundraising does not seem particularly efficient. The greatly-contributing donor Peter Thiel has thrown up his hands and declared that seasteading is currently impractical, but the seasteaders have made enough progress to keep the dream more-than-alive. They are arguably the world’s second-most-effective “organized migrationists” still in action. And for all the mystery surrounding the token offering, Hencken does have interesting details about the plan.
“Our pilot project in a Tahitian lagoon is planned as a dozen floating islands with an estimated cost of about $5M each,” he writes. “The islands are likely to be 1.5 stories tall and 25 by 25 meters wide. They could house up to 30 people, or be for single families. We also plan to have office space, boutique hotels, community space etc. The project is scalable — it is designed as modules that are interchangeable. We will be releasing new architectural renderings and cost estimates in the coming weeks.”
When you compare the projected prices to those of a multifamily conventional home, the figures do seem realistic. Presumably if they “only” collected 10 million dollars, they could build at least one of these micro-islands. It is not clear what their smallest physical target is, and how much money would suffice. After almost 10 years of the “big picture”, it’s not the long term plan that really counts – it’s the question of whether the seasteaders really go from zero usable floating islands to one usable floating island while we’re still young. Even if that island is just a multi-family dwelling, the effect should be electrical. But until it exists, we are compelled to carry the heavy burden of skepticism.
If the contracts are not complete enough to name the ICO team, but Blue Frontiers goes forward with its target of a Fall token launch; that leaves four months to complete the contracts and launch the token. Will that be enough time to prevent the notorious problems which can endanger a new token?
“It’s so easy to screw up things in running an ICO,” as Santiment founder Maksim Balashevich put it in an unrelated conversation with NeoCash radio.
What happens if the token has a security flaw? Or fails to generate the expected revenue? The Blue Frontiersmen do have other fish in the fire and report they are funding the project to some extent with their own money.
Hencken wrote to Crypto Insider saying:
We are confident that we can finance our project through multiple channels, tokens being one of them. Since the project is planned as a pilot, and it planned to grow organically, there is very little concern about our inability to raise the funds. While I don’t want to discount the challenge and realities of needing to raise the equivalent of tens of millions dollars, we are actively working with brilliant minds and accomplished people across multiple disciplines to bring solutions to other interesting challenges related to the development of the sea-zone and the integration of technologies on the floating islands.
I later e-mailed this question in response: “Lets say you were to raise “only” five million by 2020, which I understand would be more than any project of this type, or any liberty-oriented intentional migration, has ever raised in the past. Would you be able to build one usable floating island with it? What is the plan for dealing with that eventuality? And is that the minimum for being able to build something worth building?”
Four days later I have not received a reply.
A common-but-not-helpful theme in liberty-leaning circles appears to be present. It’s possible to over-focus on “big-ultimate-goal” rather than “small-achievable-objective.”
“We are in the midst of a very large project,” Henken wrote previously, seeming to embrace enormity, “it will take a small and engaged army to accomplish our mission.”
Photo by Ciprian Boiciuc on Unsplash
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