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Ethereum: Leapfrogging City Hall Legal Technologies

September 10, 2014

Vitalik Buterin and the others on the Ethereum project have raised more than $15 million for their effort to expand the technology underlying Bitcoin to new uses. (Vitalik is a Thiel Fellow, a program I help run.) Wired’s coverage

A year ago, Vitalik Buterin was a teenaged college dropout dabbling in the bitcoin digital currency. Now, he’s the founder of a futuristic programming project that just got backed to the tune of $15 million.

The project is called Ethereum—an effort to transform the kind of technology used in bitcoin into something that can help you build, well, anything—and after a two-month Kickstarter-style crowdfunding campaign, it has raised 30,000 bitcoin, or close to $15 million at today’s bitcoin prices. According to Buterin, Ethereum could represent the future of the blockchain—the cryptographically backed distributed public ledger that drives bitcoin—and apparently, many others agree with him.

Ethereum will let engineers build applications that rely on the distributed consensus made possible by the blockchain. One new possible application fits in nicely as a stepping to stone to opt out/opt in governance. With the Ethereum platform, you could build a public ledger that verifies title and the exchange of property. Instead of going to town hall to authenticate a sale of land–or better, instead having no town hall at all as is the case in the developing world–a community could use the Ethereum platform as a system of recordation.  Smart phone penetration is deep in the developing world, and, as M-Pesa has shown in Kenya, people will leapfrog old tech and migrate to the new. 


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Time to Revive This Blog

September 9, 2014

I’m going to start writing again here as an exercise. My blogging hiatus has demonstrated to me the intellectually obvious truth that writing helps to clarify your thinking. So for selfish reasons, here we go.

Competitive governance will remain the main theme, but I now see a flawed assumption in the title of this blog. It would be nice of course if more nations bloomed, but recent struggles in various markets between state-protected interests and new entrants have led me to see that perhaps the opt out/opt in model of competitive governance will not occur at the level of the city or region first, but instead cascade industry by industry. To take one example, Uber, Lyft and other similar services let customers opt out of the taxi cab medallion system of governance and opt into a reputation and credit based system of transport. City residents who want to use the old system are welcome to keep hailing cabs with a whistle (or in San Francisco, keep waiting indefinitely), while others may opt out and into the mobile summon at command model.

Likewise, Bitcoin lets people opt out of the fiat money system; AirBnB lets travelers opt out of the regulated hotel industry; charter schools free students from public schools; the Thiel Fellowship, technologists from college, and so on. Or as I recently mused:

I expect I’ll be writing frequently on technologies that enhance the power of exit.


The Inverse Amish

January 3, 2014

Balaji Srinivasan makes a great analogy

Just like the Amish live nearby, peacefully, in the past – imagine a society of Inverse Amish that lives nearby, peacefully, in the future. A place where Google Glass wearers are normal, where self-driving cars and delivery drones aren’t restricted by law, and where we can experiment with new technologies *without* causing undue disruption to others. Think of this like a Special Innovation Zone similar to the Special Economic Zones that Deng Xiaoping used to allow China to experiment with capitalism in a controlled way.

9) In sum: I believe that regulations exist for a reason. And I believe that new technologies will keep coming up against existing rulesets. I don’t believe the solution is either to change the rulesets (which, again, exist for a reason) OR to give up on new technology. I think instead we need a third solution: a way to exit (whether to the cloud for purely digital technologies, or to a Special Innovation Zone or ultimately a startup nation), prove/disprove these new technologies among a self-selected, opt-in group of risk-tolerant early adopters, and report back to the mothership on what works and what doesn’t.

10) This concept – a Special Innovation Zone – is a new idea. It is really about humility, not hostility. USG is a big thing, it has a lot of responsibilities, it runs a nation of 300M people, and it can’t just change federal laws to permit some crazy tech guys to try (say) self-driving cars without affecting millions of people. A new region – like a Special Innovation Zone – can experiment with this kind of thing without bothering anyone who wishes to live under the previous rulesets.

Again: this is complementary to USG’s own efforts. I don’t see them as competitive, anymore than a startup competes with IBM’s research labs.


The new American Nations

November 17, 2013

In traditional media, the American political and cultural divide is broken down into two factions – red states and blue states, representing the ends of the one-dimensional political spectrum from conservatism to liberalism (the colors, oddly, being reversed from the typical historical association). But author Colin Woodward finds not two, but  eleven distinct American regional cultures. A writeup in the Tufts University alumni magazine comes with a tantalizing graphic:


The deep cultural differences in the United States prevent regions from coming to agreement on national policy and influence the formation of coalitions. For example, the attitude towards federal government regulation is different between the descendants of communal Quakers and Puritans in Yankeedom and the fiercely independent Scots-Irish of Greater Appalachia.

I’m addicted to secession-maps, so you get one more. This blog post shows what would happen if the State and Federal governments of the USA collapsed and territory fell under the control of city-states. The power that a city can project over each point of land area is modeled as a function of population divided by an exponential function of the distance, with the most powerful city winning dominion.


Burning for the Sea

November 17, 2013

The dream of Seasteading is catching on in the greater Burning Man community. The cultural separatist festival has long held a contentious relationship with local authorities whom they pay for event permits every year. In exchange, the authorities provide law enforcement and emergency services to the festival, some of which, such as drug busts, are not welcome.

In their search for total creative freedom over their own culture and lives, it was inevitable that Burners be drawn to the last Earthly frontier – international waters. The melding of Burning Man’s culture of creativity and self-reliance with the more explicitly secessionist dream of Seasteading was the raison d’être for the Ephemerisle festival in the first place.


ephemerisle-bubble (1)

Google’s mysterious barge parked at Treasure Island further stokes the imagination of Burners drawn to the creative freedom of the high seas. It is now known to be used for some sort of massive floating art and technology exhibit, to be over 50 feet tall and 250 feet long when construction is finished.

Google has been largely closed-mouthed about its waterborne behemoth. After rumors circulated that it was going to be a showroom, a floating data center that could be used in the event of a natural disaster, or perhaps a big party boat, the company issued a statement Wednesday calling it an “interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”

Asked to comment Thursday on the planning documents, which we obtained from the port under the Freedom of Information Act, Google officials sent us the same brief statement they issued a day before.

Whatever it is, the barge’s backers expect it to draw 1,000 visitors a day as it sails from spot to spot around the bay. Among the envisioned mooring sites are Piers 30-32 and other San Francisco docks, Fort Mason, Angel Island, Redwood City and Rosie the RiveterHistorical National Park in Richmond.

As yet, there is no information as to whether the Google barge backers were inspired by Ephemerisle.

The Geeks shall inherit the Earth

November 17, 2013

Balaji Srinivasan speaks at Startup School 2013 about technology that enables political exit

The Floating City Project: Help TSI Raise Money on Indiegogo

August 15, 2013

Mike here. It’s been slow here at Let a Thousand Nations Bloom. But in case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, I wanted to post the Seasteading Institutute’s  Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for designing the first floating city. They plan on working with Deltasync, a Dutch architecture firm with expertise in building floating structures. You don’t have to be Rockefella to help a fella (or to kickstart a new frontier). Please help put the campaign over the top!

The Floating City Project

The strategy behind this project is to accelerate the creation of an actual floating city while making seasteading – pioneering the oceans and creating new societies – accessible to the average person. Our years of engineering and legal research, combined with the input of our community, has culminated in our latest strategy to produce pragmatic plans for the first floating city. We realize that it will be more economically feasible to locate a seastead as close to an active port as possible, instead of international waters. Locating near shore will greatly reduce costs compared to mooring a platform in deeper waters. It will also reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from the seastead, making it easier for residents to take the plunge into ocean living.


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