Sunday, May 25, 2008

Seasteading and Polar Cities in the Future

A group of people in California have come up with a novel idea they have dubbed "seasteading" and there is a website about it now, lots of PR online from Wired and Gizmodo and Slashdot, and a US$500,000 pot of gold donated by a PayPal philanthropist, and it's a good read:

Question for you: could these seasteading towers be useful as part of the adaptation process for global warming in the year 2500? Could some of them be anchored off the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Russia, etc, for use by survivors of global warming's more disastrous "events" 30 generations down THE ROAD?

Probably not, since they can only house a few families, maybe 100 people at most. But who knows? The creative idea is worth looking into. Seasteading. Google the word and study up on it. Getting lots of press, as we blog.


When I emailed one of the seasteaders about the project, he told me:

Hello Danny,

I had never heard of polar cities idea before. Sounds interesting,

Personally, we are focused in working on topics of direct relevance to
human progress this century. Our viewpoint is that 2500 is far
enough away that we can't predict what their problems will be (imagine
someone in the year 1500 trying to predict what our problems will be
in 2000!). Hence, we don't think it is very productive to look that
far ahead such as you are doing with polar cities....

Also, when it comes to global warming specifically, we think it is
exceedingly foolish to be more worried about global warming than
global cooling.

The latter is a disaster orders of magnitude worse, and just as
likely. For most of the past hundred thousand years, most of North
America was covered with ice - a mile thick over Chicago.

Finally, the mobility of seasteads means that they are far more
adaptable to global climate change in either direction, since entire
cities can move without anyone having to leave their homes. So the

work that we are doing on seasteads will, in the long-term, help
address climate change concerns.

Thus we prefer to focus entirely on seasteading, rather than helping
out projects such as yours. But we wish you the best of luck.




Anonymous said...

Paypal Founder Puts a Half Million Dollars Into Seasteading

Slashdot - May 21, 2008

eldavojohn writes "Wired is running an informative article on Paypal Founder Peter Thiel's investment in seasteading. There's a great graphic indicating how ...

G4 TV Seasteading Institute to Live in the Open Water
G4 TV, CA - May 21, 2008
Friedman says it will cost a few hundred million dollars to build a seastead for a few thousand people and that it would be affordable. ...
Seasteading: The New Frontier
World Hum, CA - May 20, 2008
The Seasteading Institute, launched in part with a $500000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, outlines its mission in its FAQ. ...
Checkpoint Travel 101 in Israel World Hum
all 2 news articles »
News for nerds, stuff that matters
Slashdot - May 23, 2008
eldavojohn writes "Wired is running an informative article on Paypal Founder Peter Thiel's investment in seasteading. There's a great graphic indicating how ...

SlashGear Seasteading floating home project gets $500k boost
SlashGear, AZ - May 19, 2008
The concept suggests that, where changing populations and public-sector models in traditional habitats is difficult and time-expensive, using Seasteads ...
NPR's Bryant Park Place Chats with WiSci About Seasteads
Wired News - May 21, 2008
In brief: Patri Friedman, a Google engineer, and Wayne Gramlich, a former Sun programmer, created a new organization called The Seasteading Institute and ...
Islands in the Net, a perennially popular notion
Wired News - May 19, 2008
"With a $500000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a Google engineer and a former Sun Microsystems programmer have launched The Seasteading Institute ... Rich Nerds Want To Build A Utopian City In The Ocean And...Wait A ..., NY - May 20, 2008
A lesson lost on three super-rich SIlicon Valley types (including the founder of PayPal), who have founded the the Seasteading Institute, with the goal of ...

Gizmodo Australia Silicon Valley Nerds Plan Sea-Based Utopian Country to Call Their Own
Gizmodo Australia, Australia - May 20, 2008
Led by PayPal founder Peter Thiel and a Google engineer and Sun programmer, the Seasteading project aims to allow people who are looking to live independent ...
RPR: Want to Move to Ron Paulville?
Nolan Chart LLC, VA - May 7, 2008
Seasteading, or "homesteading on the high seas," is an idea that has long attracted libertarians and others who would like to see a little more competition

Anonymous said...

Homesteading on the High Seas

Reason Online, CA - Apr 28, 2008

And last week, Thiel announced a $500000 investment—the same amount he put into Facebook in June 2004-in the Seasteading Institute. ...
A Speed Bump on the Road to Paulville
Nolan Chart LLC, VA - May 14, 2008
Now, I like the idea of creating communities in the Free State Project/Paulville mold, but I think I much prefer, as I wrote before, the "Seasteading" idea ...

Wired News Researcher Pushes Enormous Floating Solar Islands
Wired News - May 20, 2008
All that said, we can't help but think that this would be a great way to power The Seasteading Institute's floating ocean colonies.
Homesteading the ocean
St. George Daily Spectrum, UT - May 1, 2008
Earlier this month, a California non-profit called The Seasteading Institute announced its intent to create "autonomous ocean communities," where people of ...

Kotaku Australia Rich Nerds Want To Build A Utopian City In The Ocean And...Wait A ...
Kotaku Australia, Australia - May 20, 2008
A lesson lost on three super-rich SIlicon Valley types (including the founder of PayPal), who have founded the the Seasteading Institute, with the goal of ...
Peter Thiel Makes Down Payment on Libertarian Ocean Colonies
All Things D Blogs, CA - May 20, 2008

With a $500000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a Google engineer and a former Sun Microsystems programmer have launched the Seasteading Institute, ...

Anonymous said...

Seasteads provide flexibility for climate change

Says the Captain :

There is a lot of debate and worry about climate change. Most are worried about warming and sea level rises, which would cover coastal land and reduce usable landmass. Others are worried about global cooling. A significant swing in either direction would substantially change the latitudes at which human life is most comfortable.

Which is where seasteads come in. The more of the earth's population and economy which are on seasteads, the more robustness the world has against climate change. Unlike traditional buildings on land, seasteads are geographically flexible. Our main motivation for this is to empower people to create and choose societies to live in, but like any great idea, it has all sorts of accidental benefits as well.

Geographic flexibility means that we can move in response to a natural disaster like global climate change without losing everything we've built. The same goes for political climate - if a superpower like the US or China becomes virulently anti-seastead, we can move towards their antipodes. None of this gives perfect protection - superpowers can reach around the world, and climate change may have negative consequences everywhere. But it sure beats being tied to an immovable piece of dirt.

On a lighter note, as I wrote when discussing climate change on my personal blog:

So, you guys are pretty much saying that global warming will bring on an orgy of war and such a way that only seasteads will survive and thrive?

No wonder I'm fond of it! :)

Personally, I believe that the great challenge with global climate change is the uncertainty - not knowing when or whether things are going to get warmer (as we'd expect from increasing CO2 levels) or cooler (as a brief glance at the historical temperature record suggests). So I'll let others worry about active interventions like reducing emissions - we at TSI are going to focus on building a world of unprecedented geographic flexibility, which will be robust against whatever Mother Earth ends up throwing at us.

Anonymous said...

Off-the-shelf seasteading
Every year millions of people spend days or weeks on cruises, but Patri Friedman, Wayne Gramlich, and their fellow Seasteaders want to live on the sea full time. They want, essentially, to conduct political experiments in mobile communities as free as possible from sovereign jurisdictions. To do this, they are designing extravagant new kinds of structures that they believe will withstand the violent storms and other harsh conditions that can occur offshore.

Besides tourism and jurisdictional arbitrage, there are a variety of other economic incentives to live on the ocean. Fishing and fish processing often involve employees spending many months at sea. Oil, diamonds, and soon a wide variety of other kinds of minerals are increasingly being extracted as land-based minerals are slowly depleted.

Gramlich and Friedman have a very admirable goal but are trying to do too many things in parallel. They seem to have spent far more time in creating futuristic designs from scratch than in figuring out how to retrofit normal ships or mobile offshore oil platforms. On top of this is their important but novel and ambitious political experiment in lowering exit costs. While there are some relationships between the politics and the engineering, a better approach is to innovate in one area at a time. Design novel offshore technology, or design novel offshore communities, but don't try to do too much of both at once.

Friedman voices a complaint, hardly uncommon in the world of engineering, that he has a hard time communicating with ocean engineers. I suspect the problem is that Friedman and Gramlich have taken their designs, whether workable or not, far away from the kinds of designs ocean engineers are used to analyzing. If they just started with normal ships and offshore platforms, then used such equipment as building blocks for larger structures, rather than trying to reinvent ocean engineering from scratch, they would not lack for experienced engineers to understand their designs and shops to assemble them.

Sure, such structures seem crude and inefficient compared with the elegant and optimal structures that might be designed in theory. But they would be a far less expensive way to demonstrate the political and economic viability of seasteading. And they could be shown to offshore engineers who could quickly recognize most major problems they might have. The Friedman/Gramlich approach excites the imagination, but a far more incremental approach is needed to make it work. To take up Friedman's analogy: if all that exists are military planes, and you want to start the first civilian airline, don't try designing civilian planes and civilian airports from scratch. Just buy a bomber, yank out the bomb bays and guns, install passenger seats, get permission to use a couple military airports, take a few test flights, and start selling tickets. The first version may well fall very short of the optimal or ideal you have in mind, but it will give you the experience and the revenue needed to improve the design and approach that optimal.

The biggest technological hurdle to meeting the requirements of the political experiment is probably the ability to join and separate the floating platforms at low cost. They must be moored and yet withstand the harshest storms (or alternatively to anticipate the storm, quickly unmoor, ride out the storm separately, and remoor when normalcy returns). This problem is mentioned briefly here but as far as I know, Seasteaders have not come up with a good solution for it.

Mooring in rough water is a hard problem -- there are good reasons docks lie in sheltered bays. Ship-to-ship refueling, a common naval procedure, has long been very dangerous in bad weather. Ships and platforms loosely moored with cables can easily collide, smashed together by wind and wave, with devastating consequences. Friedman and Gramlich believe that their ideal platform will have "no" bobbing, lateral movement, or tilting from waves and wind. But oil platforms do exhibit enough such movements that trying to keep them moored together with traditional techniques in a storm would be highly dangerous. Cables could not prevent the platforms from colliding with high force, whereas a completely rigid mooring that coupled the movements of all the joined platforms would likely fail from strain.

Some good old Internet searching digs up the fact that folks in the deep sea oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) industries have solved a similar problem -- how to offload fluids offshore, from FPSOs to tankers or from tankers to offshore pipeline terminals. For example the LNG industry needs to be able to hook up the huge LNG tankers to the offshore offloading terminals even in storms. One solution to this is the soft yoke flexible mooring. This is often abbreviated "SYMO" for "soft yoke mooring and offloading". It allows ships to moor to each other without the dangers of approaching and colliding in rough wind and water.

A soft yoke flexible mooring (SYMO) for yoking ships together, even in rough waves and most storms. The design allows each ship to ride the waves separately, greatly reducing the strain on the yoke, while keeping them from approaching or dispersing.

Here's how I might do an experiment in offshore political mobility using off-the-shelf equipment or minor variations on same (this "mixed" version, as the Seasteaders would call it, is not terribly original to me, except for including a workable mooring technology):

(1) Get a few dozen yacht owners to participate as volunteers. ("Yacht" here just refers to any seaworthy boat capable of mooring to other such craft and to larger platforms with SYMOs).

(2) Set up a system of two or more privately owned offshore anchored moorings: tough cable moorings such as those used by large ships in the oil industry (eg FPSOs).

(3) Attach a small old cruise ship or retrofitted oil platform to each anchored mooring. These should be large enough to have most of the infrastructure a small cruise ship would have, and be able to provide basic services to the yachts.

(4) Yachts moor to the larger ship or platform using SYMOs. For oil platforms the SYMOs may have to be heavily modified. Yachts might also moor to each other using SYMOs, but some of the yachts should also be anchor-moored to the ocean floor, unless they don't mind the community drifting.

(5) Yacht owners choose which of the two or more communities they will join.

(6) The cruise ships or platforms that form the core of these communities compete to provide various services, amenities, and political systems.

(7) Yacht owners can either be independently wealthy, or they can make a living by providing services to nearby fishing fleets, fish processors, offshore oil platforms, etc., or by providing temporary quarters for workers of same.

(8) When a storm comes that may be too much for the small SYMOs to withstand, everybody gets on yachts and disperses until the storm blows over.

These communities would look a bit like this offshore floating dock in a sheltered bay near Lund, British Columbia -- but much farther offshore, larger, more robust, and more politically independent.

If you see this coming, scram.

There will be big differences between these salty communities and modern towns. If the local court or zoning board or captain-of-captains won't approve improvements to your yacht, or your desire to set up a gambling house or a stinky fish processing plant, just move your house to another seastead community that will tolerate it. (I suspect fish processors will retain their own separate communities). Low exit costs bring freedom.

One kind of public nuisance that these seasteads may be in special danger of running into is what I call a provocative externality, meaning that besides or instead of being ethically dubious or causing direct harm to the community, they may cause danger to fellow community members by provoking a country to attack the seastead: drug smuggling, money laundering, polygamy, being a haven for terrorists, and so on are examples of activities that could, whether rightly or wrongly, provoke attack. Since many of these activities might also be quite lucrative, the political issues of whether to ban them may cause great tensions. Vulnerability to attack by traditional countries limits the degree of substantive liberty seasteads can achieve -- they will not be able to achieve a perfectly voluntary society within even the substantive law, much less within procedural law, which I now turn to.

The political and legal designs for Seasteads need even more work than the engineering designs. It is not enough to just say that all law be based on contract and thus all will be fine. One must rather tackle crucial issues such as legal procedure. As I have written elsewhere, in response to a claim that Seastead government will not be based on coercion:

No coercion? In these Seasteads, who does the law enforcement, and who or what gives them the right to commit law enforcement acts that are physically equivalent to torts and crimes? What distinguishes arrest from assault and battery, imprisonment from kidnapping, legal distraint of goods from theft, or a legal search from trespass? I think you will find that these societies will have to deal with the very same problems of coercion and procedure as our own governments. Calling a legal document that defines and allocates rights to commit these coercive acts a "contract" instead of a "constitution" may be the Rothbard-correct way to do things, but it doesn't actually go very far towards solving the hard problems of living together in a world where people are often coercive.
It is even more important for the political and legal designs than it is for the engineering designs to take an off-the-shelf approach. Pick a country and subdivisions thereof, either a current or a well-document historical politican and legal system (for example the U.S. and a particular state, county, and town), and use its constitution, statutes, and court precedents as basic legal precedents, which can then be modified by local courts (in a common-law manner) and other local political authorities. If the U.S. is used as a model, I have suggested some basic changes to make its constitution less subject to the growth of government power. Low exit costs will also greatly help. These kinds of macro-political issues will mostly, however, be well beyond the scope of Seasteading unless or until they reach a time when they are large and mature mobile cities. The first ones will, as with cruise ships today, probably just be based on the "captain is king" model that has long dominated sea law. Friedman has even taken to calling himself "Captain Patri". Perhaps seasteads will revive the old paradigm of political property rights. I wish these projects the best of luck.

posted by Nick Szabo on his blog


George Weinberg said...

I like the term "provocative externality", I'll be using it in the future.

I like the idea of starting one's own country in principle, but one reason I think it's likely to be infeasible in practice is that many of the more profitable activities that could be engaged in would fall into the category of "provocative externalities". Even if it weren't really central to the operation, if someone were to park a floating community off the coast of California, unless they community took some pretty restrictive measures to prevent it it seems certain somebody would add a casino, a brothel, a branch office of a Swiss bank. And then the coast guard would likely cause problems for the entire community.