Peter Thiel has all but given up on his dream of a libertarian utopia in the middle of the ocean.
In 2008, the billionaire venture capitalist launched a group on a mission to develop a
floating city, called a seastead, that would serve as a permanent, politically autonomous settlement. He invested some $1.7 million in The Seasteading Institute, and resigned from its board in 2011.
In a new, high-profile interview with Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, Thiel dismissed the floating city as an improbable architectural feat.
“They’re not quite feasible from an engineering perspective,” Thiel told The Times. “That’s still very far in the future.”
During President-elect Donald Trump’s roller coaster ride to the White House, Thiel emerged as Trump’s most high-profile supporter in Silicon Valley. He gave
$1.25 million to the campaign, stirring up controversy in the left-leaning tech capital of the world.
As hints of a new Cold War ramp up, the concept of a seastead — a literal island unto itself — may have new appeal. The Seasteading Institute, at least, is soldiering on without Thiel.
Last fall, the group met with officials in French Polynesia, an island chain located in the South Pacific, and discussed plans to develop a seastead off its coast. If things go as planned, the institute might break ground as early as 2017, a spokesperson told Business Insider.
The new city could consist of two or three platforms that each cover half a football field and house 30 people. Should the pilot program prove successful, more platforms would be added.
For years, the Seasteading Institute wanted to set up camp in international waters. Eventually, the group determined the costs of building hundreds of miles from any shoreline, away from an existing nation, were too extravagant. So the Institute decided to team up with a host country.
French Polynesia fit the bill. The Seasteading Institute’s executive director Randolph Hencken told Business Insider in October he would not expect the island chain to impose a regulatory body on the seastead. Still, residents would be required to obey numerous French Polynesian and French laws, most likely those related to crime and environmental standards.
As Thiel suggested, many challenges remain. Hencken named a few, including developing an island foundation that can withstand seawater for 100 years, and establishing a special economic zone, where business and trade laws on the seastead differ from those in French Polynesia.
Hencken said the starting cost of construction on the seastead could reach $30 million. Each additional platform could set the group back an additional $15 million. The institute hopes to raise money from a handful of investors, whom Hencken declined to name, as well as future residents and interested parties in the maritime industry.
One thing’s certain: Thiel isn’t moving to a seastead anytime soon.
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