Seasteads, Landgrabs and International Law
In 2008, Patri Friedman, the Google-based grandson of Milton Friedman, came together with Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who founded PayPal, the data analytics company Palantir Technologies, and made early investments in Facebook and several other start-ups, to found ‘The Seasteading Institute’ (TSI). As Joe Quirk, the current president of TSI and author of Seasteading, TSI’s manifesto, tells it:
Peter is a US-rated chess master; Patri has competed in the World Series of Poker. The two strategic thinkers hit it off. After years of contemplating the laws for governance while writing code as an employee at Google, Patri was able to describe to Peter why law is code and why government is in principle an information technology – which means that governance can progress to serve humanity with unimaginable Silicon Valley speed if only subjected to fluid market competition among anyone empowered to innovate. Peter was sold.
The idea that brought together Friedman, Thiel, Quirk, and others involved colonizing the seas by building modular floating structures—houses, office buildings, factory floors, sporting arenas, and so on — that could be arranged into atolls and archipelagos. ‘Seasteads’, as they are called by derivation from ‘homesteads’, are intended to have a dynamic character. TSI suggests that individual units might be detached from one formation and towed to another; and that such formations will in time come to occupy many parts of the ocean, including areas just off state coasts—thus within zones of national jurisdiction—as well as the high seas.