Exploring New Waters: Interview with Michael Keenan

Today we get to talk to Michael Keenan, President of the Seasteading Institute.

The Seasteading Institute “believe(s) that experiments are the source of all progress: to find something better, you have to try something new. But right now, there is no open space for experimenting with new societies. That’s why we work to enable seasteading communities — floating cities — which will allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government. The most successful communities can then inspire change in governments around the world. We’re opening this new frontier because humanity needs better ways to live together to unlock our full potential.” 

  Concept Art of a Seastead by Wendy Sitler-Roddier

For more information on the Seasteading Institute, visit www.seasteading.org



What attracted you to join the Seasteading Institute?

If you look at government as an industry, it’s the most important industry on earth (30% of world GDP), and it provides services of terrible quality. People disagree as to what exactly is wrong with government – it’s doing the wrong things, or it’s not doing the right things. Many people agree that whatever it does, it’s not it very well.

Most industries aren’t like this, because consumers have choice. If I don’t like the coffee I get at Starbucks, I’ll go somewhere else. Because it’s easy to start a coffee shop, and easy for consumers to switch between coffee shops, it’s easy to get a cup of coffee that’s tailored for me, at a price I’m happy to pay.

We don’t all buy the same food, or wear the same clothes, or drive the same cars. Of course people will be unhappy with government when 300 million people must all have the same service. Humans are diverse, and that should be reflected in the governments available.

I was drawn to The Seasteading Institute because I saw it as a way, not just for me to have the government that I want, but for everyone to have the government that they want. There’s no one ideology for everyone, and that’s okay. Some people don’t like caramel, which is indefensible, but I’m happy for them to indulge that strange preference. Similarly, if people have a different vision of an ideal society from me, I’m happy for them to live that way, and maybe their success will persuade me. Seasteading enables people to demonstrate their political ideas rather than arguing about them.

Previous utopias have failed, sometimes horribly, because they tried to impose one utopia on everyone. There’s no utopia for everyone, but we can all imagine a better society. Seasteading is the common cause of many ideologies.

On the Seasteading Institute’s website, the aim is to have an independent Seastead by 2015.  What will the Seasteading Institute be doing between now and 2015?

The Seasteading Institute is a research institute. We pursue research in the engineering, business, and legal challenges of seasteads. We don’t currently plan to build seasteads ourselves. The first wave of seasteads will be businesses like Blueseed, which plans to have a vessel in the water in 2013 or 2014. A focus for the Institute at the moment is encouraging the founding of more seasteading businesses. It is the focus of the upcoming conference.

Once these Seasteads are permanently established, what will act as currency?

We intend for there to be thousands of seasteads experimenting with new political ideas of all kinds. Some will choose established currencies like the USD and the Euro to start, and then create their own fiat currencies with central banks, as is common around the world. Others will experiment with currency. We might see seasteads using gold-backed currencies, or energy-based currencies, or currencies based on commodities, or purely electronic cryptographic currencies like Bitcoin.

Concept Art  by Wendy Sitler-Roddier

Some gamer sites have said that the Seasteading program reminds them of the underwater city of Rapture from the video game Bioshock. Are you familiar with the Bioshock series and if so, what are your thoughts about these assertions?

I’ve played some of Bioshock, and I like Andrew Ryan’s speech at the beginning. When Rapture went wrong, there was nowhere for the unfortunate residents to go. In a world of thousands of seasteading societies experimenting with different political and social ideas, some will fail, just as many startups fail. The system as a whole will be robust, and failures of individual seasteads will be contained and learned from, and the residents can try again somewhere else.

The world of Rapture is a dystopia largely because genetic experimentation with superhuman powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis has driven much of the population of Rapture insane. If seasteaders find themselves among mutants with the power to set people on fire with their minds, The Seasteading Institute advises residents to move to a different seastead.

The Seasteading Institute is holding a Conference in San Francisco from May 31 – June 2. What aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

The focus for the conference is to provide a hub for investors and entrepreneurs to meet and form new seasteading businesses. The Institute has existed for four years and has built a foundation of research for seasteads to benefit from. Now is the time to launch the first wave of seasteads. Blueseed is the first; after the conference, more will follow.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to mention a bit about what businesses might be thrive on seasteads:

Seasteads are suited to businesses taking advantage of jurisdictional arbitrage. That is, businesses that benefit from being away from the laws of land. Examples include a visa-free tech incubator like Blueseed, medical treatment, medical research, and gambling

Seasteads are also suited to aquaculture, and to anything that requires mostly human capital rather than heavy infrastructure: programming, graphic design, writing, technical support, customer service, legal advice.

In the long term, seasteads will grow as cities do naturally, with more people joining the seastead to provide services to those who are already there, and seasteading economies will be as diverse as those on land.

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