Two weeks ago on this blog we visited the subject of Bill Gates and his accumulation of vast tracts of farmland across America. We also touched on the property he owns outside of Phoenix upon which a “smart city” where all life is tracked-and-traced is slated to be built.
This week we’ve come to discover that there are plans to open up Nevada to companies looking to build and govern their own smart cities. During a time of intense economic downturn, Governor Steve Sisolak is embracing the technocratic future with open arms.
In January, Sisolak announced plans to create “Innovation Zones” to lure tech companies into the state. Details of how those zones would function were scarce but in draft legislation of Innovation Zone Bill obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal outlines Sisolak’s plans to give companies immense power where they set up shop. If passed, the legislation would allow companies to, “effectively form separate local governments in Nevada, governments that would carry the same authority as a county, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and justice courts and provide government services.”
Who the governor is trying to court with this legislation is very specific. Only businesses developing “innovative technology,” which includes blockchain, autonomous technology, the internet of things, robotics, artificial intelligence, wireless technology, biometrics, and renewable resource technology are invited to apply. All applicants must have deep pockets as well as they must purchase at least 50,000 acres, have $250 million, and be able to invest one billion into their zone over the next 10 years.
Blockchains, is the first company to publicly commit to building a smart city/innovation zone in Nevada should the legislation pass. The Review-Journal reports that in 2018, founder Larry Berns purchased approximately 67,000 acres and has become politically active in the state since then:
Blockchains, LLC gave $50,000 to a Home Means Nevada PAC, which managed Sisolak’s transition into office, in January 2019, according to campaign finance records. The company also donated $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign in the 2018 election cycle. Sisolak’s opponent, Republican Adam Laxalt, also received $10,000 from the firm that year. Berns himself gave $50,000 to the state Democratic Party in 2019, and various donations ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 to various state lawmakers from both parties.
Despite the recent headlines, Blockchains remains a mysterious entity. The company’s products in development include Digital Identity Management, Digital Asset Management, and Connected Devices and Services but little is offered in the way of specifics with regards to how this will all be brought to life. Blockchains does promise that once their digital ecosystem is live this will help enable a smooth transition into a “new world built to enable a digital lifestyle” which will be lived out in the smart city of their dreams, presumably the one they plan to build in Nevada. Adding to the mystique is the fact that the company owns two underground bunkers in the US, another inside a mountain in Switzerland, and one more in Sweden which will store customer’s private keys and digital assets.
The company’s website boasts of how Blockchain’s products will revolutionize the world for the better and if Berns is to be believed this will all be carried out on a public, open-source blockchain. Berns also plans on spreading out ninety percent of the company’s profits among stakeholders, a model he refers to as a “distributed collaborative entity.” which will ideally lead to each group developing their own governance models and with voting taking place on the blockchain.
Until the final version of the Innovation Zone Bill is seen and more specifics are known about Blockchains’ plans we should remain incredibly skeptical that anything resembling a decentralized, open-source smart city will actually be built in the Nevada desert. As was seen in Toronto not that long ago, this type of legislation can serve as a trojan horse for corporations will ill intents. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, pitched the idea of a high-tech, sustainable city free from the usual moorings of modern urban life to the public before it was discovered that their real plans were to wholly data-mine and totally surveil the residents. Anyone opting out of the panopticon would be denied services and utilities. Is it impossible to imagine an enigmatic company like Blockchains doing the same thing?
If not Blockchains, then one doesn’t have to look far to find other companies who would find the idea of a corporate-owned city away from prying eyes to be appealing. Boston Dynamics could deploy a robotic army to police the streets of it’s zone. Verizon wouldn’t have to worry about anyone questioning the health effects of 5G. Google could buy tens of thousands of acres where Siri can be judge, jury, and executioner.
There are already plenty of lessons from American history which illustrate where this could lead. Company towns built around the coal, steel, and lumber industries once existed across the U.S. Life in these towns was often totally controlled by the company. Residents worked for the company, were often paid in company-issued currencies, had to buy goods and supplies from company-owned stores, pay rent to live in company-owned housing, and send children to the company school if there was one. This system of bondage has been famously summarized by Merle Travis who sang, “Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”
We may be witnessing a new chapter in the bifurcation of America. As the economic devastation of the government’s coronavirus policies continues to unfurl, Americans may find themselves being pushed into the arms of corporate-owned towns and cities in search of opportunity. At what cost remains to be seen.