As It Happens

A millionaire plans to build a giant utopia in the Nevada desert — run on blockchain

Jeffrey Berns dreams of a community in the Nevada desert that doesn't rely on banks, big companies or governments to manage personal data — but rather the Bitcoin technology blockchain.

The futuristic city based on digital currency tech has been dubbed 'Innovation Park'

Jeffrey Berns says he wants the blockchain city to blend in with the Nevada landscape. (EYRC Architects and Tom Wiscombe Architecture)

Jeffrey Berns dreams of a community in the Nevada desert that doesn't rely on banks, big companies or governments to manage personal data — but rather the bitcoin technology blockchain.

Berns is a lawyer and millionaire who made his money on the digital currency Ethereum. Now, he is founder and CEO of Blockchains LLC and the owner of a 67,000 acre plot of land in the Nevada desert. It is larger than the city of Reno.

It's here in Story County that he plans on building a city of houses, schools and businesses that all rely on storing data on the blockchain database. Blockchain is widely known as a digital ledger for cryptocurrency transactions, but it can be used for much more than that. 

As Sally Davies of the Financial Times explained it, "blockchain is to bitcoin what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one."

The blockchain city was recently christened by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval as "Innovation Park".

Berns spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why he believes people should put their faith in the new world of blockchain.

Here is part of that conversation. 

What does this site of this new city you're planning … look like right now?

So right now it's a lot of vacant land. It surrounds over 120 businesses that have already built out here, including Tesla and Switch and Walmart.

As you imagine what you would like it to look like in the future, can you describe that for us?

I want something that blends with the land. It's beautiful land, we have wild horses, we have the Truckee River and I want something where you live and balance well with the land.

A design of what the blockchain community could look like. This is a rendering of the city's potential office buildings. (EYRC Architects and Tom Wiscombe Architecture)

But the basis of this community is the blockchain, isn't it? This is what the centrepiece of your giant project is. Do you want to explain how that will work?

So the reason why I'm doing this is because I believe that blockchain will empower humanity in a way that has never been done before.

Whatever that communication is, whatever that data that needs to be shared, whatever value that needs to be exchanged can be done on a public blockchain transparently so that we all operate with the same rules.

A lot of people don't even know what we're talking about here. What the blockchain is and bitcoin. In concrete terms, what are you talking about?

The blockchain offers this: Anybody can be part of a public blockchain. And what that means is that they can have their computer verifying the state of the chain. And that's just mathematics.

There's nobody that can question it. It will take away the problem that exists right now and that's that there's no trust. We've lost trust in all the institutions that we're supposed to have trust in.

An aerial design of the city, with an idea of what the residential area will look like. Berns is planning on building thousands of homes. (EYRC Architects and Tom Wiscombe Architecture)

The blockchain, the ideas of cryptocurrencies, are volatile. People feel they're vulnerable to theft and a lot of people think that this is just another bubble. So why do you think that people will come to trust the blockchain?

I think that what you're saying is true.

But again there is a difference between trusting cryptocurrency … and trusting the blockchain.

The [public] blockchain itself has never been hacked. There is no issue with security with blockchain. When you hear stories about hacking, it's second layer solutions where people are storing digital currency.

You say that people have lost their trust in government. Why should they trust you?

I don't think you should trust anybody right now because information that we're receiving may not be trustworthy anymore. Governments, banks, corporations, all of it.

Blockchain is about collaborating on the most base level of communication that we have: mathematics.

You told The New York Times ... "This will either be the biggest thing ever, or the most spectacular crash and burn in the history of mankind." Doesn't exactly inspire me to go and put my faith in this new society.

This will either be the biggest thing ever, this entity will spread itself out all over the world and people will change the world together, or I'll be known as creating the greatest crash and burn in the history of mankind.

I'm banking on the former. I mean I've already spent $300 million of my own money because I believe this technology offers us the greatest chance to re-establish our power over our individual digital footprint.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from CBC Technology & Science. Produced by Richard Raycraft. 


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