STOREY COUNTY, Nev. – A huge plot of land in the Nevada desert – bigger than the nearby Reno – has been the subject of local intrigue since a company with no history, Blockchains LLC, bought $ 170 million in cash this & # 39; 39; year.
The man who owns the company, a millionaire lawyer and cryptocurrency named Jeffrey Berns, put on a helmet and got into a Polaris off-road vehicle last week to take a tour of the sprawling property and dispel some of the mystery.
Imagine a kind of experimental community that extends for about one hundred square miles, where houses, schools, commercial districts and production studios will be built. The focus of this gigantic project will be the blockchain, a new type of database introduced by Bitcoin.
After his driver stopped the Polaris on a desert plateau, surrounded by a bush of blooming rabbits and a herd of wild horses, Mr. Berns, 56, indicated the highlights of his dream community .
"See that first row of mountains," he said, pointing to the south. "Those mountains are the border of our southern valley, where we will build the high-tech park," a research campus that will cover hundreds of hectares. There are also plans for a college and an electronic gaming arena.
Strange – even fantastic – as all this might seem, Berns' ambitions fit perfectly into the idiosyncratic world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains.
The blockchain began as a digital ledger on which all Bitcoin transactions are recorded. Some aficionados have bigger plans. They think it could be a new way of taking power from the institutions that they believe call all the shots.
Just as Bitcoin made it possible to transfer money without using a bank, blockchain believers like Berns think technology will enable ordinary people to control their data – the lifeblood of the digital economy – without relying on large companies or governments.
There is a confusing line between these utopian visions and fast-paced schemes. Several cryptocurrency projects have been closed by regulators; apparent the beggars have been arrested; and a plan to transform Puerto Rico with cryptocurrencies has been criticized as nothing more than an attempt to exploit the status of the island as a tax haven.
Berns was attracted to Nevada for his tax benefits, including a lack of income tax. And the amplitude of his ambitions certainly raises the risk of a traffic jam.
But it is different from his crypto-brothers in a big way: he is spending his money. So far, he said, he spent $ 300 million on land, offices, planning and a staff of 70 people. And the purchase of 67,000 largely undeveloped acres is a bit old-fashioned, real estate risk taking.
However, Mr. Berns said that his ambition was not to be a real estate mogul or even to become rich – or richer. It is promising to give away all the decision-making power for the project and 90% of all the dividends it generates to a corporate structure that will be held by residents, employees and prospective investors. That structure, which he calls "distributed collaborative entity", should operate on a blockchain in which the ownership rights of all and voting powers will be recorded in a digital portfolio.
Berns acknowledged that this is far beyond what the blockchains actually achieved. But this did not discourage him.
"I do not know why," he said above the roar of the Polaris engine. "I just … something inside me tells me that this is the answer, that if we can convince enough people to trust the blockchain, we can start changing all the systems we work with."
Berns managed to win local officials who wanted economic development. The governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, read a proclamation that he named the Blockchains property "Innovation Park" at an event last month in which Mr. Berns sat on a panel with the governor and Elon Musk, Tesla's managing director.
Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada, which has been described as the largest building in the world, is surrounded by Blockchain land. Companies like Google, Apple and Switch also have properties in the industrial park that is surrounded by Mr. Berns' properties.
The county of Nevada, where all this is found, the county of Storey, has only about 4,000 residents and was more known, until recently, for its history of silver mines and its modern brothels, among one owned by a county commissioner.
The county commissioner himself, Lance Gilman, bought the land around the brothel and turned it into the industrial park where Tesla and Google are now located.
Blockchains has already received preliminary county support for a new city along the Truckee River, with thousands of homes, a school and a drone delivery system, and is working closely with the county on a broader overall plan.
But for now, Blockchains is an empty land and a converted office building. Berns said the company will not start building the larger property until the end of 2019, as soon as possible, after putting together the general plan and having it approved by the county.
The head of the former Berne law firm in Los Angeles, Joanna Rodriguez, has relocated with her four children and her husband in Nevada.
"He has these crazy ideas – but I know every time he thinks of something he will get," said Mrs. Rodriguez, 29, who worked with Mr. Berns for eight years and is now the manager of the office Blockchain in Nevada. "That's why I decided to move."
Berns has spent most of his professional life in lawsuits, many of them against finance companies. He learned about Bitcoin in 2012 but was conquered by another cryptocurrency, Ethereum, which allows to store more than simple data on transactions on a blockchain.
Berns bought Ether, the digital token associated with Ethereum, in a big sale in 2015. Thanks to an astronomical increase in Ether's price and some timely sales last year before collapsing, he became rich enough to finance his dream project .
Ethereum is what he believes makes his community more than a giant real estate project. To understand why it requires more than a little imagination. And faith. Each resident and employee will have what is equivalent to an Ethereum address, which they will use to vote on local measures and store their personal data.
Berns believes that Ethereum will give people a way to control their identity and data online without any government or companies involved.
This is a widely shared opinion in the blockchain community, but there are significant questions about whether any of it can work in the real world. Most blockchain companies failed to get any traction, and the Ethereum and Bitcoin networks have struggled to handle even moderate amounts of traffic.
Berns believes that one of the big problems was security. People were terrible about keeping the private keys needed to get access to a Bitcoin or Ethereum portfolio.
He wants to face it with a personalized system in which the private keys of the people are stored on multiple digital devices, stored in vault, so that no device can access the keys. He has already bought some caves excavated in the mountains in Sweden and Switzerland and plans to build more vaults in the mountains of Nevada.
The other thing that blocks Ethereum, according to Berns, was the lack of laboratories in the real world. His Nevada land, he hopes, will change the situation.
"This will be the greatest thing ever, or the most spectacular accident and fire in the history of mankind," Berns said. "I do not know which one, I think it's the first one, but in both cases it will be a hell of a run."