James Howells, a resident of Newport, South Wales, claims to have accidentally thrown away his hard drive containing 8,000 Bitcoin BTC/USD in 2013 while cleaning his office. About a decade later, Howells is determined to do whatever it takes to get the piece of hardware back.
What happened: In 2013, Howells decided to do some house cleaning, a decision he would regret a few years later. Howells had two identical hard drives kept in his drawer; one was blank and the other contained 8,000 Bitcoin equivalent to about $180 million at the time of writing, which he had mined during the early stages of the Bitcoin bubble.
While clearing out some junk, he accidentally threw out the hard drive containing Bitcoin instead of the blank one. Howells believes his hard drive is buried in a garbage dump in Newport, South Wales.
Citing environmental concerns, the city council has denied the 37-year-old’s petition to retrieve his hard drive multiple times, but Howells hasn’t let this deter his mission. Howells secured $11 million in venture capital funding to launch a high-tech scheme to recover the lost hardware.
Looking for a small piece of hardware buried under thousands of tons of garbage might look like one of those Tom Cruise Mission Impossible scenes; however, Howells believes with the help of human sorters, robot dogs from Boston Dynamics, together with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machines trained to identify hard drives on a conveyor belt, his plan is achievable.
His mission has two versions depending on the amount of garbage the city council will allow him to excavate. According to Howells, the most expensive method would take an estimated three years and would involve searching about 110,000 metric tons of garbage, costing him $11 million. The other version would take approximately 18 months at a cost of $6 million.
Howells has a team of eight experts including an AI specialist, data extraction advisors, a waste management advisor and one advisor who previously worked for a data recovery company that helped recover data from the black box of the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
If his plan is successful, he has vowed to give 10% of the recovered capital to the city to establish the town as a crypto mining hub and to launch social impact programs in the city.
“We’ve got a whole list of incentives of good cases we’d like to do for the community,” Howells said to BBC. “One of the things we’d like to do on the actual landfill site, once we’ve cleaned it up and recovered that land, is put a power generation facility, maybe a couple of wind turbines.”
Despite the promised incentives, the city is still reluctant to give him a go-ahead, saying the search would pose a serious ecological risk for the community.
Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency in the world in terms of market value. The blockchain network initially developed for Bitcoin has disrupted key financial and healthcare sectors and has also given birth to platforms such as Fetch.ai Network for developing decentralized applications (dApps).
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