JW: What will the first floating cities be like?
GP: As a matter of economic pragmatism, the first is probably going to be some sort of converted passenger ship. In the fullness of time I expect a move towards something more like a semisubmersible platform, because that would give much more inherent stability and habitability in more challenging weather.
JW: When might they be built?
GP: The Seasteading Institute may be in a position to begin a small venture within the next year or two, most likely off the West Coast of the United States. As far as the larger seasteads—that we call "metropolisteads"—are concerned, at least 20 to 30 years in the future.
First we would have a couple of smaller seasteads, and the ones that seem to work will take on a larger scale in the same way that, when the settlers set up stakes out on the prairie, the areas with fertile land and good rainfall attracted a lot of people. After a while there was a town, and then the town grew into a city, and the railroad came. It is going to grow incrementally.
It is almost certain that many of the early seasteads will wither and die or convert into casinos or whatever, but the successful ones will grow. It will be a Darwinian type of selection. The ones that have good business models, good rules to live by, good governance, and good social and economic systems, they are going to succeed.
JW: How independent could seasteads really be?
GP: The initial, smaller ones will be more heavily dependent on proximity to potential customers and services from shore-based depots. Once you have a critical mass of, say, 20,000 or 100,000 people on this floating island, you become more autonomous economically as well as politically. You don't need that umbilical link to land.
JW: How has the public responded to the idea?
GP: If you go out and talk to ordinary people on the libertarian theme, it doesn't take long for their eyes to glaze over. But when you pitch the "start fresh on a desert island" view, I've yet to find anyone who doesn't ask within minutes, "How do I get to be on the list to be a resident?" It has tremendous appeal.
JW: Is there anything that won't be possible on a floating city?
GP: Gardens you can have, cattle-ranching probably not. Obviously things that require hundreds or thousands of acres of space are more cost-effectively done on land.
JW: What about the Blueseed project, which hopes to set up a kind of seastead off the coast of California, linked to Silicon Valley?
GP: From my perch at the Seasteading Institute, we hope they are successful. But what they are endeavoring to do should not be construed as what we envision as a seastead. Blueseed is, in my view, an offshore workplace as opposed to an enduring community.
JW: So have you already reserved your room on the first seastead?
GP: I am keen on the idea, but I don't know that the demographics are in my favor. I am at a point in my life where I would not want to forego some of the comforts to which I have become accustomed. By the time seasteading reaches that level of sophistication, I will probably no longer be a candidate for the lifestyle.
This article originally appeared in New Scientist.