James Howell wants to stage a high-tech treasure hunt for buried Bitcoins that he threw out in a hard drive about the size of an iPhone 6. He says he had two identical laptop hard drives, one was blank and the other contained 8,000 Bitcoins (now worth around $181 million) in a drawer in 2013.
Howell shared that he had meant to throw the other hard drive and not the one which had the Bitcoin, and so now he is determined to get his stash back from the garbage dump. Newport’s city council rejected his requests numerous times to dig out his hard drive. The council explained it would be expensive and environmentally damaging.
Not to be deterred, Howell has come up with an $11 million proposal to go through the 110,000 tons of garbage. The 36-year-old hopes to persuade the Newport City Council to finally recover his hard drive. Howell plans to achieve his Bitcoins through a combination of human sorters, robot dogs, and an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machine trained to look for hard drives on a conveyor belt. He believes it could take up to three years and involve scouring 100,000 metric tons of garbage at a cost of $11 million. But a scaled-down version could only take 18 months and cost $6 million.
Howell has a team of eight experts who specialize in AI-sorting, landfill excavation, waste management, and data extraction. His team also includes an advisor who worked for a company that recovered data from a black box of the crashed Columbia space shuttle. The team would receive a bonus if it successfully retrieves the hard drive. Howells highlighted that they are trying to achieve the hard drive to a full commercial standard. He explained that machines would dig up the garbage, which would be sorted at a pop-up facility near the landfill. Human pickers would be deployed along with a machine called Max-AI.
The company behind Max-AI would train AI algorithms to spot hard drives, and a mechanical arm would pick out objects that could be contenders.