A computer engineer who accidentally threw away a hard drive containing approximately £150m worth of bitcoin plans to use artificial intelligence to search through thousands of tonnes of landfill.
James Howells discarded the hardware from an old laptop containing 8,000 bitcoins in 2013 during an office clearout and now believes it is sitting in a rubbish dump in Newport, south Wales.
The council has previously denied the 37-year-old’s repeated requests to search the site due to environmental concerns but he has hatched a £10m hi-tech scheme backed by hedge fund money to find the digital assets.
His new proposal would utilise AI technology to operate a mechanical arm that would filter the rubbish, before then being picked by hand at a pop-up facility near the landfill site.
Under the plans he will hire a number of environmental and data recovery experts, and while the search is ongoing employ robot dogs as security so no one else can try to steal the elusive hard drive.
Howells said: “Digging up a landfill is a huge operation in itself. The funding has been secured. We’ve brought on an AI specialist. Their technology can easily be retrained to search for a hard drive.
“We’ve also got an environmental team on board. We’ve basically got a well-rounded team of various experts, with various expertise, which, when we all come together, are capable of completing this task to a very high standard.”
Howells believes the search will take about nine to 12 months, however, even if he does get permission from the council, there is no guarantee the hunt will be successful or that the bitcoins he mined all those years ago will be recoverable from the hard drive.
But if they are he has pledged to use the money to help the community of Newport and invest in a number of cryptocurrency-based projects, such as a community-owned data mining facility.
Howells said: “We’ve got a whole list of incentives, of good cases we’d like to do for the community.
“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.
“We’d like to set up a community-owned mining facility which is using that clean electricity to create bitcoin for the people of Newport.”
However the major issue Howells still has to overcome is getting permission from the council, who will not meet him to discuss his plans or entertain his ideas.
A spokesperson for Newport city council said: “We have statutory duties which we must carry out in managing the landfill site.
“Part of this is managing the ecological risk to the site and the wider area. Mr Howells’ proposals pose significant ecological risk which we cannot accept, and indeed are prevented from considering by the terms of our permit.”
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