October 13, 2023 - 6 min read
The social experiment bringing cloud-based communities together in the physical world with like-minded individuals with NFTs as passports.
Set amongst the natural beauty of Luštica Bay, a novel concept of human cooperation has been spawned and continues to this day called Zuzalu. Attendees joined meditation sessions, Pilates classes, and schmoozed on sunset beach social events, and discussed the big picture when it comes to an emerging phenomenon in which cloud-based communities come together, and perhaps even form their own polities.
In this case, a model network-state turned physical pop-up city called Zuzalu emerged, consisting of a diverse cast of health and tech-focused individuals. One thing was on everyone’s mind though: how do we leverage technology to reach out to those like us and reconcile our geographical differences so that we may live longer and prosper more?
In contrast to traditional crypto conferences or other tech summits, Zuzalu emphasized the intersection of AI, crypto, and automation can be used in conjunction with healthcare and politics to optimize our lives. In addition to biotech and longevity science, the concepts of regulatory sandboxes and destinations for sovereign individuals characterized some of the broad themes.
The Pop-up city is an early attempt to model what Balaji Srinivasan has coined Network States. In short, this concept describes collective action that begins first online, crowdfunds physical territory in strategic locations, and with the potential to gain diplomatic recognition by well-aligned governments. At the very least, the formation of special economic zones (SEZs) can enable highly-focused research and development in specific industries according to the advantages of local geography or the skills and interests of those subscriber-citizens in participation.
Similar corollaries include the Free State Project in the state of New Hampshire in the U.S., and Próspera on the Honduran island of Roatán. The former is an ongoing movement launched a couple of decades ago aimed at concentrating individuals with libertarian political leanings in New Hampshire to leverage political power in a small geographical area. Whether or not the project can be considered successful is up for debate, though many involved feel that their efforts have borne fruit.
The latter is an attempt to create a semi-autonomous charter city in Honduras, but with fewer regulations and stronger private property laws in order to bootstrap a prosperous SEZ without creating instability within the broader economy of Honduras. Unfortunately, Próspera has been rocked by hostile political attacks by the political forces which came to power after their construction was already in progress. As such, its fate, and other SEZs in Honduras, must rely upon Supreme Court decisions to overcome the political headwinds it faces.
In addition to being invite-only, it’s not been made clear how people gained access to Zuzalu in the first place. According to CoinDesk, sources tried unsuccessfully to connect with two of Zuzalu’s organizers, even being threatened with negative press coverage. Nevertheless, participants stayed at five-star hotel The Chedi Luštica Bay, or one of the many Airbnbs dotting the surrounding Adriatic coast. Some even opted to stay on yachts or catamarans in the bay.
The two-month pop-up city boasted a schedule of social events, seminars, and wellness sessions. The first physical event lasted for two months, held from March 25 to May 25 of 2023. The idea was to create a learning community, where residents could both attend scheduled sessions while also finding opportunities for engagement in their encounters in the pop-up city.
The schedule was divided into week segments, each dedicated to different areas of interest. Each day boasted a lineup of packed lectures, panel discussions, mini-hackathons, and other collaborative presentations. In addition to networking, guests were also able to promote their own upcoming events.
Behind most of the longevity-based activities is VitaDAO, a cloud-based community dedicated to funding and advancing research into longevity science. By pooling resources and channeling human talent towards very specific ends, the collective hopes to mitigate or eliminate ailments when it comes to the onset of age-related disease. VITA is the ticker for their governance token, found on CoW Swap.
One notable avenue that VitaDAO leverages is the concept of Special Economic Zones. One of the main attractions of SEZs is the provision of tax incentives for businesses operating within the zone. Another major objective is to create legal protections for breakthrough science and “Right to Choose” healthcare.
“Right to choose” essentially means legal protections for doctors and patients to engage in experimental therapies not yet approved by legacy regulatory agencies.
Such legislation empowers individuals to take control of their own health, and protects doctors against punitive actions in cases where they might otherwise be forced to choose between saving a life and following the law. When it comes to unregulated medicine or legal gray areas, this can sadly often be the case.
This collaborative space for networking and personal development is a natural extension of Balaji Srinivasan’s vision for “sovereign individuals” to crowdfund their desired lifestyles in hospitable, business-friendly nations and city-states. After forming networks online and finding the right place, their focused efforts can effect change and add value in places where they are invited. See The Network State for further reading on this emerging phenomenon.
A common pattern seems to be that the more hospitable locations seem to lack existing infrastructure to worry about abandoning, or otherwise no strong incumbents to stand in the way of the free market’s dynamism. Unfortunately, well-established institutions progress towards quasi-monopolies over time, sometimes by partnering with governments to build out costly infrastructure, or otherwise by lobbying for protectionist regulations which crowd out startups which might be highly disruptive to their business model.
Are Vitalik and Balaji working towards building a Network State, and found their home in Montenegro? This seems like more of a test run, and there should be plenty more to come in locations around the world. Now that companies and entire communities can pick up their laptops and move their brand and human capital to a new location at the drop of a hat, countries around the world need to take notice of the opportunity at hand.
To be clear, forward-thinking leaders, get out your welcome wagons and tell your marketing teams to start attracting and accumulating human capital who also aligns with your nation’s shortcomings in terms of skill sets, and aligned values when it comes to the way they live their lives. Would you like to invite thousands of healthy, wealthy creators to explore the frontiers of human knowledge and ingenuity?
Think deeply about where you can optimize the lives of your people without threatening their way of lives or their future economic prospects, but don’t be afraid to take some chances, even if they’re limited to special economic zones like Prospera, or pop-up cities like Zuzalu. Capital is looking for a place to flow right now, and to hesitate could mean it’s slowed to a trickle by the time you’ve decided what to do.
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