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Man who threw away millions in bitcoin wants to use AI and robots to find it in the trash

Published Aug 2nd, 2022 6:46PM EDT
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Bitcoin might be trending up, down, or sideways, but there’s always one thing that doesn’t change: the number of wild bitcoin stories. Some have become legendary over the years, routinely appearing in news reports about the latest bitcoin surge or crash. Like the guy who threw millions worth of bitcoin into the trash in 2013. He never stopped trying to find it.

James Howells is the name of the computer engineer who threw away a hard drive containing 8,000 bitcoins nearly a decade ago. That hard drive is worth about £150 million ($183.1 million), assuming one could still retrieve the cryptocurrency from the drive. Howells hasn’t given up hope and wants to pull the job by combing through the trash with the help of AI and robot dogs.

The bitcoin trash story

Even people who have nothing to do with bitcoin might be aware of Howells’ tragic story. He threw away the hard drive containing the bitcoin data in the summer of 2013. He was clearing out his desk and had two identical hard drives. But he put the wrong one in the trash, losing access to the bitcoin stash.

Nearly a decade later, that hard drive would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the bitcoin price. Howells hasn’t given up hope that he would not only find the missing hard drive. But the disk would still work after all these years in a landfill. And that he could retrieve the lost bitcoin.

Without actual access to the data, that bitcoin remains lost forever. That’s actually one of the first things cryptocurrency users will have to remember. They can lose access to their coins if they fail to remember passwords. Or if they lose the local storage containing their digital coins.

Recovering the treasure with AI and robot dogs

Per The Guardian, Howells has a new plan to find the bitcoin hard drive in the trash. He wants to convince the council of Newport in south Wales to allow him to use artificial intelligence to operate a mechanical arm that would sort through the trash in search of the hardware. Then, someone would manually inspect any qualifying objects at a pop-up facility near the landfill.

The bitcoin trash guy, which is how some people might remember him, would use robot dogs as security for the site, so nobody else can try to find and steal the hard drive.

Bitcoin Ethereum Litecoin XRP
Cryptocurrency symbols shown on physical coins, including bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, and XRP. Image source: stockphoto-graf/Adobe

Howells would also employ environmental and data recovery experts to pull off the job.

The project would cost about £10 million ($12.2 million) and take between nine to 12 months to complete. That’s according to Howells’ own estimates. And it’s assuming the council would let him start the hunt for bitcoin in the trash.

The council would not even hear his case

Howells has already secured funding from an undisclosed hedge fund. And he told The Guardian that he plans to use any money from the operation to improve the Newport community.

“We’ve got a whole list of incentives, of good cases we’d like to do for the community,” Howells said.

“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.”

There is a major drawback to all of this. The Newport city council would not even meet with him to discuss his plans. The main reason why the city doesn’t want to entertain his ideas concerns the environment.

Regardless of how one might feel about the bitcoin trash guy, or cryptocurrency in general, the idea of AI digging through trash to find digital coins as robot dogs patrol the dump is certainly exciting. There might be a Netflix series in all of this. Or, at the very least, a Love, Death, & Robots episode.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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