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Robot Dogs, AI Will Help Man Who Accidentally Threw a Fortune in Bitcoin Into the Trash
James Howells’ story is a very interesting, fascinating and cliffhanger-packed one, because he is the man who, in 2013, accidentally threw a hard drive containing some 7,500 Bitcoin into the trash. The next chapter will hopefully bring the closure that will make him a rich man.

Robot Dogs, AI Will Help Man Who Accidentally Threw a Fortune in Bitcoin Into the Trash

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Howells is an IT professional from Newport, Wales. He bought thousands of Bitcoin when it was still cheap and forgot about it, after storing it on a hard drive. As he originally told the story, he also forgot about the drive, which tossed into a drawer after he spilled lemonade on it.

When he cleared out his desk, he put the drive in a trash bag, but later thought of removing it because he remembered he had stuff on it, though he didn’t recall what exactly that stuff was. He left that for the morning, but his wife woke up first and took the garbage out on her way to work.

Howells now tells Business Insider that he had actually meant to discard a blank drive, and he mistook that one for the Bitcoin one. He’s also saying now that he had over 8,000 Bitcoin on it, when he initially claimed 7,500. Either way, the bottom line is that a hard drive containing a fortune – $180 million at the current valuation, but over $500 million at the peak of the crypto market – ended up in a landfill that the Newport Council refuses to let him dig up.

It’s a needle in a haystack kind of endeavor, to be sure, but Howells has a new master plan. It involves a pair of Boston Dynamics robot dogs (Spot, the versatile four-legged robot), AI-powered sorting, assistance from a data recovery company that previously worked with NASA, landfill excavation, and waste management – and $11 million in investments from two venture capitalists. He tells the publication the plan would be carried out over three years, but the backup version would take just 18 months and $6 million.

The idea, of course, is to use all the available resources to sift through tons of garbage in the hope that he might recover the hard drive. Assuming it’s still in working condition and the data on it would be recovered, Howells would keep 30% of the money on it; investors would get 30%, and the rest would be divided among Newport residents and several sustainability projects. For instance, Howells plans to recycle whatever can be recycled from the trash, and even build a solar or wind-energy farm on top of the landfill site once he’s done.

There is one problem with either plan, and it’s the same one he’s been facing ever since he realized his mistake in 2013: the Council won’t let him dig around the landfill. For one, there is no guarantee he’ll find the hard drive, which means he has no means to pay for the excavation, and they believe the environmental damage would be too severe. They won’t budge even if the financial problem is seemingly solved.

“There is nothing that Mr. Howells could present to us [that would make the council agree],” a council representative tells the media outlet. “His proposals pose significant ecological risk, which we cannot accept and indeed are prevented from considering by the terms of our permit.”

Still, for the time being, Howells has submitted both plans to the council, and is waiting for an official response. He has a backup plan for the backup plan, too, though it’s one he would rather not use: if the Council won’t grant him permission, he will sue, alleging that they’re keeping the hard drive under “illegal embargo” by refusing to let him search for it.

On the bright side, Howells believes his rescue mission has never looked more promising than it does now, including with the post-completion plans, which, he says, will benefit the entire community. “This is the best situation I've been in so far,” he tells the media outlet. “This is the most professional operation we've put together, and we've got all the best people involved.”

He only needs to Newport Council to see that.

Editor's note: Photos in the gallery show Spot, Boston Dynamics' famous robot dog.


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