He Lost $187M in Bitcoin, Has Idea How to Get It Back

James Howells' latest plan involves AI
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2022 3:19 PM CDT
He Lost $187M in Bitcoin, Has New Plan to Get It Back
An advertisement of Bitcoin, one of the cryptocurrencies, is displayed on a building in Hong Kong, on Nov. 18, 2021.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

James Howells' claim to fame is the fortune that he lost. In 2013 the computer engineer accidentally tossed a hard drive containing 8,000 bitcoins. At their current value of about $23,400 a pop, those missing bitcoins are worth roughly $187 million; at their November 2021 peak, it would be about three times that. When Newser first reported on this, his missing stash was worth only $7.5 million. The explosion in value has also triggered a more aggressive effort on the part of Howells, who has long tried to get permission to access the dump in Newport, south Wales, where he believes it to be. Local government officials have repeatedly denied his request to dig for it. Now the 36-year-old is hoping AI might change their mind.

A hedge fund has signed on to fund his search, which Insider reports would cost about $11 million. Machines would dig up as many as 110,000 tons of trash, which would be sorted at a satellite facility. An AI machine trained to identify hard drives like his would scan the trash, and a mechanical arm would retrieve any positive hits. Environmental and data recovery experts would assist, robot dogs would secure the location, and he'd invest big in Newport if he's successful in the search, which would last a year or longer. He plans to present his proposal to the council within weeks. The comment the Guardian got from Newport isn't particularly encouraging: "Mr. Howells' proposals pose significant ecological risk which we cannot accept, and indeed are prevented from considering by the terms of our permit." (More bitcoin stories.)

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