Around 200 key players in the fields of crypto, big pharma, politics, and academia flew home this past weekend after spending upwards of two months at Zuzalu: an experimental “pop-up city community” conceived by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin.

Since March, Zuzalu attendees (Zuzalans, they call themselves) temporarily abandoned their respective lives and identities to become the first citizens of a new civilization—one founded among the resort hotels and Airbnbs of Lustica Bay, Montenegro, and tasked with envisioning what they consider to be a new future for humanity.

Along the way, attendees discussed the role of cryptocurrency, blockchain networks, and, of course, AIall the rage these days in tech circles. But the experience also focused on topics like human longevity and the concept of a "network state" popularized by former Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan. (He appeared remotely for a Zuzalu panel discussion that one attending engineer called the "Doomer presentation.")


The novel conference has been described by some as a Burning Man for futurists, by others as a sleepaway camp for the crypto elite, and by many attendees as a life-altering experience with historic implications for the biological, political, and social potential of our species. 

So what was it actually like to be there? 

“Every single person here believes that they can change the world,” Hannah Hamilton, co-founder of decentralized finance protocol Asymmetry, told Decrypt. “Normally, you meet one person who believes they can change the world—but it's everyone.”

On Hamilton’s second night at Zuzalu, she was approached at an apartment party by a man who asked her if she thought she could change the arc of human history. That’s typical Zuzalan small talk; a popular icebreaker at the conference is asking an acquaintance at what age they think they’ll die. Answers usually range from 80 to “never.”


Hamilton initially scoffed at the man, telling him that no, she didn’t think she could single-handedly change the world. The man informed her that she was wrong.

“You are already,” he told her. Hamilton’s finance protocol is shaping Ethereum, in his view, and Ethereum is itself shaping the world economy and a global decentralized information network. Hamilton now believes she can, and will, have a direct impact on humanity’s fate.

“Zuzalu has changed my life,” she said, “in literally a few days.”

Life at Zuzalu was itself decentralized, with impromptu conversations and breakout seminars planned among participants that drive the conference’s cadence. 

The two primary social hubs for Zuzalan society appear to be breakfast—served every day, vegetarian, at a local Montenegrin restaurant taken over by the event—and the sauna at the Chedi Lustica Bay, the five-star hotel most Zuzalans have called temporary home.

For a time, the Chedi’s sauna played host to a Zuzalan-organized, philosophy-driven conversation series aptly titled “Sauna Philosophers.” After more than 30 people began showing up for it regularly, Chedi Hotel management requested its immediate discontinuation.

“The hotel staff doesn't like when you have events in the sauna,” developer and entrepreneur Philippe Dumonet, another Zuzalan, told Decrypt


If most Zuzalu events were informal to some degree, that also means that any moment, even a house party, was ripe for optimizing human potential. One group of Zuzalans brought a large stack of bolivars—the hyperinflated Venezuelan currency—with them to Montenegro; they then handed out the near-worthless bills as non-fungible, secure invites to a party.

Some laughed off the move as shtick. But when would-be partygoers arrived at the gathering later that night, they were turned away immediately if they could not produce a bolivar, and forced to permanently relinquish their own bolivar if they brought a guest unable to produce a bill themselves.

Bolivars soon became a hot commodity among Zuzalans, and ran out shortly thereafter. Their distributors developed an app via which bolivar holders can input their bills’ serial numbers, and create authenticated virtual IDs that could one day (or so their creators hope) be used create a vouching system to grow social groups.

Except for such instances of exclusivity designed in the name of expanding the human potential for trust, Zuzalu has felt very open and welcoming, according to attendees that Decrypt spoke with. And in such a small pool of people, like-minded Zuzalans have naturally gravitated towards each other.

One such clique that has gained notoriety in Lustica Bay is a group of Zuzalans who are confident that they will achieve immortality. They’ve garnered a reputation on Zuzalu’s Balkan campus for the sheer force of their entrepreneurial confidence in the face of humanity’s greatest design flaw: death.

“That's one of the ones that think they're not gonna die,” Asymmetry’s Hamilton said she and her friends would whisper on the streets of Lustica when such Zuzalans walked by. 


But to many of the minds present at Zuzalu, cheating death is just the next frontier in humanity’s development—and one that could bring its own problems. 

A friend of Hamilton’s expressed to her that some humans achieving immortality will inevitably lead to bitterness and resentment among the mortal underclasses. 

“There will be a war against the people that are living forever, and they will all die,” they believe, as relayed by Hamilton. 

Luckily, Zuzalu has a backup plan in case of such an event. According to sources that Decrypt spoke with, some Zuzalans think the creation of a nation state reserved exclusively for people who live forever could address security concerns for that rarified population.

But there’s further concern among Zuzalans that if an immortals-only nation were created, it may then be vulnerable to targeting by a virus engineered to attach itself to medicines essential to the immorality-sustaining process. 

Strategies for navigating that particular scenario have not yet been devised. But Zuzalu is expected to return next year.

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