This is Beyond Blood, a hypothetical algorithm.

It determines who inherits your stuff when you die.

The idea is, in the future, every object will see every person's interaction with it. So there will be a map of relationships that software can analyze.

So petty fallouts between people no longer matter. Cold hard numbers do.

The parameters valued are intention, emotional attachment, and use value. The government would dictate the parameter to emphasize.

In the example of Howard Hughes and his sapphire necklace. Ava Gardner received the necklace from Hughes as a gift. So the algorithm argues, the intention is that it should be hers.

But through the lens of emotional attachment to the necklace, Karen Jenkins, who owned the necklace previously, should inherit it. The algorithm disregards the fact that Jenkins was a business rival to Hughes.

And finally, through the lens of use value--considering the rarity of the necklace’s gem--the necklace should belong to humanity at whole. It should live in a museum.

Hmm, maybe just letting the lawyers settle it is easier after all.

Co.Design

The Future Of Death? An Algorithm That Decides Who Deserves To Inherit All Your Stuff

What if computers quantified your inheritance? "Beyond Blood" imagines exactly that.

When we die, we rely on wills to distribute our assets. It’s intrinsically a subjective experience--we choose who deserves what--but imagine if we removed all that messy human emotion from the equation and instead left our inheritances to a computer algorithm.

This is the idea behind Beyond Blood, by artist-designer Sures Kumar. It’s an art project that imagines an algorithm from the not-so-distant future. Embedded in everything we own, the algorithm would see who enjoys our possessions with us--from the people who ride in our cars, to the people we gift jewelry. And by piecing together all of these moments from our lives, the algorithm would determine, in unrelenting math, who really deserves to inherit what. Does your estranged child really deserve your McMansion, or should your loyal housekeeper get it?

“With the ubiquitous computing becoming more affordable, I want my audience to think about a possible world where objects can tell us more about their relationship with people than the very people involved,” Kumar tells Co.Design. “The project also aims to question the use of algorithms in emotional and ethical situations.”

To demonstrate the idea, Kumar mapped the algorithm’s theoretical principles to scrutinize the life of Howard Hughes in The Aviator. (Hughes himself left billions to cousins he didn’t know.) The software weighs the emotional and economic value of a sapphire necklace to various people in the film, and using various logical arguments, it bequeaths the necklace to different people.

“In an actual working model, there will be hundreds of parameters to judge an object,” Kumar writes. “But to explain the fundamental concept, I have chosen three most obvious parameters”--the parameters of intention, emotional attachment, and use value. The government would dictate the parameter to emphasize.

Ava Gardner received the necklace from Hughes as a gift. So the algorithm argues, the intention is that it should be hers. But through the lens of emotional attachment to the necklace, Karen Jenkins, who owned the necklace previously, should inherit it. The algorithm disregards the fact that Jenkins was a business rival to Hughes. And finally, through the lens of use value--considering the rarity of the necklace’s gem--the necklace should belong to humanity as a whole. It should live in a museum.

Beyond Blood is on display at ShowRCA2014 from June 18 to 29.

See more here.

[Image: The catacombs of Paris via Shutterstock]

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3 Comments

  • I don't even care whether it is possible or not due to the latent human biases of algorithms, but the fact that someone would write "..but imagine if we removed all that messy human emotion from the equation..." with such a positive sounding spin makes my blood boil.

    Yes, let's remove all mistakes and messiness from our decisions and that would make the whole world better. Who cares if inheritance isn't optimally distributed and someone is sad about it? UGH.

  • You can try to take humans out of the equation, but since humans design and write the algorithm, their own biases, emotions, and personal preferences will come into play.