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.