While many love to speculate about the sheer number of jobs that robots and artificial intelligence are going to replace in the near future, no one seems to be coming up with any solid alternatives. One forward-thinking Dutch startup, however, believes humans should start using their bodies to produce capital… but not in the way you’re imagining.
Founded in 2015, the Institute of Human Obsolescence (IoHO) is based in The Hague and presents itself as an organization devoted to exploring how individuals can capitalize on biological, and data production labor through art and research projects.
One of IoHO’s most impressive research projects and art installations to date is their body suit that harvests excess human body heat to mine cryptocurrency. Yes, you read that correctly. IoHO created a body suit that uses thermoelectric generators to store body heat — and converts that heat into usable electricity.
This electricity was then used to mine crypto, with IoHO choosing to mine newly created currencies on the basis that they have a higher potential to grow in value. 37 workers were responsible for 212 hours of work between them, harvesting a total of 127,210 milliwatts of electricity, and mining 16,954 coins. 80 percent of the earnings went to the workers, while the rest went to the institute.
“I think art is able to explain abstract things and through art, you are also able to trigger something. With this project I want to generate questions or sparks,” explained IoHO’s founder, Manuel Beltrán.
Another unconventional art and research project initiated by IoHO is one that intends to launch a discussion about how big corporations currently capitalize on the massive amount of data we generate.
Corporations such as Google and Facebook use our data to make huge amounts of money, but IoHO imagines a world where we, the “data workers,” have the ability to earn some cash. The institution believes that all wealth created from data should be distributed equally.
Every swipe, scroll, post, click, and text reveals many things about our personality and behavior and in turn, generates value. So Beltrán posits: “Now we give our data voluntarily and free to companies such as Facebook and Google, why not benefit from it?”
To do this, IoHO proposes a distribution system they’ve termed the ‘Data Basic Income’. In this system, every participant receives the same amount of money in return for their data. Rather than harvesting the information participants create, IoHO collects people’s unique finger movements with a movement sensor, a choreography, or labor worth money.
How exactly those movements turn into money remains unclear to me, but luckily the artists themselves were also still asking that question: “We ask ourselves throughout this session where the moment is that our automated habits become choreography and when this choreography becomes a form of labor.” Here’s to hoping they find out.
Artist, activist, researcher, and founder of IoHO, Manuel Beltrán, initiates projects like the above to get people thinking about the scenario of robots and algorithms replacing the human labor force. As he explained:
“I met a lot of people who have pessimistic feelings about the future. Politics are out of control and we have no say. We are ruled by algorithms which we don’t even understand. We don’t know whom to fight and how we feel. Maybe art can help us to imagine and to start the fight.”