A startup is using body heat to mine for cryptocurrency. typographyimages/Pixabay

A startup in the Netherlands has developed a way to use excess body heat from humans to mine for cryptocurrency, which it believes will provide a way for people to generate income as automation begins to eat away at employment opportunities.

The Institution of Human Obsolescence (IoHO), founded in 2015, is exploring new ways to leverage biological production as a new form of labor. The experimental startup’s first project requires humans to suit up to convert body heat into energy for cryptocurrency mining.

IoHO has suited up 37 workers so far, all of whom are placed in a body suit that uses thermoelectric generators to capture excess body heat. That heat is converted to energy, which is then used to power mining efforts.

The workers have put in a combined 212 hours thus far, and the project has harvested a total of 127,210 milliwatts of electricity from the human workers. That energy has been used to mine more than 16,954 coins, with 80 percent of the earnings being provided to the workers and 20 percent getting skimmed off the top for the IoHO.

The coins mined through the project have not been the most mainstream cryptocurrency available, as many of those tokens require a massive amount of energy to simply mine for the digital currency. A single Bitcoin transaction, for example, requires at least 77 kilowatt hours of energy. All of the energy generated by the human workers during the IoHO’s experiment amounts to about one-tenth of a kilowatt.

Instead of focusing on the currencies that have made headlines in recent months with skyrocketing prices, the project has focused on other digital coins like Vertcoin, Startcoin, Dash, Lisk, Ethereum and Litecoin.

The human mining effort is one part science experiment and one part art project, conjuring up images of the film “The Matrix,” in which human bodies are used as batteries to power the simulation set up by the machines.

In the movie Neo wakes up in the "real world" while Morpheus explains how the machines use humans. "The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTU's of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields - endless fields - where human beings are no longer born, we are grown."

“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,” IoHO’s founder Manuel Beltrán told The Next Web.

The project is intended not just to make some money—albeit in virtual currency—but to make a point about how tech companies already harness information provided by users. While they may not collect body heat (yet) giant firms like Facebook and Google eat up tons of data from people that power all sorts of profit centers, especially in the form of advertisements.

That has always been the trade off with tech platforms—the service itself is provided to users free of charge and in exchange for the service, the company collects information from users that it can then monetize in a variety of ways.

The IoHO project calls into question that model by giving humans some agency over what the provide—in this case, it’s body head in place of data—and what the get from it. Instead of just getting to use a convenient service, the workers are paid for what they provide, even though the “labor” just requires wearing the heat-capturing body suit.

IoHO wants to see a similar model applied to data collected by major tech firms. When the companies collect information, they would provide money to the user in return for their data. That seems about as likely to happen as body heat becoming a legitimate source of income for people, but at least it’s an idea.