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Blade Runner: Estate planning in a futuristic world

Could assets be passed one day to non-living beings, those created through artificial intelligence but possessing human-like qualities?

Many of the laws that govern estates in Canada trace their roots back centuries. Our area of law has never been seen as “cutting edge” in the way that an area like tech law is perceived. How could it be – the public image of estates law is old people dying and old lawyers blowing dust off wills to reveal who gets what.

How wrong that image is. Yes, technology will continue to define new assets – bitcoin, drones, blogs – but estates law continues to evolve to deal with how those rights and assets are passed on.

But there’s a “next stage” to technology that goes beyond assets to the who (or what) gets what. Here’s my question: could technology also play a role in who your assets are passed on to? Estates law today is based on the orderly disposition of assets from a deceased to other humans or human-created institutions, such as trusts or charities. But what about the potential Blade Runner effect?

I haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049, but anyone familiar with the film, or the original Blade Runner movie in 1982, knows about replicants, human-looking artificial lifeforms that play key roles in both films. Today, this is still in the realm of science fiction, but we’ve all read about the power of, and advances in, artificial intelligence.

With Blade Runner 2049 in mind, this article from the smithsonianmag.com tackles, from a philosophical perspective, the very question of what it is to be human.


And the truth is, robotic companionship based on artificial intelligence is here. This article from The Guardian may focus on the more lurid sex doll industry, but it touches on the evolution of artificial beings in becoming more permanent companions.


These advances are happening under our feet, and it will be fascinating to see how estates law – and public policy – adapt. If a being created through artificial intelligence can think, speak, bank, and do laundry, can it be the beneficiary under a will? Artificial beings will have costs and health care/maintenance needs like humans. Will there be – at one point – an obligation to provide for these beings, just as there is today to provide for dependants under family and succession laws?

I’ll probably take in the Blade Runner 2049 movie this weekend and give it a thought.

Thank you for reading!
Ian Hull