Future Human

What Happens When a Computer Runs Your Life

This software engineer let an algorithm pick where he lives, what he does—even what tattoo to get. Is he onto something?

Ahmed Kabil
Published in
9 min readJul 2, 2018
Hawkins’ Random Place to Live program sent him to areas of Slovenia, Japan, India, Taiwan, and Dubai. He’s pictured here in Essen, Germany.

MMax Hawkins will be getting his first tattoo in a few days, and the panic’s setting in. Not because it’s a permanent choice — although it certainly is. And not because of the pain — he thinks that’ll be manageable enough. Hawkins is panicking because until the moment he walks into the parlor, he won’t have any idea what tattoo he’s getting, or where on his body he’s getting it.

The random tattoo generator he’s built searches Google Images’ line drawings, taking a sample of the Internet’s offerings by choosing keywords in proportion to how frequency they’re used. By pressing a button, he is offered up a random image for a random part of his body. He’s been testing the generator, and it works. But a preview of the possibilities is not especially encouraging.

Hawkins’ random tattoo generator in action. Photo: Cowan Whitfield

One, for the left thigh, depicts a floor plan with room descriptions rendered in the font Papyrus. Another, of a person bound, gagged, and hogtied to a jail cell that the computer has assigned to his lower back.

One of the possibilities from Hawkins’ tattoo generator.

“Yeah, I’m not sure what it would mean to put that on my body,” Hawkins says of the second one. He’s decided he will reject swastikas and other images that feel hateful. He’s not sure where he stands on anime porn.

Short of those exceptions, Hawkins will say yes to whatever the computer chooses, just as he has regarding almost all aspects of his life since leaving his job as a creative software engineer at Google three years ago. In a world where technologies promise humans ever more control over their choices and preferences, Hawkins has decided to surrender his will to the whims of computer algorithms. He’s created programs that randomly choose where he eats, what he wears, where he lives, what music he listens…



Ahmed Kabil
Writer for

Editor, The Long Now Foundation. Stories in OneZero, GEN, LEVEL, Timeline. Say hi: med@well.com