That robot who bought ecstasy and a fake passport online is finally out of prison


It’s been a hell of a ride for the Swiss robot sent to jail in January after buying ecstasy pills and a fake Hungarian passport on the dark net. The bot was finally released back into the world on Wednesday, after spending three months in the clinker.

Well, jail in a metaphorical sense. Swiss authorities confiscated the Random Darknet Shopper (the bot’s name) after an art show it was featured in came to a close. For the exhibition, the bot had been given $100 a week in bitcoin, and let loose on a dark net marketplace to make random purchases. Its selections were then put on display. Hence the pills, the passport, a Sprite stash can, some Diesel jeans, and a baseball cap fitted with a hidden camera, among other things.

“To be honest, we don’t yet know what is going to happen next,” artist Carmen Weisskopf told me via email, just after the bust. As an artist who helped write the bot’s code, she publicly accepted responsibility for its actions, and was uncertain if she was going to be charged.

The entire project raised some interesting questions: who the hell is responsible for the antics of a party animal bot? What does it mean for society when a robot or a piece of technology can act autonomously, and break the law?

In the end, Swiss authorities were understanding of societal merit of the art piece. Public prosecutors released the bot and all of its purchases back to the artists with the exception of the ecstasy pills, which they destroyed. They also withdrew plans to prosecute the artists.

“The public prosecutor states that the possession of Ecstasy was indeed a reasonable means for the purpose of sparking public debate about questions related to the exhibition,” said the art group !Mediengruppe Bitnik in a release.

“This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!” the group said.

The question of using illegal drugs in art is not necessarily a new one. In 2013, Miami artist Typoe drew a whole series of drawings with real cocaine (as a nod to his city’s heritage), and nobody stopped him.

What still remains as the core of Random Darknet Shopper’s story is that question of what will we do when robots or other technology start to actually break the law.

In February, a Dutch developer was reportedly questioned by authorities after one of his Twitter bots apparently made a death threat to another account (which turned out to be another Twitter bot).

The jury is still out on how to handle these situations from a legal standpoint, but they will continue to come up with emerging industries in which robots can kill, like self-driving cars and robots in the health care industry.

Random Darknet Shopper’s creators, who are based in Switzerland, previously said that they would like to take the show on the road once they got the little guy back in their hands. If they do, we’ll see what law enforcement thinks of their art in other jurisdictions. The bot may see get a tour of jail cells around the world.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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