Via the guardian.
Can a robot, or a piece of software, be jailed if it commits a crime? Where does legal culpability lie if code is criminal by design or default? What if a robot buys drugs, weapons, or hacking equipment and has them sent to you, and police intercept the package?
These are questions we haven’t had to ask until now, but they are part of a pertinent philosophical dilemma thrown up by the emergence of darknet markets, anonymous internet use, and bitcoin. These and other questions are all explored in a new exhibition, The Darknet: From Memes to Onionland, at The Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, an hour east of Zürich, Switzerland.
A robot deployed on the dark web over the past few weeks has bought a pair of fake Diesel jeans, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, a stash can, a pair of Nike trainers, a decoy letter (used to see if your address is being monitored), 200 Chesterfield cigarettes, a set of fire-brigade issued master keys, a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, and 10 ecstasy pills. All of the products are on display as part of the exhibition, which runs until 11 January.
London-based Swiss artists !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo), coded the Random Darknet Shopper, an automated online shopping bot, and instructed it to spend $100 in bitcoin per week on a darknet market that lists over 16,000 items, not all of them illegal.
Their aim is to explore the ethical and philosophical implications of these markets, which, despite high-profile internationally co-ordinated raids costing millions, persist and flourish.
“The arts should be able to mirror something that is happening in contemporary society in a contemporary way,” says Weisskopf. “We really want to provide new spaces to think about the goods traded on these markets. Why are they traded? How do we as a society deal with these spaces? At the moment there is just a lot of pressure, but not a lot of thinking about stuff, just immediate reaction.”
The gallery is next door to a police station, but the artists say they are not afraid of legal repercussions of their bot buying illegal goods.
“We are the legal owner of the drugs – we are responsible for everything the bot does, as we executed the code, says Smoljo. “But our lawyer and the Swiss constitution says art in the public interest is allowed to be free.”
The project also aims to explore the ways that trust is built between anonymous participants in a commercial transaction for possibly illegal goods. Perhaps most surprisingly, not one of the 12 deals the robot has made has ended in a scam.
“The markets copied procedures from Amazon and eBay – their rating and feedback system is so interesting,” adds Smojlo. “With such simple tools you can gain trust. The service level was impressive – we had 12 items and everything arrived.”
“There has been no scam, no rip-off, nothing,” says Weiskopff. “One guy could not deliver a handbag the bot ordered, but he then returned the bitcoins to us.”
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