A bot created by a group of artists spent the last few months selecting items at random from a Silk Road-style darknet marketplace, buying them with Bitcoin, and having them shipped to a gallery in Switzerland. After the it bought some ecstasy pills and a counterfeit passport, we asked: How will authorities deal with the complex legal and moral issue of a piece of artificial intelligence breaking the law? It turns out, the answer was simple: just arrest the computer.
Well, arrest isn't precisely the right word. It's unlikely that officials will bring criminal charges against Random Darknet Shopper or put it on trial like they would a human, but on January 12, the day after the closing of the bot's exhibition at St. Gallen's Kunst Halle gallery, prosecutors arrived at the gallery, seized the hardware that was running the bot and all of the items that it purchased—which also included a pack of cigarettes and a pair of Air Yeezys—and took them into custody.
A representative of !Midengruppe Bitnik, the group of artists that created Random Darknet Shopper, told Dazed that the artists themselves weren't arrested, and that it looks unlikely that they'll face charges:
Is Random Darknet Shopper in custody?
!Mediengruppe Bitnik: Yes, Random Darknet Shopper and all the objects are in custody. But they are sealed. This means, that the public prosecutor has to hear us before he can proceed with any actions. We think this will happen in the next few days.
Are you under threat from the force of the law yourselves? Have the police spoken with you?
!Mediengruppe Bitnik: It is unclear if we are. Until now, no charges have been pressed against the bot or against !Mediengruppe Bitnik. We have no direct contact. Only through our lawyer have we been in contact with the public prosecutor. Through her, we have had to claim ownership for the Random Darknet Shopper since we want the seized objects back.
Bitnik also told Dazed that prosecutors seem to be having fun with the case.
They also seem to have a good sense of humour. They've publicly stated that they enjoy being part of the art project, because the piece raises interesting questions in their field. They've even suggested to use the order of forfeiture instead of the MDMA in future exhibitions. That's quite some art expertise.