Artists programme bot to buy drugs on Silk Road, everyone wonders what to do about it

Emma Haslett
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The pills were delivered inside a DVD case (Source: !Mediengruppe Bitnik)

Forget trees quietly falling in forests - here's a far more modern problem. If a bot with a penchant for partying buys ecstasy pills and gets them delivered to an art gallery but no one has actively told it to do it, can anyone be prosecuted?

That's the problem facing authorities, after a pair of London-based artists-cum-hackers programmed a bot to buy one item a week at random, with a budget of $100 of Bitcoin, from Silk Road, the online marketplace for all things dastardly.

Last week, the bot, known affectionately as the "Random Darknet Shopper", had a pair of replica Diesel jeans delivered. Before that, it bought a Sprite can with a secret "stash" compartment in it. Among other items it's purchased are a knock-off Hungarian passport, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, a pair of fake Nike trainers and 10 packs of bootleg cigarettes.

But it's the bag of "beautiful yellow round pills with Twitter logo, beveled edges and breaking line on the back" that's causing problems. The artists are based in London, the pills were sent to be displayed as part of the "Darknet: From Memes to Onionland" exhibition at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen in Switzerland - and the actual purchasing was done by a bot, which doesn't really live anywhere.

Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo - collectively known as !Mediengruppe Bitnik - are the artists behind the project. Although Weisskopf has insisted that "the Swiss constitution says art in the public interest is allowed to be free", she has also admitted that "we really don't know what's going to happen".

The project is an illustration of how speedily the internet outgrows legislation: this is unlikely to be the last time authorities are faced with such a dilemma.

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