Robot Buys Ecstacy With Bitcoin, Gets Arrested

Robot Buys Ecstacy With Bitcoin, Gets Arrested
Image credit: Jeff Krause | Flickr

This is the curious story of how a robot armed with a weekly budget of $100 in bitcoin managed to buy Ecstasy, a Hungarian passport and a baseball cap with a built-in camera—before getting arrested.

The "automated online shopping bot" was set up in October last year by Swiss art group, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, as an art installation to explore the "dark web"—the hidden, un-indexed part of the Internet.

Each week, the robot was given $100 worth of Bitcoin— the major hard-to-trace cryptocurrency—and programmed to randomly purchase one item from Agora, an online marketplace on the dark web where shoppers can buy drugs and other illegal items. The items were automatically delivered to a Swiss art gallery called Kunst Halle St Gallen to form an exhibition.

The robot was christened "Random Darknet Shopper" and its purchases included a Hungarian passport, Ecstasy pills, fake Diesel jeans, a Sprite can with a hole cut out in order to stash cash, Nike trainers, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, cigarettes and the "Lord of the Rings" e-book collection.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the robot and his artistic creators had a run in with the law. In January 2015, the Swiss police confiscated the robot and its illegal purchases.

However, three months later, the Random Darknet Shopper was returned to the artists, along with all its purchases except the Ecstasy (also known as MDMA) tablets, which was destroyed by the Swiss authorities.

The artists behind the robot escaped without any charges.

"This is a great day for the 'bot, for us and for freedom of art!" !Mediengruppe Bitnik, said in a blog post last week. "In the order for withdrawal of prosecution, 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."

RoThe Swiss authorities confirmed that the artists and the robot would not be charged.

"We decided the Ecstasy that is in this presentation was safe and nobody could take it away. Bitnik never intended to sell it or consume it so we didn't punish them," Thomas Hansjakob, a spokesperson for the Swiss St Gallen police, told CNBC on Tuesday.

He added that the artists had not informed the police before undertaking this project and that the authorities had heard about it from the media.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik said that all the items except the Ecstasy had been returned to them.

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