For the exhibition Desperate times call for desperate measures, lol !Mediengruppe Bitnik delved into gigabytes of data from the hack of Ashley Madison, an online Canadian dating service marketed to married men seeking casual sex. With a disproportionate number of male subscribers and virtually no human women on the site, most of the interactions were not human-to-human at all, but human-to-chatbot.
In July 2015, an anonymous group called The Impact Team stole Ashley Madison customer data – including emails, names, home addresses, credit card information and sexual fantasies. The group threatened to post that data online unless Ashley Madison permanently shut down the website. When the company refused, Impact Team published personal data from more than 33 million users.
The leak also revealed that Ashley Madison had created an army of 75,000 female chatbots to draw men into (costly) conversations, a dubious practice legitimized in small print by claiming that the website was “for entertainment purposes only.”
!Mediengruppe Bitnik was curious to explore these human-bot relationships. Does it matter that users are chatting with bots and not humans? Why? How did the system work? How was trust built into it? How was the communication with the bots structured? Were these relationships “real”?
For swissnex San Francisco, the group uses localized data from the Ashley Madison hack. Each fembot needed a name, age, a list of pick up lines and a location. 211 of these bots lived in San Francisco, and provided “entertainment” to 68,935 registered users in the area. At the swissnex Gallery, !Mediengruppe Bitnik gives a physical embodiment to the 50 bots located closest to Pier 17, giving form to the invisible bot-presence within the city.
6:30pm– doors open
7-7.30pm– artist talk and walk through
8-9pm– performance by Elon Katz
10pm- doors close
!Mediengruppe Bitnik live and work in Zurich/Berlin. They are contemporary artists working on, and with, the Internet. Their practice expands from the digital to physical spaces, often intentionally applying loss of control to challenge established structures and mechanisms. !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s works formulate fundamental questions concerning contemporary issues.
In early 2013, !Mediengruppe Bitnik sent a parcel to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. The parcel contained a camera which broadcast its journey through the postal system live on the internet. They describe “Delivery for Mr. Assange” as a “SYSTEM_TEST and a Live Mail Art Piece.” The group created a bot, called “Random Darknet Shopper,” which went on a three-month shopping spree in the Darknet, where it randomly bought Ecstasy and other illegal objects which were shipped directly to the gallery space.
!Mediengruppe Bitnik are the artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo. Their accomplices are the London filmmaker and researcher Adnan Hadzi, and the reporter Daniel Ryser.
Elon Katz is a vocalist and electronic music artist born and based in Los Angeles, California. Known for the eccentric EBM avant-pop of White Car, and his collaboration with Beau Wanzer, Streetwalker, Elon has dropped the monikers and masks of the early decade to mature his particular brand of synthetic music.
In 2016, Elon released an EP of neoprimitive beats for Franco-Japanese label MIND under the spelt-out alias of E L O N, followed by his debut solo vocal statement on Diagonal, “The Human Pet”, a portrait of media-dependent, ego-driven accelerationism.
Photo: Astra Brinkmann for swissnex SF.