Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post for the Law in Computation series, a collection of blog posts from faculty and graduate student fellows at UC Irvine’s Technology, Law and Society Institute. Leading up to a summer institute in 2018, the series provides examples of research and thinking from this interdisciplinary group and elaborates how sociolegal scholars might address new computing technologies, like artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, and more.
In 2015, a robot buying illicit items off the “dark web” was confiscated by the Swiss authorities along with its haul of Ecstasy pills, a Hungarian passport, counterfeit designer clothing, and other items. Dubbed Random Darknet Shopper it was a bot programmed to shop on the dark web using Bitcoin, the pseudo-anonymous cryptocurrency that, at the time of my writing, is experiencing an enormous bubble. Previously assumed to be the domain of criminals or drug dealers, the Bitcoin bubble has made it more mainstream, even on popular television shows like The Daily Show and is being discussed at policy forums worldwide. It increased in value from just over $1000 to over $8000 between February 2017 and February 2018, with a peak at over $19,000 in mid-December 2017. While it was pretty obscure just a few months ago, you probably have a cousin or uncle currently “mining” Bitcoin or trading in similar digital tokens whether you know it or not. (read more...)