Alexander Schubert - Crawlers
Autonomous AI Bot Collective
Continuous, Online

Project Website

Program Notes
CRAWLERS is an anonymous collective of social bots crawling user data and establishing an uncanny parallel social network of warped truths and stolen personal information. The army of disguised fake identities acts like human profiles in order to scrape text, data and information from the befriended user accounts. They interact with their friends, send requests, comments and thus slowly build up a growing network. They gather information and images from the friend profiles which are then immediately transformed, altered and manipulated.
Based on this transformed data a new mirror website of the social profiles is created step by step. On this page all accounts for the crawled profiles of real humans will be recreated in a modified, strangely alienated format. Everybody who has been crawled by the bot group is from that moment on represented in the uncanny mirror network. A link will be sent to each human profile with an invitation to examine their alter ego online.
The resulting mirror representations feel close to reality but slightly off. No information is correct anymore and everything has been renamed and tempered with. Artificial intelligences are incorporated to alter, modify and enhance the information of the user profiles. Context sensitive deep-learned models are able to create half-truths and seemingly coherent alternative worlds.
The concept behind it deals with the ubiquitous behavior of undercover bot agents and the sensation of stolen personal data. The altered site is like a dark mirror site of yourself, where your identity, data and social network have been transferred to a suspicious new location. It’s a digital parallel world, a dark illegal space of uncanny parallels.
The piece runs continuously on several servers and can be visited online. Resulting profiles and the active bots are displayed in an installation format.

The exhibition is part of the project »The Intelligent Museum« and is funded by the »Kultur Digital« program of the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

Publication / Anonymity:
The project is in its core designed to hide that it is an artwork, and that it is developed by a group of artists. The social media accounts were made to be as unrelated to the artists as possible. The interaction of the audience with the project was supposed to be surprising and unannounced. In most cases it happens through a direct message from a bot to the user. The majority of people encountering the project happened through this channel - leading to a wide range of reactions.
The page itself als tries not to emphasize the sources behind its creation. Ideally all personal data from the artists would be taken out of the project - and we tried to do this as much and as for long as we could. With two exceptions: As the work is under many different aspects highly illegal and potential subject to a wide range of lawsuits, we have been legally advised to somehow make it visible that it is an artwork. So at some point we opted for a balance between strictness and legal safety: That was a sacrifice.
The second point is that from June 2021 we also publish some information on the project and share some details and announcements. This mostly happens because we would like to share it with people at this moment as it is quite likely that the project will disappear or stop working before too long. Legal actions are one possible reason, and the other is that facebook and all components involved in the process are constantly updating and changing - which would require a team constantly working on the project continuously: This is unfortunately almost impossible. Hence we decided to make the project accessible now for people to experience it, while it is up to date and online - again as a compromise with regard to the anonymous character of the piece.

A PDF with comparisons of original and transformed data: Crawlers-Compare.pdf

Alexander Schubert (Concept & Artistic Head)
Steffen Lohrey (Bot Programming)
Konrad Krenzlin (AI Data Transformation)
Yeray Navarro Suarez (Front End Programming)
Juan Jaramillo Lleras (Account Handling)

ZKM Team:
Yannick Hofmann (Curator)
Ralf Eger (Project Management)
Marc Schütze (Technical Project Management)
ZKM | Museumstechnik (Exhibition Setup)


Installation View at ZKM:

Schematic Overview:

Explanation / Presentation:

Apple Podcast

Website Demo:

Comparisons between Original and Transformed Posts:
Use arrows below to go through examples