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SYFY WIRE robots

Machines that feel? AI bots see ‘animal cruelty’ in YouTube clips of robots fighting

By Benjamin Bullard
BattleBots fight it out on Discovery Channel

Oh, the humanity! In a funny recent case of online algorithms simply carrying out their AI programming — yet looking an awful lot like empaths for their species while doing it — content-monitoring bots at YouTube momentarily flagged a series of robot-wars videos as off limits for viewing … on the grounds, believe it or not, of animal cruelty.

Users who post the videos, which include several in the popular BattleBots TV series, reportedly received auto-generated notifications from YouTube after its AI interpreted all that sizzly robot-on-robot violence as “deliberate infliction of animal suffering” and temporarily took the clips down, according to Vice’s Motherboard

While the clips are all about watching the sparks fly as the machines duke it out for droid supremacy, some of the removed videos reportedly did contain animal names in their titles, since some teams name their creations after animals. But the geeky hobby is all about design and engineering, not bloodsport, so of course none of the videos featured depictions of animals in any way.

Once users notified YouTube and got some actual humans involved, the service reportedly reinstated the videos and advised any additional users affected by the mix-up that they can challenge future takedowns should its AI end up offended by other videos that feature robots trying to murder each other.

For robot hobbyists, the pursuit of creating the ultimate fighting champion from metal, polycarbonate, and other tech-y materials has long served as an engaging way to get people interested in science. High school and college programs nationwide sponsor student teams who craft their own robot warriors, and the National Robotics League hosts a bracketed competition to determine which STEM-minded crew takes home the top honor at its U.S. championship event each year.

As for BattleBots, which places no school-age or regional restrictions on its contestant teams, the competition is celebrating its 20th year in 2019, with all-new episodes airing at 8 p.m. ET each Friday on Discovery Channel.