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Popular video platform YouTube took down a number of combat robotics videos – robot vs. robot competitions popularised by the show BattleBots – on the grounds that they include “deliberate infliction of animal suffering or the forcing of animals to fight”, including “cock fighting”.
A recent video by YouTube channel Maker’s Muse brought the strange phenomenon to light, and a YouTube spokesperson confirmed to Futurism that the takedowns were made in error.
Error or not, it’s an odd example of the fallibility of automated algorithms that do the dirty work for platforms at scale: weeding out the truly bad content – including hate speech, outright violence against animals and so on – on social media.
The engineers behind the weapon-wielding, remote-controlled bots were upset by YouTube’s decision to take down their content.
Graduate research assistant and PhD candidate at MIT and BattleBots contestant Jamison Go wrote in a public Facebook post that “today is a sad day. Robot builders across the world cried out in agony as YouTube’s algorithm falsely identified personal videos of robot sport as ‘animal cruelty’ and ‘cock fighting’.”
While the videos mentioned in Maker’s Muse’s video were back up at press time, a YouTube spokesperson did confirm that they were taken down – but that “these removals were in error.”
“With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call,” the spokesperson told Futurism. “When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.”
And no, YouTube’s automated algorithms don’t have an inherent vendetta against robot on robot violence.
“We have no policies that prohibit videos of robots fighting,” the YouTube spokesperson said.
Now, the videos seem to be coming back.
“The situation seems to be resolving itself,” Sarah Pohorecky, MIT graduate and fellow BattleBots team member whose content was temporarily removed by YouTube, told Futurism in an email.
“My video and some of my friends’ videos reappeared this morning with no notice or statement from YouTube.”
But appealing YouTube’s decision was a major pain.
“It was a headache, and there’s always the risk that the appeal will be rejected and the video lost or the channel deleted,” Pohorecky added in a follow up.
“It seems that this is probably just a poorly-trained video-recognition AI, and nothing malicious, but it’s been a headache and a big worry for the builders in the combat robotics community.”
Like it or not, YouTube is a driving force in mass media. A recent poll found that teens trust YouTube more than traditional journalists when it comes to everyday news.
“Combat robotics – they’re not ‘autonomous robots’ or anything, they’re remote-controlled robots at the end of the day, with armor and weapons,” said Angus Deveson, the man behind Maker’s Muse on YouTube at the end of his video.
“And they are a fantastic tool for education and engineering.”