What the Robot Saw


More info on the project’s critical concerns.
More info on the technical research aspects (machine learning, etc.)

‘What the Robot Saw’ (v 0.1 alpha) is a perpetual, robot-generated durational livestream film, curated and edited algorithmically from among the least viewed YouTube videos uploaded over the past few hours. A Robot/AI filmmaker makes its way through the world of online video, focusing its attention on people who don’t usually get attention.

If the stream isn’t live, you can find recent archives here.

An invisible audience of software robots continually analyze content on the Internet. Videos by non-“YouTube stars” that algorithms don’t promote to the top of the search rankings or the “recommended” sidebar may be seen by few or no human viewers. For these videos, robots may be the primary audience. In ‘What the Robot Saw,’ the Robot is both AI voyeur and film director, depicting and magnifying the online personas of the subjects of a never-ending film.

Using computer vision, neural networks, and other robotic ways of seeing and understanding, the Robot continually selects, edits, and arranges recently uploaded public YouTube clips from among those with low subscriber and view counts, focusing on personal videos. A loose, stream-of-consciousness structure is developed as the Robot organizes the clips as a drift through neural network-determined groupings. As the Robot scans and magnifies the clips, it generates the film in a style fitting its own obsessions, streaming it live back to YouTube for public viewing. The film navigates a slice of social media that’s overlooked by the usual search and recommendation algorithms — thus largely only visible to robo-algorithmic voyeurs 

As time zones around the globe sleep and wake, ‘What the Robot Saw’ follows the circadian rhythms of the world’s uploads. So tune in now and then. Robots never sleep*.

‘What the Robot Saw’ is a non-commercial project. This is version 0.1-alpha, an initial implementation. There’s work still to be done in terms of structure, timing, sound, and AI. Versions focused on different content will also likely be spawned in the future.

* The live stream runs eighteen hours a day; there are “intermissions” every four hours (and as needed for maintenance.) Archives of some recent streams are available on the Videos page or on the YouTube Channel.

Although the YouTube live stream is central to the project, the technical limitations of live streaming mean the image and sound quality are not ideal and may vary with network conditions. A high quality stream can be generated locally for art installations and screenings.