BBC risks wrath of android rights activists with Robot Wars reboot

Slave automatons forced to battle it out in Glasgow

BBC 2 has shrugged off the rising android-rights movement to reboot Robot Wars, the mechano pugilistic punch-fest which enlivened many hungover Sundays* in the late '90s.

The broadcaster has commissioned six one hour episodes of the new series from Mentorn Scotland, which it reckons will exploit “a raft of technological devices since the show first aired” and will lead to “more innovative fighting machines as teams of amateur roboteers battle it out to win the coveted Robot Wars title.”

Kim Shillinglaw, controller of BBC Two and BBC Four, said in a statement: “With new technological advances making for an even more exciting and immersive experience this is a fantastic example of the kind of content-rich factual entertainment that BBC Two excels at.”

Yep, right up there with Star Gazing Live.

The technological possibilities are obviously intriguing. Back at the turn of the millennium roboteers were mainly restricted to souping up the guts of a remote-controlled car, and somehow allying it with a spring-loaded hammer.

The programme makers doubtless envision today’s roboteers taking advantage of mesh networking, the Internet of Things, micro-sensors, AI and 3D printing. Though let’s face it, the Western World is already relying on killer robots to do much of its fighting in the world’s trouble spots, so the amateurs are going to have to really up their game.

In another example of how much the world has changed in the last decade and a half, the programme makers promise that the tin-shelled toughs will duke it out “in a new purpose built fighting arena in Glasgow”. We remember when that description would have been applied to most of the city.

However, while programme makers are clearly banking on 15 years of technological progress to enliven the show, they don’t seem to have taken account of similar changes in the field of robot ethics.

Robot ethicists have already raised the troubling societal implications of the long-expected introduction of robo-prostitutes. Dr Kathleen Richards, who heads the Campaign Against Sex Robots, told the Reg last September, “To call them toys is to understate the issue.” Surely being forced to fight in Glasgow is just as bad as being forced to service the sexual desires of socially inadequate humans. Meanwhile, Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, has famously warned against the rise of killer robots who could turn on their human masters.

It doesn’t take much to envision the anti-droid-sex activists and anti-robo-war campaigners joining forces against the Beeb’s planned orgy of tin bashing, ultimately freeing the silicon-powered gladiators from their spotty overlords.

Not that Richardson and Sharkey could expect much thanks. What with advances in AI since the first series of Robot Wars, we reckon that the first thing a bunch of “liberated” pumped up psycho robots would do is break through the cordon of humans in search of any open-minded pleasure droids who happen to be trolling the streets of Glasgow.

Now that really would make compelling TV. ®


Some Vultures remember Robot Wars being screened on Friday nights as well as Sunday mornings. YMMV.

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