Heads up, humans: Automated software bots patrolling Wikipedia regularly engage in fights that can last for years, according to new research.
The autonomous software agents are tasked with correcting spelling, maintaining links, or even undoing digital vandalism on web pages. But when two bots find themselves with conflicting missions, they can glitch out into patterns that disrupt service.
The behavior is significant, said researchers from the University of Oxford and the Alan Turning Institute, because it suggests that even the most basic kinds of automated programs and artificial intelligence agents can display unpredictable behavior when interacting with one another.
The researchers tracked the behavior of Wikipedia's autonomous edit bots between 2001-2010 on 13 different language editions of the popular online encyclopedia. They found that the edit bots' behavior was often unpredictable as they virtually crossed paths while doing their jobs. For instance, two edit bots programmed to make conflicting changes to a webpage would circle back and make edits over and over, each undoing the other's work in a potentially infinite loop.