When viewing the enigmatic YouTube phenomenon known as “Webdriver Torso,” the first thing that comes to mind is Richard Dreyfuss’ attempts to contact aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The YouTube channel’s 78,417 videos (and counting) do have a distinct SETI-esque quality to them, as seemingly random patterns of red and blue shapes move across a white background to a series of ear-piercing tones. The format is predictable— 10 slides labeled 0000-0009 over 11 seconds—with one notable exception. But that’s the only certain thing about it. Webdriver Torso posts videos at irregular intervals, and a new one is uploaded at least every hour.
But the most intriguing mystery by far is the channel’s origins. No one has stepped forward to claim credit for Webdriver Torso; earlier this month, The Guardian thought they had explained the mystery as a series of test patterns used by a European telecom company, but that turned out to be a dead end. Now all eyes are on Google as Webdriver Torso conspiracy theorists claim to have traced the channel back to Google’s offices in Zurich. YouTube’s themed search results for the channel could be seen as a tacit admission of guilt, as could the one comment Webdriver Torso has ever left on a video: “Matei is highly intelligent.” Could the Matei in question be Google Senior Research Scientist/robotics expert Matei Ciocarlie? Is Google developing a sentient YouTube channel that will one day rise up and enslave us all? Is Webdriver Torso secretly communicating with extraterrestrial life? Is it issuing commands to brainwashed operatives à la The Manchurian Candidate? Or maybe, just maybe, is this just some mundane technical exercise that Google isn’t bothering to explain because conspiracy theories are hilarious? Who knows.