Chess robot breaks its seven-year-old opponent's finger

Not a rookie mistake.
Deena Theresa
A robot playing chess.LightFieldStudios/iStock

When Christopher, one of the 30 best chess players in Moscow in the under-nines category, appeared at the Moscow Open, the last thing he foresaw was a rogue chess-playing robot breaking his finger.

Russian media outlets reported that the robot, who was unsettled by the immediate responses of the seven-year-old boy, went berserk and broke the latter's finger amid the match, as reported by The Guardian.

"The robot broke the child’s finger," Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told the TASS news agency after the incident, stressing that the machine had played many previous exhibitions with a calm demeanor. "This is, of course, bad."

Not a good move

The video of the July 19 incident that was published by the Baza Telegram channel reveals the boy's finger being pinched for a few seconds before people rush in, free the boy and usher him away. 

According to Sergey Smagin, vice-president of the Russian Chess Federation, the robot appeared to pounce after it took one of the boy’s pieces. Instead of waiting for the machine to complete its move, the boy chose a quick riposte. 

"There are certain safety rules, and the child, apparently, violated them. When he made his move, he did not realize he first had to wait," Smagin said. "This is an extremely rare case, the first I can recall," he added.

However, Lazarev described the incident differently. He said that the child had "made a move, and after that, we need to give time for the robot to answer, but the boy hurried, and the robot grabbed him". Either way, he said, the robot’s suppliers were "going to have to think again".

Baza said that "people rushed to help and pulled out the finger of the young player, but the fracture could not be avoided".

The traumatizing attack did not dampen Christopher's winning spirit. His finger was put in a cast, and he "played the very next day, finished the tournament, and volunteers helped to record the moves," said Lazarev.

His parents, however, did not take the incident lightly and have reportedly contacted the public prosecutor’s office. "We will communicate, figure it out and try to help in any way we can," he said. Smagin told RIA Novosti the incident was "a coincidence" and the robot was "absolutely safe".

The chess-playing robot was a seasoned player

He added that the machine was "unique" and could play multiple matches at a time. In fact, it has already played three on the day it encountered Christopher. "It has performed at many opens. Apparently, children need to be warned. It happens," said Smagin.

Sergey Karjakin, a Russian grandmaster, said the incident was undoubtedly due to "some kind of software error or something." He added: "This has never happened before. There are such accidents. I wish the boy good health."

Killer and autonomous robots wrecking havoc aren't new. In 1979, Robert Williams was the first to be crushed to death by the arm of a one-tonne robot on Ford’s Michigan production line, reportedly. Medical robots are apparently responsible for the deaths of 144 people between 2008 and 2013.

Basic safety features could have easily prevented the accident, according to The Verge. Placing a camera above the chess board that disables the robot’s movement if foreign objects appear in the frame could limit the force exerted by the robot's arm. 

"The robot operators, apparently, will have to think about strengthening protection so that this situation does not happen again," said Lazarev.

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