Played by humans, chess is a game of strategic thinking, calm concentration, and patient intellectual effort. Violence is generally not taken into account. The same cannot always be said of machines, it seems.
Last week, according to Russian media, a robot chess player, apparently disturbed by the quick responses of a seven-year-old boy, roughly grabbed and broke his finger during a match at the Moscow Open.
“The robot broke the child’s finger,” said Sergey Lazarev, chairman of the Moscow Chess Federation. told the TASS news agency after the incident, adding that the machine had played many previous shows without upset. “It is of course bad.”
Video of the July 19 incident published by the Baza Telegram channel shows the boy’s finger pinched by the robotic arm for several seconds before a woman followed by three men rushes in, frees him and pulls him away.
Sergey Smagin, vice-president of the Russian Chess Federation, told Baza that the robot appeared to leap after taking one of the boy’s pieces. Rather than wait for the machine to complete its move, the boy opted for a quick riposte, he said.
“There are certain safety rules and the child apparently violated them. When he made his move, he didn’t realize he had to wait first,” Smagin said. “This is an extremely rare case, the first I can remember,” he added.
Lazarev had a different account, saying the child “made a move, and after that we have to give the robot time to respond, but the boy rushed and the robot grabbed him.” Either way, he said, the robot’s suppliers “were going to have to think again.”
Baza named the boy Christopher and said he was one of the Russian capital‘s top 30 chess players in the under-nine category. “People rushed to help and ripped off the young player’s finger, but the fracture could not be avoided,” he said.
Lazarev told Tass that Christopher, whose finger was placed in a cast, didn’t seem too traumatized by the attack. “The kid played the very next day, finished the tournament, and volunteers helped record the moves,” he said.
His parents, however, would have contacted the prosecution. “We will communicate, understand 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 machine, which can play multiple matches at once and would have already played three the day she met Christopher, was “unique”, he said. “He played many open. Apparently, children should be warned. It happens.”
A Russian grandmaster, Sergey Karjakin, said the incident was undoubtedly due to “some kind of software error or something”, adding: “This has never happened before. There are such accidents I wish the boy good health.
Christopher may have been lucky. As robots become more and more sophisticated, with the most modern models capable of not only interacting but actively cooperating with humans, most simply repeat the same basic actions – grab, move, pose – and only know nor do they care if people get in the way.
According a 2015 study, one person is killed each year by an industrial robot in the United States alone. Indeed, according to the US Occupational Safety Administration, most workplace accidents since 2000 involving robots have been fatal.
Robert Williams, widely believed to be the first, was crushed to death by the arm of a one-ton robot on Ford’s production line in Michigan in 1979. In 2015, a robot killed a 22-year-old contractor in one of Volkswagen’s German factories, seizing it. and smash it against a metal plate.
Robots used in medical surgery were also held responsible for the deaths of 144 people between 2008 and 2013. Most recently, Elaine Herzberg was killed by an Uber self-driving car that hit the 49-year-old woman at 40 mph as she crossed the road in Tempe, in Arizona in 2018.
Typically, however, human error – or a lack of human understanding of robotic processes – is the most common cause. It pays to be careful with robots, even if they only play chess.