Chess is played by humans, and is a game of strategic thinking, quiet focus and patient intellectual pursuit. Violence does not usually come. It seems that the same cannot always be said about machines.
Last week, according to Russian media, a chess-playing robot, apparently unsettled by the quick reflexes of a seven-year-old, unceremoniously grabbed and broke its finger during a match at the Moscow Open.
“The robot broke the child’s finger,” Sergey Lazarev, head of the Moscow Chess Federation, told TASS news agency after the accident, adding that the machine had played many previous fairs without being disturbed. “Of course that’s bad.”
The video of the July 19 incident, posted by the Baza Telegram channel, shows the boy’s finger pinching off the robotic arm for several seconds before a woman followed by three men lunges, freeing him and shooting him away.
Sergei Smagin, vice president of the Russian Chess Federation, told Bazza that the robot appeared to pounce after taking one of the boy’s pieces. Instead of waiting for the machine to complete its motion, he said, the boy opted for a quick response.
There are certain safety rules, and it seems that the child violated them. Smagen said when he took this step, he didn’t realize that he had to wait first. “This is an extremely rare case, and it’s the first case I can remember,” he added.
Lazarev had a different version, where he said that the child “made a move, after which we need to give the robot time to respond, but the boy hurried and the robot grabbed him.” Either way, he said, robot suppliers had to “think again.”
Baza named the boy after Christopher and said he was among the 30 best chess players in the Russian capital in the under-9 class. And she continued, “People rushed to help and pulled the young player’s finger, but the fracture is inevitable.”
Lazarev told TASS that Christopher, whose finger was cast in a plaster cast, did not appear to be in severe shock from the attack. “The child played the next day, finished the tournament, and the volunteers helped record the movements,” he said.
However, his parents reportedly contacted the prosecutor’s office. “We will reach out, find out, and try to help in any way we can,” he said. Smagin told RIA Novosti that the accident was a “coincidence” and that the robot was “completely safe”.
He said the machine, which could play several games at once and had already played three on the day it faced Christopher, was “unique”. “She has performed in many openings. Apparently, children should be warned. It happens.”
Russia’s chief, Sergei Karjakin, said that the accident was undoubtedly due to “something wrong with the software or something,” adding: “This has never happened before. There are such accidents. I wish the boy good health.”
Perhaps Christopher was lucky. As robots become more complex, with newer models capable of not only interacting but also actively cooperating with humans, most simply repeat the same basic actions – grabbing, moving, quenching – and don’t know and don’t care if people get in their way.
According to a 2015 study, one person is killed every year by an industrial robot in the United States alone. In fact, according to the US Occupational Safety Administration, most occupational accidents since 2000 involving robots have been fatalities.
Robert Williams, widely considered the first, was crushed to death by the arm of a one-ton robot at a Ford Michigan production line in 1979. In 2015, a robot killed a 22-year-old contractor at a German Volkswagen plant, and caught him And crush it on a metal plate.
Robots used in medical surgery have also been blamed for 144 deaths between 2008 and 2013. Most recently, Elaine Herzberg was killed by a self-driving Uber that hit the 49-year-old at 40 mph while crossing the road in Tempe, Arizona in 2018.
In general, human error – or a lack of human understanding of robotic processes – is the most common cause. It pays to be careful with bots, even if they are only playing chess.