Chess robot breaks finger of seven-year-old opponent when he takes turn quickly

Chess is a strategy game that requires patience, calm concentration, and intellectual effort when played by people. Usually, there is no violence involved. But machines don’t always seem to be capable of the same.

According to Russian media agencies, a chess-playing robot, evidently upset by a seven-year-old boy’s rapid reactions, unceremoniously grabbed and broke his finger during a match at the Moscow Open last week.

“The robot broke the child’s finger,” Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told the TASS news agency after the incident, adding that the machine had played many previous exhibitions without upset. “This is of course bad.”

Video shows the boy’s finger being pinched by the robotic arm for several seconds before a woman followed by three men rush in, free him and usher him away.

According to Sergey Smagin, vice-president of the Russian Chess Federation, the robot appeared to pounce after taking one of the boy’s pieces. Rather than waiting for the machine to finish its maneuver, the child chose a rapid riposte, he explained.

“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.

Lazarev had a different account, saying 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 named the boy as Christopher and said he was one of the 30 best chess players in the Russian capital in the under-nines category. “People rushed to help and pulled out the finger of the young player, but the fracture could not be avoided,” it said.

Lazarev told Tass that Christopher, whose finger was put in a plaster cast, did not seem overly traumatised by the attack. “The child played the very next day, finished the tournament, and volunteers helped to record the moves,” he said.

His parents, however, 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 machine, which can play multiple matches at a time and had reportedly already played three on the day it encountered Christopher, was “unique”, he said. “It has performed at many opens. Apparently, children need to be warned. It happens.”

A Russian grandmaster, Sergey Karjakin, said the incident was no doubt 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.”

Accidents caused by robots

According to one 2015 study, one person gets killed by an industrial robot in the United States alone each year. Indeed, according to the US Workplace Safety and Health Administration, the majority of occupational mishaps utilizing robots since 2000 have resulted in fatalities.

Robert Williams, commonly regarded as the first, was killed in 1979 by the arm of a one-tonne robot on Ford’s Michigan assembly line. In 2015, a robot at one of Volkswagen’s German facilities murdered a 22-year-old contractor by seizing him and slamming him against a metal plate.

Medical surgery robots were also blamed for the deaths of 144 people between 2008 and 2013. In 2018, Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed by an Uber autonomous car that hit her at 40 mph while she was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona.