Seemingly benevolent chess robot snaps boy's finger during tournament

"This is, of course, bad," says the president of the Moscow Chess Federation.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 15: A robot plays chess during 2020 China International Industry Fair at...
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Though instances of robot violence are plentiful in cinema and other fiction, it’s rare that we actually witness a human being harmed by one in real life. But sci-fi came to life this weekend as a chess-playing robot broke a 7-year-old boy’s finger during the Moscow Chess Open.

Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told Russian media that the incident occurred after the human competitor tried to rush the robot. The robot takes some time to make its next decision after a move has been made, and, apparently, the boy didn’t feel like waiting. “A robot broke a child’s finger — this is, of course, bad,” Lazarev said.

The child sustained no injuries other than his broken finger, which required a cast. He continued competing in the competition the next day. It’s unclear whether or not the Moscow Chess Federation kept using the robot after the incident.

A video posted to Russian news site Baza’s Telegram channel shows the robot grabbing the boy’s finger for a few seconds as onlookers rush to help.

Lazarev made sure to note that the robot, which employs artificial intelligence, was not created by the Moscow Chess Federation. “The robot’s operators, apparently, will have to think about strengthening protection so that such a situation does not happen again,” he said.

Some are trained to kill, though — The vast majority of robots are, like this chess robot, well-intentioned. They are often freaky, yes, but they’re also highly functional. The field of robotics has given us many innovations in the recent past, and most of them aren’t just harmless — they’re downright boring. One of the greatest robotics discoveries of the last few years is a Roomba that can operate without spreading dog poop all over your apartment.

Then again: some robots are being created with the stated intention of causing harm. Dog-shaped robots capable of carrying semi-automatic weapons are no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Accidents like this one are a pertinent reminder that even robots with the best intentions can be dangerous when programming mistakes turn to action. If a robot made only to play chess can accidentally break a child’s finger, what kind of damage could be done by a fully humanoid robot programmed to complete a wider array of tasks?