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Bad AI! Chess-playing robot breaks 7-year-old’s finger in the middle of human-vs-machine match

Fresh nightmare fuel for everyone skeptical about teaching machines to think for themselves.

By Benjamin Bullard
robot playing chess

Talk about bad sportsmanship — and at the hands of a robot, no less. An AI-powered machine equipped with the gift of game strategizing (but definitely not good manners) has reportedly injured a 7-year-old child who dared to take the machine head on in what we humans thought was supposed to be a friendly game of chess.

First things first: Apart from a fractured finger, the young human chess prodigy — reported by NBC News to be “one of the top 30 chess players in Moscow under the age of 9” — is apparently okay in the wake of last week’s unsettling incident, which occurred at a chess tournament in Russia. But the whole thing sounds like one big vindication for anyone who’s ever cast a suspicious eye at the whole idea of endowing machines with human-like thinking skills.

Even legendary chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was freaked out by the robot’s rude reach-in, which reportedly occurred after the chess prodigy went in to make a rapid rook move right after the robot had conquered another of the human player’s pieces. “I tried to warn you!” Kasparov pleaded, along with a link to a news report on the incident, on Twitter.

Video of the incident shows the child grappling for 15 seconds, with help from bystanders, to free his frozen finger from the clutches of the machine’s claw-like “hand.” Organizers have offered slightly different theories to account for the ‘bot’s apparent bad attitude, but the contributing factor — whether it’s the human’s fault or the robot’s — appears to be timing.

“The child made a move, and after that it is necessary to give time for the robot’s response, but the boy hurried, the robot grabbed him,” Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told Russian-language TASS news agency (as reported by NBC News). Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin told TASS (via The Guardian) that the robot may not have been programmed to account for a human’s quick reflexes, chalking the incident up to “some kind of software error or something,” while noting it’s the first time a chess-playing robot has ever demonstrated such a dark side.

In a true triumph of the human spirit, the boy reportedly didn’t let his brush with cyborg sour grapes stand in his way: “The child played the very next day, finished the tournament, and volunteers helped to record the moves,” Lazarev told TASS (via The Guardian). He’s definitely braver than us: After seeing real-life robot rage that could even drive Chewbacca away from the game table, we’re suddenly hesitant to take on any computer at chess — even if it’s from behind the safety of a computer screen.

Suddenly in the mood for some much friendlier robots? Check out Robots, now streaming on Peacock!