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The Margin: ‘The robot broke the child’s finger — this, of course, is bad’: Chess robot goes rogue in Russia

Beware of chess-playing robots that don’t take kindly to sudden moves.

News outlets are reporting that a robot broke the finger of a 7-year-old boy at a Moscow chess competition earlier this month.

Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, reportedly told TASS, the Russian news agency, that the scenario unfolded as follows: “The child made a move, and after that we need to give time for the robot to answer, but the boy hurried, the robot grabbed him.” Lazarev added the robot was rented by his organization for the event and “has been exhibited in many places” prior to the competition.

Lazarev nevertheless acknowledged the unfortunate situation: “The robot broke the child’s finger — this, of course, is bad.”

Video from the event shows what happened, including how adults rushed to the boy’s aid and freed him from the robot’s clutches.

The story might seem like something out of sci-fi movie, but the fact remains that robots have been involved in several workplace accidents, including some fatal ones. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration has documented more than 40 such robot-related incidents, going back to 1984.

Isaac Asimov, the science-fiction writer, warned of the perils of living with robots. In his 1942 short story “Runaround,” he established three key laws of robotics. The first law states: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” (If this sounds familiar, it’s because Asimov’s story was something of an inspiration for the 2004 Will Smith film, “I, Robot.”)

Of course, it is not the robot that is theoretically responsible, so much as the humans involved in its programming and operation. Lazarev of the Moscow Chess Federation made that very point, noting that “the robot operators, apparently, will have to think about strengthening protection so that this situation does not happen again.”

Nevertheless, Lazarev said the injured boy returned to the tournament the next day — in a cast.

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