25 July 2022

Do not make the chess robot angry

The Back Page

A little boy has learned the hard way not to displease our future overlords.


The Back Page could be fairly accused of having something of a robot and AI obsession.

These stories usually fall squarely into the “What could possibly go wrong?” category.

To imagine what could possibly go wrong often requires some projection by author and reader into a dystopian future where humans have been supplanted by a pitiless technarchy served by uncanny automata.

Not today.

No, this story is as pleasingly immediate in its consequences as it is violent and scary.

Last week a robot chess player at the Moscow Open tournament seized and broke a little boy’s finger after the child apparently made his move too soon.

In the video of the incident, beautifully timed to coincide with International Chess Day, the robot is seen playing three simultaneous games at the centre of a table. It takes a little boy’s piece and, before it has finished depositing the captured piece into the box at the side, the boy moves his rook along the back rank, only to have his playing hand grabbed by the robotic arm. Several men then rush in to release the boy – which takes longer than you’d like – and carry him away, obviously in considerable pain.

“The robot broke the child’s finger,” Moscow Chess Federation president Sergey Lazarev told Russia’s state news agency Tass.

“This is of course bad.”

The Back Page is wistful for the days when chess robots were romantic, fraudulent and creepily Orientalist, rather than of utilitarian design with a taste for human flesh.

If something takes your fancy, or your Queen, send it to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au.