When the history of the rise of the robots is written, perhaps this might feature in the opening chapter: a seven-year-old boy has had his finger broken by a robotic opponent during a chess match in Moscow.
There’s some debate about exactly what happened, but it seems that the youngster took a move faster than the robot was expecting, possibly leading to the accident.
Video of the incident shows the robotic arm grabbing and pinching the boy’s finger with a sudden movement. After a few seconds, people around the table rush to the child’s aid and manage to prize his finger free from the clutches of the mechanical adversary.
“The robot broke the child’s finger,” Sergey Lazarev, the president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told the TASS news agency in Russia (via Google Translate). “This is, of course, bad.”
Other details are scarce – we don’t know what type of robot this is or how it has been programmed. It would seem that it’s designed to simply move chess pieces around a board, and may not have understood that it was actually grabbing a child’s finger.
The good news is that the young man in question doesn’t appear to have been overly traumatized by the incident, as far as we can tell: he was able to carry on playing the next day with a cast on his finger, and finished the tournament.
From what information we have, this is likely a case of someone putting their hands where they weren’t predicted to go, rather than any aggressive action on the robot’s part – but it’s clear we can’t have a repeat of this incident.
“The robot was rented by us, it has been exhibited in many places, for a long time, with specialists,” Lazarev said. “The robot operators, apparently, will have to think about strengthening protection so that this situation does not happen again.”
As machinery and robots become stronger and more advanced, the need to put safety measures in place increases. Tragic accidents like this are, of course, nothing new, but it highlights the need for human-robot interfaces that are easy to understand from both sides, with plenty of safeguards built in.
With artificial intelligence now in the picture, too – giving machines the ability to think for themselves, potentially – there’s some concern that we’ll get to a stage where we can no longer control what actions the robots around us take.
Though still very serious and concerning, this would seem to be a case of malfunctioning machinery, so we can rest easy knowing that the robot uprising hasn’t started yet.
There’s clearly a balance to be struck between robots keeping us safer – in doing dangerous or difficult jobs, for example, or in being more precise and less fallible than we can be – and making sure nothing can go wrong that would potentially put humans in the way of harm.