Robot Chess Players Pose A More Dangerous Threat To Their Human Opponents Than You Realize

In one of the most potentially prescient lines in movie history, the T-800 robot (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the film "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" film,  explains that, on August 29, 1997, SkyNet became self-aware. In other words, an artificial intelligence designed for military applications became aware of itself, setting into motion a series of events that would lead to a worldwide takeover by sentient robots.

In reality, August 29, 1997 came and went with nothing of any major importance happening, but the matter of machines becoming self-aware isn't limited to the realm of science fiction. In 2022, as The Guardian reported, a Google employee was terminated for claiming that one of the company's products was sentient and self-aware.

Though the world hasn't been violently taken over by sentient machines (yet), it seems that one "intelligent" robot went off-script recently during a chess tournament in Moscow. Specifically, a chess-playing robot disfigured a small boy. "This is, of course, bad," said a Russian chess official, via CNN, in what may be the understatement of the 21st century.

Chess Robots Go Back Further Than You Think

For about a century or so, according to, the chess world was amazed by a machine that was purported to play chess. The Mechanical Turk, or just The Turk, was an automaton built in 1770 — centuries before robots and artificial intelligence would become a part of everyday life. A robotic figure, dressed as a Turk and holding a pipe, would respond to the moves challengers made, and could be counted upon to almost always win. Of course, The Turk (depicted above) was not a chess-playing machine — those wouldn't become a reality until the 1960s — but rather, it was an elaborate stage prop in which a real master hid.

In the 1960s, chess-playing computer programs became a thing although top-tier human players could easily beat them. That all changed in 1996, when Russian master Garry Kasparov lost to a program called Deep Blue, marking the first time a computer ever beat a human in a formal game, according to Smithsonian.

What Deep Blue and other chess programs have in common is that the actual, physical movement of the pieces was handled by humans. However, robots capable of executing such fine movements have been around for decades, and so when a chess program was combined with a robot capable of making small and precise movements, it seemed like a fun novelty. Unfortunately, the machine promptly broke a child's finger, according to IFL Science.

'Apparently, The Operators Overlooked Some Flaws'

The Moscow Chess Open took place in Moscow, of all places, in July 2022, according to CNN. During part of the event, a chess-playing robot was brought in to entertain the crowd, and to participate in a couple of games.

During one game, the bot was up against a seven-year-old boy. And, in one particular sequence, it seems as if the young child moved too quickly for the machine to keep up, and in the process, its pincers grabbed not a pawn or a bishop, but the lad's finger, and the machine promptly crushed it.

It bears noting that this does not appear to be an example of a sentient machine going rogue. This bot does and did exactly what it was programmed to — play chess — nothing more, nothing less. And indeed, "apparently, the operators overlooked some flaws," according to an official, in what may be quite the understatement.

The boy, for his part, was treated and then came back to complete the tournament. "We will coordinate to understand what happened and try to help [the family] in any way we can. And the robot's operators, apparently, will have to think about strengthening protection so that such a situation does not happen again," said a Russian chess official. The incident can be seen on Twitter.