A Kickstarter campaign for an automated chess board was suspended Monday morning after multiple high-profile online chess communities called the product a hoax. Writers for Chess.com, Chess24.com, and Lichess.org accused the company making the product of creating fake engineers who had their headshots generated using artificial intelligence on ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com.
The initial promise of the product, called REGIUM, was presented in a demonstration video last December. According to the creators, their robotic chess board is capable of moving chess pieces quickly and silently across its surface, allowing you to sync the board state with a variety of online chess apps and play physical chess with someone remotely. This was apparently all being accomplished by a matrix of electromagnets embedded in the board’s surface, which could be instructed by a chess app to maneuver the appropriate pieces. REGIUM called its board the "MOST AMAZING & REVOLUTIONARY CHESS E-BOARD."
Shortly after the Kickstarter was posted, all manner of problems and inconsistencies began to arise, most notably an accusation that its development team was fake. On the now-deleted About page of REGIUM’s website (an archived copy can be viewed here), a six-person team complete with headshots was shown; writers on Chess.com, Chess24.com, and lichess.org have each claimed that four of these people are not real and are instead machine generated models created using the website thispersondoesnotexist.com, a site Motherboard has previously covered.
Phil Wang, who created thispersondoesnotexist.com, told Chess.com he believes that there are distortions on the photos of four of the people that would be consistent with them being generated by a machine learning algorithm. The images were also not hosted anywhere else on the internet. From Chess.com:
Phil Wang, from the site thispersondoesnotexist.com, which uses AI technology to generate faces of individuals who do not exist, relayed information to a Chess.com user regarding portraits linked to REGIUM's about page.
"From my experience, it does appear to be from the released model from Nvidia," Wang said. "I can tell mainly from the distortions around the glasses, as well as the artifacts in the background."
After coordinating with colleagues using publicly-available information, Chess.com has also been able to verify what appear to be misrepresentations by individuals associated with the company in public online forums.
Both Chess.com and Chess24.com, sites where you can play chess online, posted that they ended sponsorship relationships with REGIUM.
In an email to Motherboard, REGIUM denied these claims but did not provide any evidence that would prove its development team is real.
"The matter of the team is not worth mentioning, some people began to say all kinds of things, such as that the CTO was not an engineer, that it was not from MENSA, that the team had no members," the REGIUM team told Motherboard in an email. "It was even cause for speculation that the photos had the standard size 1024x1024, all kinds of theories about the board and team members were said... we already know how the internet is for the conspiracy, they said really delirious things. The team is composed of people with family and with projects in very serious companies, but after these attacks so wild, they are afraid that it has an impact on their professional life, that is the reason that we have decided to remove their data from the web."
Beyond the claims of an invented engineering staff, the chess websites said footage posted to Kickstarter in the demonstration video shows evidence of being doctored. The developers of online chess-playing platform Lichess say in their blog post about REGIUM that the footage of pieces moving automatically across the board was likely created using stop motion. REGIUM has posted response videos in which it claims it is simply bad at making promotional videos and made an error while shooting the video that it covered up with an edit.
Some of the skeptics "asked us for a video recorded with a mobile phone to prove that it was not stop motion or CGI. We did it and we sent it to him," REGIUM said in an email. "Anyone can see that stop motion or CGI is absolutely impossible in this video."
Regardless of what is actually going on here, the online chess community is up-in-arms, and Kickstarter saw enough evidence to suspend the campaign.