:: Thursday, January 25, 2007
Happy Birthday Robots!
86 years ago today Czechoslovakian Karel Capek, marks the first use of the word "robot" to describe an artificial person for his play R.U.R, (which stands for Rossum's Universal Robots). Capek invented the term, basing it on the Czech word for "forced labor." ("Robot" entered the English language in 1923.)
The robots in Capek's play are not mechanical men made of metal; instead they are molded out of a chemical batter and they look exactly like humans. Each robot costs the equivalent of $150 and "can do the work of two-and-a-half human laborers," so that humans might be free to have "no other task, no other work, no other cares" than perfecting themselves. However, the robots come to realize that even though they have "no passion, no history, no soul," they are stronger and smarter than humans. They kill every human but one.
The play explores themes that would later become staples of robot science fiction, including freedom, love and destruction. Although many of Capek's other works were more famous during his lifetime, today he is best known for RUR.
(Source: The Center for the Study of Technology and Society)