In 1920, Czech writer Karel Čapek penned a play titled R.U.R., a cautionary tale about technology's potential to dehumanize.
R.U.R. stands for "Rossum’s Universal Robots" and it was this play that introduced the word "robot" to the world (apparently coined
by Karel's brother Josef). At the MIT Press Reader
, John Jordan, author of the book Robots
, digs into the continued influence of R.U.R.:
Like many of his peers, (Čapek) was appalled by the carnage wrought by the mechanical and chemical weapons that marked World War I as a departure from previous combat. He was also deeply skeptical of the utopian notions of science and technology. “The product of the human brain has escaped the control of human hands,” Čapek told the London Saturday Review following the play’s premiere. “This is the comedy of science.”
In that same interview, Čapek reflected on the origin of one of the play’s characters:
The old inventor, Mr. Rossum (whose name translated into English signifies “Mr. Intellectual” or “Mr. Brain”), is a typical representative of the scientific materialism of the last [nineteenth] century. His desire to create an artificial man — in the chemical and biological, not mechanical sense — is inspired by a foolish and obstinate wish to prove God to be unnecessary and absurd. Young Rossum is the modern scientist, untroubled by metaphysical ideas; scientific experiment is to him the road to industrial production. He is not concerned to prove, but to manufacture.
Thus, “R.U.R.,” which gave birth to the robot, was a critique of mechanization and the ways it can dehumanize people. The word itself derives from the Czech word “robota,” or forced labor, as done by serfs. Its Slavic linguistic root, “rab,” means “slave.” The original word for robots more accurately defines androids, then, in that they were neither metallic nor mechanical.
"The Czech Play That Gave Us the Word ‘Robot’" (MIT Press Reader)
"Robots (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series)" by John M. Jordan (Amazon)
In the new book, Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump’s Minions and Misfits Poisoned Washington, by Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng, it’s revealed that Trump appeared to have an interest in badgers: After Trump was reminded that the short-legged omnivore was practically synonymous with the Badger State, he’d make a point of bringing it up […]
The incredible museum exhibition David Bowie Is included a list of 100 books that were not necessarily his favorites but rather those that influenced him the most. Author John O’Connell used that list as the basis of his own book, Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life, containing plot summaries, analysis, and […]
Attention bookworms and rare book nerds. The Booksellers, opening in March, is a documentary celebrating bookstores and the peculiar business of collecting and selling rare books. Literary Hub writes: Have you ever dreamed of becoming an antiquarian bookseller? Or just wanted to get to know one better? Or maybe you just like old books a […]
You hear the stories all the time. You know the ones about how a new vehicle instantly loses hundreds, even thousands of dollars in value the second a new owner drives it off the lot. Depreciation is a killer, especially when the item itself works just as well — or maybe even better than all […]
Spring cleaning time is right around the corner, and, if we’re being honest, the whole thing is kind of a drag. But keeping your home clean in any season is necessary for both health and happiness, so why not make it a little less daunting? The correct tools help make any work easier, and that’s […]
Quality knives matter — and in more ways than you might expect. At the most basic level, having a functioning set of proper kitchen knives means you can actually get in a kitchen, start putting together a meal and have the right tools to handle all tasks. From the blunt force of the clever to […]