First Use of the Word Robot ~ MECHTECH GURU

First Use of the Word Robot

 First Use of the Word Robot

The word robot was not even in the vocabulary of industrialists, let alone science fiction writers, until the 1920s. In 1920, Karel Cˇ apek (1890–1938) wrote the play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, commonly known as R.U.R., which premiered in Prague in 1921, played in London in 1921, in New York in 1922, and was published in English in 1923. Cˇ apek was born in 1890 in Male´ Svatonovice, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary, now part of the Czech Republic. Following the First World War, his writings began to take on a strong political tone, with essays on Nazism, racism, and democracy under crisis in Europe.

In R.U.R., Cˇ apek’s theme is one of futuristic man-made workers, created to automate the work of humans, thus alleviating their burden. As Cˇ apek wrote his play, he turned to his older brother, Josef, for a name to call these beings. Josef replied with a word he coined—robot. The Czech word robotnik refers to a peasant or serf, while robota means drudgery or servitude. The Robots (always capitalized by Cˇ apek) are produced on a remote island by a company founded by the father-son team of Old Rossum and Young

Rossum, who do not actually appear in the play. The mad inventor, Old Rossum, had devised the plan to create the perfect being to assume the role of the Creator, while Young Rossum viewed the Robots as business assets in an increasingly industrialized world. Made of organic matter, the Robots are created to be efficient, inexpensive beings that remember everything and think of nothing original. Domin, one of the protagonists, points out that because of these Robot qualities, “They’d make fine university professors.”

Wars break out between humans and Robots, with the latter emerging victorious, but the formula that the Robots need to create more Robots is burned. Instead, the Robots discover love and eliminate the need for the formula.

The world of robotics has Karel and Josef Cˇ apek to thank for the word robot, which replaced the previously used automaton. Karel Cˇ apek’s achievements extend well beyond R.U.R., including “WarWith

The Newts,” an entertaining satire that takes jabs at many movements, such as Nazism, communism, and capitalism; a biography of the first Czechoslovak Republic president, Tom´aˇs Masaryk; numerous short stories, poems, plays, and political essays; and his famous suppressed text “Why I Am Not a Communist.”

Karel Cˇ apek died of pneumonia in Prague on Christmas Day 1938. Josef Cˇ apek was seized by the Nazis in 1939 and died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945.

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