101 years ago: origins of the word ‘robot’
It’s been 101 years since the Czech play R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, premiered on January 25, 1921, introducing the word ‘robot’ to the world.
Karel Čapek, the playwright behind the work, premiered the science fiction play at the National Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic. Čapek drew the word from an old Church Slavic word robota, meaning “servitude” or “forced labor.”
Originally, Čapek wanted to use the Latin word for work, labori. His brother, Josef Čapek, suggested he use roboti, or robot in English, instead.
Čapek’s robots have distinct differences from robots today. In the play, the robots were created using the latest biology, chemistry and physiology, and are meant to “lack everything but a soul.” They’re more artificial biological organisms than machines.
In the play, robots begin doing all the tasks that humans don’t want to do. At the end of the play, the robots revolt against their creators. After wiping out the human population on earth, they realize they don’t have the ability to create more robots without humans.
Čapek died in 1938 at the age of 48 of influenza. The play has since been adapted for television and radio by the BBC.
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