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Where did the
word 'robot' come from?
The word 'robot' was coined by the Czech
playwright Karel Capek (pronounced "chop'ek") from the Czech word for forced
labor or serf. Capek was reportedly several times a candidate for the Nobel
prize for his works and very influential and prolific as a writer and
playwright. Mercifully, he died before the Gestapo got to him for his
anti-Nazi sympathies in 1938.
The use of the word Robot was
introduced into his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
which opened in Prague in January 1921. The play was an enormous success and
productions soon opened throughout Europe and the US. R.U.R's theme, in
part, was the dehumanization of man in a technological civilization. You may
find it surprising that the robots were not mechanical in nature but were
created through chemical means. In fact, in an essay written in 1935, Capek
strongly fought that this idea was at all possible and, writing in the third
"It is with horror, frankly,
that he rejects all responsibility for the idea that metal contraptions
could ever replace human beings, and that by means of wires they could
awaken something like life, love, or rebellion. He would deem this dark
prospect to be either an overestimation of machines, or a grave offence
[The Author of Robots
Defends Himself - Karl Capek, Lidove noviny, June 9, 1935, translation: Bean
There is some evidence that
the word robot was actually coined by Karl's brother Josef, a writer in his
own right. In a short letter, Capek writes that he asked Josef what he
should call the artifical workers in his new play. Karel suggests Labori,
which he thinks too 'bookish' and his brother mutters "then call them
Robots" and turns back to his work, and so from a curt response we have the
R.U.R is found in most
libraries. The most common English translation is that of P. Selver from the
1920's which is not completely faithful to the original. A more recent and
accurate translation is in a collection of Capek's writings called
Towards the Radical Center published by Catbird Press in North Haven,
CT. tel: 203.230.2391
The term 'robotics' refers to
the study and use of robots. The term was coined and first used by the
Russian-born American scientist and writer Isaac Asimov (born Jan. 2, 1920,
died Apr. 6, 1992). Asimov wrote prodigiously on a wide variety of subjects.
He was best known for his many works of science fiction. The most famous
include I Robot (1950), The Foundation Trilogy (1951-52),
Foundation's Edge (1982), and The Gods Themselves (1972), which
won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
The word 'robotics' was first
used in Runaround, a short story published in 1942. I, Robot,
a collection of several of these stories, was published in 1950. Asimov also
proposed his three "Laws of Robotics", and he later added a 'zeroth law'.
A robot may not injure
humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
A robot may not injure a
human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,
unless this would violate a higher order law.
A robot must obey orders
given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a
higher order law.
A robot must protect its own
existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order
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