The word robot first appeared in English in 1922, in a translated New York production of the Czech writer Karel Čapek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). There, it echoes the words for labor (robota) and laborer or serf (robotnik), from a range of Slavic languages, including Čapek’s Czech, in which robota specifically suggests forced labor or drudgery. In Čapek’s play, an international success translated into over thirty languages within three years of its premiere, robots are artificial people created by “philosopher” and “scholar” old Rossum from a process involving “protoplasm,” a synthetic organic material (Čapek  2004: 5). Although old Rossum did not originally intend robots only to work, his son capitalized on his father’s creation by “chuck[ing] everything not directly related to work” in the robots’ psyches and mass-producing them to serve as replacements for human laborers and soldiers (9). The play...
Thinking with Robots
Lindsay Thomas is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Miami, specializing in contemporary literary and cultural studies and the digital humanities. She is the author of Training for Catastrophe: Fictions of National Security after 9/11 (2021), published by the University of Minnesota Press. From 2017-21, she co-directed the digital humanities project “WhatEvery1Says: The Humanities in Public Discourse.”
Lindsay Thomas; Thinking with Robots. American Literature 1 June 2023; 95 (2): 381–395. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-10575162
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