Rossum’s Universal Robots

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R.U.R. is a 1921 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, an English phrase used as the subtitle in the Czech original. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called ‘robots.’ Unlike the modern usage of the term, these creatures are closer to the modern idea of androids or even clones, as they can be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves.

They seem happy to work for humans, although that changes and a hostile robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race. After finishing the manuscript, Čapek realized that he had created a modern version of the Jewish Golem legend. The play introduced the word ‘Robot’ which displaced older words such as ‘automaton’ or ‘android’ in languages around the world. In its original Czech, ‘robota’ means forced labor of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands, and is derived from rab, meaning ‘slave.’

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