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ROBOT - the most famous Czech word celebrates 100 years

This year we commemorate 100 years since the first use of the word robot in the utopian play R.U.R. written by Karel Čapek. This Czech author used this word to describe his story’s futuristic helpers that would ultimately take over the world.

Karel Čapek first came up with a word Labors (inspired by the English word labor, with Latin etymology labore – work, but also hard work, even pain). He was not entirely satisfied. Josef Čapek, his brother and respected painter and writer suggested a word of Slavic root, robot (with the same meaning as the labor, but with a strong stress on serfdom).

Young author Karel Čapek began writing R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in the early 1920’s, supposing the world premiere would be at the National Theater in Prague by the end of the year. The amateur ensemble from the provincial town of Hradec Králové did not respect the postponement of the first night at the National Theatre, and the world premiere of R.U.R. thus took place at the regional theater stage on January 2, 1921. It was staged at the Czech National Theatre only on January 25, 1921, more than three weeks later.

The American premiere of R.U.R. was staged by The Theatre Guild at the Garrick Theater on Broadway on October 9, 1922.

Čapek’s drama became a hit immediately. It made sense, Čapek cleverly explored an important topic of his time – the potentially destructive influence of technological civilization on society and at the same time created an impressive warning metaphor of modernity controlled not so much by ideas and values as by a self-confident and ruthlessly practical intellect and predatory tycoons.

R.U.R. appealed to the audience wherever the play arrived; in Aachen, Warsaw, Belgrade, New York, London, Vienna, Paris, Tokyo and other cities. The drama was appreciated by H. G. Wells, the famous author of the War of the Worlds who later promoted Čapek’s Nobel Prize nomination.

In 1938, R.U.R. became the first television production of science fiction when it was presented by the BBC as one of its first dramatic acts.

Another great author Isaac Asimov entered the history of the genre of robots with stories and novels like „I, Robot“, „Robots of Dawn“, „Robots and Empire“ and others. In fact, Asimov enriched the old theme of artificial beings or living machines (homunculi, androids, automatons) with Čapek’s robot and added science of robotics derived from it. He took one absolutely fundamental step: the robot as an artificial being ceased to be a threat to man and became his partner, protector, servant.

Thanks to Karel Čapek, hundred years ago a robot was born in Prague to become the most famous Czech word of all time. Redefined and supported by Isaac Asimov in New York, it became one of the most significant modern myths in the world. And due to the technological progress, the myth of robot has been transforming into reality of robots.