Thursday, 26 Jan 2017


Context for RUR

Background material on Rossum’s Universal Robots.

A few years ago (when I was growing my hair long so I could portray John Adams at a history event), I was invited to give a speech on Rossum’s Universal Robots for the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

The afternoon before I gave that speech, I was editing it for time, and I stupidly dropped out the slide that defined the word “robot” — I never actually defined robots. The word comes from the Czech word for “drudge, lowly worker, serf.” Before the play RUR, nobody used the word “robot” to describe a mechanical person — they used terms like “automaton” or “mechanical man.”

You already know the plot of RUR — mechanical servants become sentient, learn how to hate by observing humans fighting with each other, and rise up against their creators.

But the reason you know that plot is because this play, which presented that plot for the very first time, gained worldwide popularity in the 1920s.