Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chapek Nine

Years ago, i was tickled pink to hear a planet in Futurama named after Karel Capek. It happened to be inhabited by robots (or uninhabited as some will have it) and not by newts as i'd have hoped given that i'd read War with the Newts but not R.U.R. Capek wrote Rossum's Universal Robots in 1920. It created the word 'robot' and popularized it. I just got around to reading it this past week. In the betweentime, i was born, grew sick of this world and sought escapism, became enamoured of science fiction and read through endless stories featuring robots at least tangentially.

Ain't nothin' new under the sun. Capek's story is unfortunately damaged by its theatrical restrictions, but it sets out almost every theme connected with robots: their use as slave labour, the inevitable rebellion, the dissociative mentality of those creating them, the transition of robots from automatons to thinking beings, the reckless capitalist propagation of a new product, the enslavement of humans by machines as maintenance crews... he presented it all in a single play, ninety-two years ago.

Oh, sure, the ideas have been separated, isolated, expanded upon, refined. Still, it's disheartening to find one more area in which human thought is stagnating. Aside from isolated specialists who i'm sure have their own ideas, we as a whole, the zeitgeist, nerddom in the information age, have no more idea how a robot-permeated society will develop than Capek did in 1920.

addendum: Of course, the whole pattern of automatons created to serve and the ethical issues thereof can probably be traced back to the golem myth and that's been around since at least the 1500s. Lousy Jews always one step ahead in showbusiness.

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