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Bots in Brief

Part of the confusion over what constitutes a robot has to do with the many realms in which the term has gained currency. We won’t spend too much time discussing robots in fiction, but because much of the concept comes from the fevered imaginations of science fiction writers, there are several milestones in that genre that should be mentioned (and one widespread misconception to clear up). After that, we’ll take a look at three significant moments in real-world robot history, and then run down a few more milestones on the road to the robots of today.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

The term robot comes to us from the Czech word robota, which means forced labor or servitude. In Czech, a robotnik is a peasant or serf. The term was first introduced in Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Capek wrote R.U.R. in 1920, and it premiered in Prague in 1921. The play was introduced to the West when it was performed in New York in 1922, and was subsequently published in English in 1923. R.U.R. was controversial, widely debated in intellectual circles, and the term robot quickly replaced the earlier term automaton.


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