Thursday, September 2, 2010

It Came From the Czech Republic

Pop quiz! Do you know where the term “robot” came from? (I’ll give you a hint – remember what blog you’re reading.)

The word “robot” – much like soft contact lenses – was invented in the Czech Republic. The word comes from the Czech robota or robotnik, which means drudgery or hard work. The word first appeared in Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. (short for Rossum’s Universal Robots).

When he originally conceived of the idea, Capek asked his painter brother Josef what he should call these lifelike automatons. Capek originally came up with calling them labori, his brother suggested using roboti instead.

The play features robots that are so lifelike they could be mistaken for humans and could think for themselves. (Capek was definitely ahead of his time.) Originally happy to be servants to humans, the robots eventually rise up and the human race becomes extinct.

This idea isn't too far from the legend of the Golem of Prague. A golem is a human-like creature created from clay, and it’s said that in the late 16th century, the chief rabbi of Prague created a golem to defend the Jewish ghetto. According to legend, the golem fell in love and was rejected, and then became violent, even turning on its own creator.

Who knew that this theme, echoed in so many literary works, including Frankenstein, can be traced back in part to that region of the world? And think how many times popular culture references robots. Instead of Robby the Robot from the TV show Lost in Space, he might very well have been called Labby the Labor.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

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