“Pay attention Josef,” mentioned the Czech playwright Karel Čapek to his brother. “I’ve an concept for a play.”
Josef, an artist of some renown, was portray furiously and unimpressed by his brother’s intrusion. “What sort of play?” he requested, sharply. Karel set out the plot. Sooner or later, people have created artificial, humanoid creatures to extend productiveness within the factories and struggle wars on the battlefield. Constructed as slave staff, they may ultimately stand up and wipe out the human race.
Josef was detached to the thought. “Then write it!” he mentioned. However Karel was caught. He couldn’t consider the suitable phrase to explain his synthetic staff. “Name them roboti,” mentioned Josef. This was the Czech phrase for serf or pressured labourer.
Karel determined the phrase robotic was an ideal match. The play, Rossum’s Common Robots (RUR), premiered in Prague in January 1921. The trade together with his brother was relayed by Karel Čapek in a newspaper some years later, reflecting on how he launched the phrase robotic to the world when the play premiered in January 2021 – now precisely 100 years in the past.
The play was a success. An authentic work of science fiction, it fed into early Twentieth-century fears about know-how’s position within the drive for mass manufacturing after the primary world battle. RUR’s daring and nightmarish imaginative and prescient of a future the place humanity is beneath risk by robots triggered a sensation.
Kara Reilly is an instructional, dramaturgist and writer of Automata and Mimesis on the Stage of Theatre Historical past. In her guide, she says: “Everybody within the viewers would have recognized somebody who died because of the battle, and the thought of robotic replacements for troopers would have been compelling.
“With its use of tanks, zeppelins and photographic imagery, the primary world battle was a showcase for rising know-how. It made individuals immediately conscious of the very actual risk of the destruction of the human race by its personal machine-based creations.”
Čapek’s robots furthered the controversy as as to if know-how would possibly liberate staff and eradicate guide labour. As Reilly remarks: “These slaves have the potential to remodel the world right into a paradise for human beings. Partially, RUR interrogates and satirises that modernist wrestle between capital and labour to forge a staff’ paradise.”
The primary English translation arrived on Broadway in 1922, that includes a younger Spencer Tracy. A yr later, it was taking part in within the West Finish at St Martin’s theatre, with one reviewer within the Pall Mall Gazette commenting: “The Robots are made fairly haunting with their heavy expressionless faces and automaton gestures. As one comes out, poor soulless Robots appear nonetheless to be crowding spherical – on the street, the tube carry, the strap hung practice. Curious impact! Can or not it’s true?”
RUR was each charming and terrifying to audiences. In 1927, it was the primary full-length play to be aired in its entirety by the BBC, and later, in 1938, it grew to become the world’s first televised piece of science fiction when a half-hour programme went out reside on the BBC.
“I do suppose the concepts in RUR have continued to affect sciencefiction tradition, even on a unconscious degree,” says award-winning, bestselling science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. “Čapek’s robots rebelled, as have robots ever since, from The Terminator to The Simpsons.
“These days we predict extra of probably disembodied AI’s somewhat than humanoids, however the ethical dilemmas are the identical. How do you management robots? I don’t imagine Čapek thought all this by means of consciously however he gave us a fable, nearly a biblical parable, to allow us to discover such points. Coining the phrase ‘robotic’ was a brand new concept to discover in each fiction and science itself.”
Whereas Čapek’s invention of the ‘robotic’ proved to be culturally and scientifically important, RUR’s reputation pale, and at this time the play is essentially unknown.
Caitriona McLaughlin is an Irish theatre director who directed the Irish Nationwide Youth Theatre’s 2017 manufacturing of RUR on the Abbey theatre in Dublin. “I used to be searching for a play that makes an attempt to articulate who we’re as a species and what kind of ethical code we need to set for ourselves,” she explains. “RUR tapped into some very up to date themes that I knew a younger solid would reply to, specifically an over-reliance on know-how.” The theme of rebellion and revolt additionally offered an essential cultural backdrop to the manufacturing. “We have been engaged on the play amid a sequence of centenary commemorations marking the Easter Rising in Eire and the lead-up to the formation of the Irish state, so it felt weirdly apposite.”
However, as McLaughlin found, decoding a century-old science fiction play for a Twenty first-century viewers presents its personal challenges. “The textual content itself was just a little dated, and we would have liked to discover a manner of constructing a view of the long run created up to now that also regarded just like the precise future.”
Čapek’s humanoid robotic staff and futuristic island setting present artists and administrators a chance to assemble distinctive stage designs. “Our set and costume designers created a world which was satisfyingly retro, however nonetheless otherworldly sufficient to assist the manufacturing,” says McCoughlin. “The general design idea grew to become the lens by means of which we may discover some very existential questions on humanity.”
It’s simple to see how RUR has influenced science fiction storytelling, from Philip Ok Dick’s androids dreaming of electrical sheep to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s perpetually returning terminator. There’s even a Rocky Horror Image Present-style rock musical impressed by RUR. Rob Susman, creator of Save the Robots, says: “It was a play I learn at school that all the time caught with me.” Though, as co-writer Jacques Lamarre factors out, the overt campness wasn’t essentially obvious in Čapek’s authentic. “Our model goes just a little additional by having the scientists carrying leather-based and panties,” he says.
RUR additionally featured within the burgeoning profession of a British movie icon. In 1986, Michael Caine appeared on the Wogan present and advised how his father, a fishmonger, had suggested him: “‘By no means do a job the place you might be changed by a machine” [pause]. So I grew to become an actor [laughter]. And the primary play I ever did, I performed a robotic [more laughter]. Very esoteric within the beginner dramatics society, it was a play known as Rossum’s Common Robots, RUR. A critic within the South London Press mentioned, Mr Caine was very convincing as a robotic.”
To commemorate RUR’s centenary, a Prague-based undertaking, TheAItre, will stream a reside efficiency of the primary play ever written by robots. It is going to be accessible, at no cost, on 26 Febuary.
TheAItre is a collaboration between AI programmers, researchers and theatre representatives, who ask the query: do you suppose synthetic intelligence is ready to create a theatre script? Can it write a play about its personal father, Karel Čapek, who wrote about robots 100 years in the past? Rudolf Rosa, a robopsychology knowledgeable from Charles College in Prague, has been utilizing the nickname RUR since his schooldays and was requested to steer the undertaking. Technically, it received’t be robots writing the play, as a result of as Rosa defined in a latest interview, “whereas robots exist and are used, not like classical concepts, they aren’t very clever in themselves. The intelligence is often hidden elsewhere, in highly effective computer systems and servers in knowledge centres. Robots are extra like puppets.”
Čapek’s robots acted as a warning somewhat than a prediction. RUR requested that we take into account the place a relentless pursuit of technological progress would possibly lead humanity. As we speak, 100 years later, humanity, for probably the most half, stays firmly in command of its machines. However, who is aware of, maybe RUR’s 200-year anniversary will see each people and robots becoming a member of within the celebrations.