Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rossum's Universal Robots

R. U. R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) was written in 1921 — way ahead of its time. It is set in a factory where robots are produced. The main tension in the drama comes from the question of the possibility of evolution in the robots — can they develop a soul? Do they deserve the same treatment as humans? What will happen to humans when robots evolve?

All good questions. And amazing that they were being explored in a 1921 Czech play. Interestingly, the word "robot" comes to us via this play. It is from the Czech, meaning "slave." That is a good indicator of the position that the makers of the robots originally intended they occupy. Their role has always been defined by their name.

They play does not only explore technology. Like any good science fiction work, the question of technology is foregrounded, but it is also the site in which other issues central to society's development are explored. In this case, we see questions of the role of the media raised, along with the ethics of the work force. It is a very funny piece, not just for its questions about robots, but because of how it examines our treatment of one another.

Any real fan of science fiction should take the time to read R. U. R.. Like almost any play, it can be read in one sitting. It is a good read. And even if reading plays is not normally your thing, this one is worth it just because of its place in the history of the development of an idea. It is very nicely done.

 Subscribe in a reader

No comments: