One hundred years ago, the word ROBOT was invented

Read our special article about the origins of the word ROBOT that celebrates one hundred years this week. The article was written in September 2020.


The origin of a word ROBOT dates back one hundred years ago in a book of one of the most famous Czech writers.

“But I don’t know how to call these artificial workers” – that is what Karel Čapek said to his brother Josef, who was painting one of his pictures at that moment. “I would call them ‘the laborers,’ but it sounds too bureaucratic to me,” continued Karel. “Well, call them ‘the robots’ then” Josef answered, holding a paint-brush between his teeth and then he continued to paint. That is how the word “robot” was invented one hundred years ago. Karel Čapek used the word coined by his brother in the famous sci-fi drama R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). And this word is nowadays used around the world. It is coming from the old Slavic word “robotovat,” which means “to work.”


The robots from a hundred years ago

R.U.R. was written by Karel Čapek in 1920, shortly after the First World War. The creation of this art piece was inspired by the author’s interest in the modern technology and also his concerns about the possibility of its abuse against humanity.

The story takes place in an unspecified future, where the robots are carrying out all the work instead of the humans. Over the time, the people become lazy and start to use the robots for fighting in their wars as well. One of the characters, a beautiful girl called Helena, fights for the robots’ rights and everyone falls in love with her. She asks one of the scientists to create a soul in each of the robots, and he manages to do it. The robots start to have feelings which lead them to have a rebellion against the human masters.

One of this drama’s themes is how unpredictable the consequences of human interventions with nature can be. R.U.R. has been translated into thirty languages and BBC made a short movie based on this drama in 1938.


The author’s own story and its tragic end

Karel Čapek was one of the most respected authors and journalists of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938). He even came to be a friend of Masaryk, who was the Czechoslovakian President at that time. Karel Čapek was against totalitarianism of any kind, and he had been promoting the tolerance and the decency towards the people.

By the later 30’s, the power of Nazism was rising, Masaryk had died and Beneš became the new President. In 1938, the Munich Agreement was signed, which meant that Czech Sudetenland territory became a part of Germany. Beneš emigrated to Britain, and the people were looking for a scapegoat for this tragic situation. Karel Čapek was one of the last representatives of democracy in the country, so all the peoples’ rage was directed at him.

Karel Čapek received many anonymous letters and calls, and the windows of his house were broken several times. He was getting so stressed from his situation that it started to affect his physical health, and he eventually died from pneumonia at the end of 1938. Even if he would survive from his illness, chances were that he would have suffered the same fate as his brother. He, himself, spent the whole Second World War in a concentration camp where he died before the war ended.


But before his life ended tragically…

Karel Čapek wrote many more books other than the R.U.R., and they have been translated into English. He also translated some of the French poetry into the Czech language. He travelled a lot and wrote several travel books. He also liked gardening and wrote a book about that too.

Generally, he was trying to unite the people instead of dividing them and making them fight. He wanted the people to realise that the truth was not absolute in itself, but it is dependent on the people and what they make it to be.


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