One hundred years ago, Karel Capek’s play R U R: Rossum’s Universal Robots debuted in Czechoslovakia. It went on to become an international sensation, with runs everywhere from Austria to Japan to the United States, where the New York Times called it ‘a Czecho-Slovak Frankenstein’. R U R is a tale of how artificial factory workers rise up against their creators and eventually annihilate every last human on the planet but one. The play left a powerful legacy. Not only did it give the world a revolutionary neologism, ‘robot’ (from the Czech robota, meaning ‘forced labour’), but it also indelibly associated robots with social upheaval and human displacement.
Today robots and robotic technologies are reshaping our world. Vacuum cleaner robots are hoovering our floors. Robotic animals are comforting dementia patients in nursing homes. Industrial robots are getting faster and smarter at manipulating and manufacturing goods. Autonomous drones are waging war and watching us from the skies. Self-driving cars