Rossum's Universal Robots

Finding myself with a few spare minutes the other day, I glanced through Karel Čapek's 1921 play R.U.R. (in which the term "robot" was coined). I was intrigued and amused to discover how much of the vibe feels nearly as contemporary as some more recent robot SF, and also to be reminded that robots were invented as a metaphor to describe capitalist dehumanization of the workforce.

Rossums Universal Robots

Domin: What do you reckon? What workman is the best in purely practical terms?

Helena: The best? Perhaps one who's... who... provided he's honest–and loyal...

Domin: No, no, the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs. Young Rossum invented a workman with the fewest needs possible. He had to keep him simple. He jettisoned everything that didn't contribute directly to the work process, and in so doing he effectively did away with the man and created the Robot. My dear Miss Glory, Robots are not people. Mechanically they are a vast improvement on us: they're amazingly intelligent, but they have no soul. So you see, Miss Glory, an engineered product is, technologically speaking, streets ahead of any product of Nature.

Helena: Man is said to be the product of God.

Domin: So much the worse. Given that God knew nothing about modern technology. 


Helena: What do you mean, kneading vat? 

Domin (drily): Blenders for the mix. In each one of them there's enough of the mix for a thousand Robots at a time. Then come seperate vats for making livers, brains and so forth. Beyond them and you'll be in the bone factory. And finally I'll show you the spinning mill.

Helena: What spinning mill?

Domin: It's where we spin nerves. And veins. There's even one for turning out miles and miles of intestines at once. Then there's the assembly plant where it's all put together, you know, like in a car factory. Each worker f ixes just one component, and then it automatically moves on to the next one, then to a third, on and on all day. It's absolutely fascinating to watch. Then comes the dry kiln and finally the warehouse, where products hot off the production line can start working. 

Helena: Good heavens, do they have to start straight away?

Domin: I should have made myself clear: they work the way new furniture 'works'. Getting used to being. Their interior joins need to set or something. And then many new bits actually develop inside them; you see, we have to allow a little room for natural development. It's all part of the products' finishing process.