Who did invent the word “robot”, and what does it mean? Some people think it was Karel Capek, a Czech novelist and playwright, the one who came up with the word.
But, contrary to popular opinion, Karel Capek, the author of the play R.U.R., is not the inventor of the word robot. The word, which is derived from the Czech noun “robota”, meaning “labour”, is an accomplishment of Capek’s older brother, the cubist painter and writer Josef Capek.
The word first appeared in the play R.U.R., published in 1920. Some claim that the word “robot” was first used in Josef Capek’s short story Opilec (the Drunkard), published in the collection Lelio in 1917. According to the Capek brother’s Society in Prague, this is incorrect. The word used in Opilec is “automat”.
The following article by Karel Capek tells the whole story in detail:
About the Word Robot
(translated by Norma Comrada)
A reference by Professor Chudoba to the Oxford Dictionary account of the word Robot’s origin and its entry into the English language reminds me of an old debt. The author of the play R.U.R. did not, in fact, invent that word; he merely ushered it into existence. It was like this: the idea for the play came to say author in a single, unguarded moment. And while it was still warm, he rushed immediately to his brother Josef, the painter, who was standing before an easel and painting away at a canvas till it rustled.
“Listen, Josef,” the author began, “I think I have an idea for a play.”
“What kind,” the painter mumbled (he did mumble because, at
the moment, he was holding a brush in his mouth).
The author told him as briefly as he could.
“Then write it,” the painter remarked, without taking the brush
from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference was quite insulting.
“But,” the author said, “I don’t know what to call these artificial
workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit bookish.”
“Then call them Robots,” the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and went on painting. And that’s how it was. Thus was the word Robot born.
For more information about R.U.R. play, please see this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.U.R.
Another question is when should we celebrate International Robots Day? According to some sources on 25 January (see https://boingboing.net/2020/01/25/today-in-history-1921-the-wor.html). Other sources seem to push for 2 January (see https://www.uhk.cz/cs/pedagogicka-fakulta/pdf/aktualne/svetova-premiera-r.u.r.-byla-pred-100-lety-v-hradci-kralove. No matter the day, we still love the robots! And by the way, should we still call them robots? Isn’t that a pejorative term, similar to a slave? Shouldn’t we call them Artificial Intelligence? Unfortunately, unlike cats and dogs, according to lawyers, robots don’t have (yet) rights (source: https://bigthink.com/thinking/why-dont-robots-have-rights/.