Rossum’s Universal Robots: Potential, and The Dangers They Pose


On 25th January 1921, a play under the production of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. had been released and introduced a new term to the world -Robot. The R.U.R. in Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots is launched in National Theater situated in the Czech Republic. This Play not only assigns a name to automatic machines but also frames people’s perceptions of a robot’s potential, and the dangers they pose.

In the period from 1880 to 1930 mankind has seen the fastest rate of technology change, with more significant advancements in half a century than in the previous 2,000 years. This period is considered as the age of the machine, accepted by modern society and artists express it in new forms. Furthermore, the world was flooded with new inventions such as the telephone, wireless telegraphy, motor cars, the radio, the first televisions, radium, airplanes, plastic.

All these machines made work agile but also had a dark side. The first world war lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918 also happened in that duration. With profound mechanical capableness, millions of people were killed, and empires were destroyed. Besides, the United States became a nuclear Superpower after world war II. While in the world of science there was no major invention except Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Čapek

R.U.R was penned by Karel Čapek, a Czech writer and critic nominated for seven Nobel Prizes for literature. R.U.R. was considered a complex irony that includes topics like mechanization, the factory policy, consumerism, the Americanization of the world, economics, job associations, loyalty, militancy, the meaning of being human, and the importance of having a purpose in life.

In 1950 this play set up their company as Rossum’s Universal Robots. Also, opened their headquarters at a remote island somewhere on tropical seas and started manufacturing Robots.

Forced Labor

The word “Robot” is derived from the Czech word “robota,” which means “forced labor.” This is an appropriate title for R.U.R.’s product as it is invented only for work. Though, these robots are humanoid biological devices, not machines formed out of imprinted alloy and synthetic running on a series of batteries and being programmed. 

These humanoid devices are launched in male and female models, with almost similar looks. They were composed of an industrial material known as artificial protoplasm that is used from artificial nerves, tendons, bones, hearts, and other organs. They have been produced accompanying severe manufacturing lines for supreme effectiveness at a very low cost. Each one costs around USD 75 with clothes or about USD 1000 in today’s money. Also, they have a brain that processes information as fast as computers, stores information, and does not feel anything.

Rossum's Universal Robots play
A 2017 production of RUR by Youth Theatre Ireland for the National Youth Theatre, produced by Alan King. Photograph: Fiona Morgan Photography for National Youth Theatre, Ireland 2017

The Robots are Coming

Part I

The Play commenced with the entry of a youthful girl called Helena Glory, the head of the pro-robot Humanity League. She comes to know that the population of the island is in the thousands. However, the Director-General Harry Domain and four strange men who account for the staff are humans and live like ascetics.

Harry Domain told Helena Glory about her mission to free the robots from enslavement. She’s astonished when she knows about her mission. Furthermore, Domain told her she can speak anything she wants to the robots or give them whatever literature she loves, but it won’t do any good. The message domain gave to Helena is to organize all the robots as one union. When he recommends giving something to the robots that they like, she’s said NO! and told him that they don’t “like” anything. This scene is followed by Helena and Domain taking the oath of marriage after an onstage romance that lasts only for five minutes.

Part II

Now the plot moves ahead a decade. Robots are being converted into the world’s workforce, prices on goods have dropped. Furthermore, robot armies had replaced human armies. This high-tech generation of robots starts thinking and has developed emotions. Robots turn against humans and start revolting. The humans on the island are hidden inside the living quarters behind an electric barrier. Yet, they are not scared as they have the code to design new robots and they are ready to give the code to the leader of robots Called Radius. They told them to call off the revolt and they will give them the code. Otherwise, they will be extinct in the next 20 years.

Part III

In the next part of the play, Helena was shown as a victim of this revolt. She convincingly convincing the organization’s chief physiologist to give emotions to robots. She wants to have a healthy relationship between robots and humans but her idea backfires. The emotions that develop in robots are anger, envy, hatred, and a lust for power and revenge. She also makes an effort to destroy the code of the robot’s creation but does nothing after realizing the situation. There is nothing to deal with the robots except the code. The humans are overwhelmed and are all wiped out with the oddity of the factory clerk, Alquist because he works with his hands. The play’s close with the downfall of robots. In the end, the play also shows both male and female stars understanding and having feelings for each other in the hope they reproduce naturally. 

A Lasting Legacy of Rossum’s Universal Robots

Rossum’s Universal Robots is on the list of most successful plays. In 1938, a truncated version of this show was telecast on BBC and became history’s first science fiction to be aired on television. In 1948, the complete version was aired on television. The influence of this play on modern society would be hard to exaggerate.

In the 21st century, our details are stored in the databases of every Big Tech company. There are possibilities of future artificial intelligence attacks, and the influence of digital technology on our lives in ways we can’t manage, R.U.R. is particularly appropriate. 

Real-life Robots certainly can free humans from treacherous, tedious, and degrading jobs. Additionally, they can improve human abilities by helping them. On the contrary, they can reduce the number of jobs that provide more than a pay package. Tech companies are focusing on replacing humans at low-skill level jobs. But the time will come when robots are also used for highly skilled Jobs such as airplane pilots and surgeons. This doesn’t just influence wages, it also hampered a person’s perception of goals or even their fundamental values.


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