by Connor Brandt, senior writing coach
Elon Musk, a visionary of our time, is well known for his warnings on the dangers of artificial intelligence. He is very much worried over AI taking over our world, and is actively implementing measures to counteract this future. He clearly isn’t the only one with this fear; many famous movies, like Terminator, The Matrix, and even Wall-E, all feature big, bad AI with their technological prowess and legions of robots as the antagonist. Why is it so commonly held that, in the end, the robots will become the masters, if not the annihilators? Perhaps the answer lies within that very word.
Like many of our words, robot is one that someone just kinda made up because they felt like it (who knew it was that simple to make new words?). Playwright Karel Čapek first coined the term in his play R.U.R, which stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), after his brother suggested the term. While “robot” doesn’t find roots in any English word, it does have roots in the Czech word robota, meaning drudgery or serfdom. So, basically, robot means slave.
So, that might be onestrike against robots, but what about the play? It can’t be that bad. For one, while close enough, the robots in R.U.R. aren’t exactly the same thing you’d think of as a robot. They are closer to the replicants of Blade Runner or the hosts of Westworld (though, even if they aren’t exactly robots, things still don’t always work as intended). So what happens in the play?
(Spoilers ahead for a 98 year old Czech play)
Humanity creates these robots and uses them to perform all kinds of menial tasks, from secretary work to factory production. What happens when they tire of this existence? A new civil rights movement? Peaceful coexistence? World peace?
The robots rebel and purge the earth of all but one human.
That’s a pretty big second strike. We’ll let that count as two strikes.
It’s no wonder why people are so alarmed about the advancement of AI and robot technology. Aside from the Man v. God, Creator v. Creation dynamics, the work that introduced “robot” to our vocabulary features them killing us all! Before AI could detect your face, before robots vacuumed our floors, before we interconnected any device we could in our homes, the first action robots committed was the effective extinction of our race.
Next time your roomba hits something, don’t laugh at it. Maybe you’ll be spared when robots come for us all.