The term robot is the one used fairly often in today’s science fiction, researches, and Hollywood movies. What might surprise you, however, is that this term was created by a Czech writer, Karel Čapek.
Čapek became famous for his science fiction literature, especially War with the Newts (1936), and was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times (yet, unfortunately, never received it.) During his teenage years, Čapek was interested in different things – starting from Cubism (that had a vast influence on his writing), ending with aesthetics and philosophy.
His career as a journalist started with Národní listy, where he worked as an editor with his brother for four years. Afterward, Karel joined the other publishing newspaper, Lidové noviny, where he wrote on a different topic until the end of his days. Some of his works were touching politics and the regime; others focused on fiction and the threat of extinction of the human race.
Where did the word “robot” first appear?
In 1921, he made his first attempts to write science-fiction stories and plays together with his brother. After a year full of polishing tone and style, the author finalized Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R). The play about a factory with sentient androids that undertake menial labor for the human masters became globally known. It was translated into several languages and staged in the UK and the US in 1923. As you already know, it was the first text where the word ‘robot’ appeared. In this context, “robot” was meant to denote man-made creatures. It originated from the Czech word ‘roboti,’ which translates to ‘slave, or drudge.’ According to the legend, Čapek’s brother helped him come up with the term. His robots were associated with machines rather than people; most likely, we would have called them cyborgs in 2021.
Čapek’s political work
The course of World War I caused Čapek to write on the topics of nationalism, consumerism, and totalitarianism. He was focusing on the threats and dangers of fascist dictatorships. Due to this influence, he became an anti-fascist speaker and member of the PEN Club. His works also became popular among political leaders. It helped him develop close relationships with T. Masaryk, the president of Czechoslovakia at that time, and J. Masaryk, his son, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time.
During World War II, Nazis named Čapek ‘public enemy number two.’ Despite this claim, he never left the country, even though he had a chance to escape to England. Several months later, Čapek passed away from pneumonia. After her husband’s death, his wife, Olga, was arrested, and his brother, Josef, was sent to one of the concentration camps where he eventually died. That was the end of the man whose cultural and political influence lives on to this day.