Return to robot (thing)
Originally from the Czech word, robota: compulsory or mechanical work and/or robotnik: worker, labourer. The term was first used in a play, R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots, credited to Karel Capek (1890-1938), a Czech author. According to the University of Wisconsin, Eau Clair website, RUR was written in 1920, premiered in Prague early in 1921, was performed in New York in 1922, and published in English translation in 1923.
However, according to UWEC, it was not Karel who coined the word, but his brother, Josef Capek, also a respected Czech writer. Although the term was used to describe automata, it was not employed to predict a technological future, but to comment on working conditions and the paucity of intellectual life in certain parts of 1920s Europe.
The term was used in a variety of essays and stories, and gained considerable popularity in the novels and stories published during the 1930s and 40s, when it was used to describe increasingly sophisticated automata, or humanoid machines. In most of these works, the robot did not contribute significantly to the plot, fulfilling the role of the evil monster bent on destruction, or perhaps acting as the cutesy pet to the hero (or--inevitably--his girlfriend).
However, the word achieved formal recognition and intellectual credibility with Isaac Asimov’s essays and novels brought together under the I, Robot heading, and thereafter in his Foundation series of books.
The first of Asimov’s robot novels was called Robbie and featured a robot as the good guy, protecting a child from the bad guy (a human). The second story, Reason followed, and featured a robot who could not believe it was the product of human imaginations, and therefore attributed a supreme being with its creation. The third Robot story, Liar! is perhaps the beginning of modern robot ideas. In it, Asimov formulates the three laws of robotics.
A Zeroth law was added later: A robot may not harm the human collective.
The story, together with these three laws was first published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding magazine.