(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Karel apek expressed his fascination with the future of the human race in several works, notably in the novels The Absolute at Large (1922; English translation, 1927) and Krakatit (1924), and in the plays R.U.R. and The Insect Play (1923), to mention only a few. He used these futuristic works to examine the possible outcome of various human endeavors but also to warn against miscalculations and evil actions. R.U.R. (subtitled Rossum’s Universal Robots) is perhaps the most exemplary of such works. In addition to its literary value, it introduced the word “robot” (from the Czech robotit, meaning “to drudge”) into the English language.

When apek wrote R.U.R., he had no way of knowing how artificial intelligence or robotics would develop several decades later. In his time, the science of robotics was practically unknown, giving his clairvoyance an added dimension.

For the most part, apek’s vision was in accord with his later works. His Robots are not attached to life and know of no enjoyment; they have no appetite, no bodily pain, no interest in anything, no will of their own, and no passion. They are not creative and never think of anything new. Their sole purpose is to work, and they do not know when to stop. They are not afraid of death because it means nothing to them—they only cease to move. They have no capacity for love or sex, not even among themselves....

(The entire section is 496 words.)