First slaves, Now robots

Last week, we talked about slaves and where it came from (thank you Italy). Click here to view the post. Now, let’s get back to the robots.

A long time ago in the Austro-Hungarian empire lived lords and peasants. A peasant was granted a plot of land by the lord to work. This included for the peasant to work their land and the lord who gave them the land. The bigger the plot, the longer the peasant had to work. This system was called robot and was abolished in 1848 by Emperor Josef II.

Seventy-two years later, a Czech screenplay writer, Karel Capek, wrote a futuristic-set piece about a factory that produced servants out of biological matter. Spooky, huh? Karel Capek decided to use the Latin root of labor (that gives us labour) and call the manufactured servants labori.

That was the plan until Karel’s brother, Josef, suggested to call them robots. (Coincidence?) Karel took the suggestion and titled his play RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots. His play was a success and two years later the word robot was in our English language for Isaac Asimov to popularized. Before the play, robot had appeared in European politics.

In 1854, there was a complaint from a mad Austrian aristocrat:

I can get no labor, as the robot is abolished; and my tenants have now land of their own, which once was mine, to cultivate.

Of course, robot in this sense is meant as indentured labour, a contract that made the fellow a slave for a limited time in return of land ownership. However, there were no indentured dentists during this time or any other time, as they both were involved in the teeth business.

On a side note, robot is from the Old Slavic language rabu, meaning slave. This is cousin to the old High German word arabeit where the Slavs coined the word from.