February 14, 2012Posted by on
When I was listening to the the new episode of SGU, I was pleasantly surprised by Rebecca’s choice for the “This day in skepticism” segment. She picked the following event:
Feb 11, 1938 BBC Television produces the world’s first ever science fiction television program, an adaptation of a section of the Karel Capek play R.U.R., that coined the term “robot”.
Here I would like to mention few inaccuracies. First of all, the name of the Czech author is originally spelled as Karel Čapek, hence the name is pronounced as /Chappeck/ rather than /Kappeck/ (you can check the correct pronunciation at Wikipedia). Second imperfection is connected to the etymology of the word “robot”. Rebecca said that it is a Czech expression for a slave, which is quite close, but I will still allow myself to be a bit more nerdy about it. The word “robot” comes from “robota”, an old Slavonic term for a hard manual labor, which more specifically referred to the forced labor all subjects had to do for their lord. So no slaves, but subjects. Further, even though Karel Čapek was the first who used “robot” in his play, he actually is not the author of the term. In fact, it was his brother, Josef, who suggested this neologism, as an alternative to Karel’s original “labor”.
Anyway, it was an excellent pick because it gave me an excuse to write something about Karel Čapek. He was a journalist and a science fiction writer. Also, he was a pragmatist in his philosophical attitudes, which makes him remarkably close to today’s skeptics. What I strongly recommend is to read some of his novels, plays, or short stories. In my opinion, he is the best science fiction writer ever. In his works you can find a mixture of philosophical and ethical themes framed in this futuristic technological context. He uses very witty humor and sometimes he likes to balance on the edge between serious and ironic absurdity. You can actually find for yourselves, because some of his works are available on internet for free (you can find R.U.R. for example here). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link for his Apocryphal Tales in English, please let me know if you find something.